Class of 2010
Man's fascination with speed dates back a long time. Whether on foot, on domesticated animals and finally in automobiles, people have been racing for many centuries. One former Limestone county resident, the late Billy Holt, took it to a level that few from this area have witnessed.
Holt was a true pioneer in the sport of drag racing as he began his career in the mid 1950's by racing motorcycles in non-professional drags and road racing. By the time Holt finished his career of building and racing drag cars, the 2010 Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame inductee had broken speed records and held various titles throughout the nation. Holt, along with five other inductees, will be honored June 5 at Athens State University.
Holt built his first drag car from scratch in 1958 using three 1955 Chevrolet body parts and a 327 c.i. (cubic inches) engine. The car was very successful, yielding wins all weekends except two during the season. The car set track records throughout the Southeast in both elapsed time and speed. "Billy could really engineer an engine," said Holt's cousin Billy 'Cigar' Holt. "He was a smart man who knew what he was doing."
The 1959 racing season saw Holt compete in his first NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) US Nationals held in Detroit, MI. Holt took home the runner-up spot in the event.
Holt put his drag racing on hold in 1960 due to extensive traveling required by his job. However, by 1964 he returned to the track and began adding to his impressive resume. During the next five years, he earned the NHRA National Class Champion title twice and set speed records at tracks in Bristol, TN, Pensacola, FL, Phoenix City LA, and Gainesville, FL.
In 1970, Holt built his first funny car that he named the "Alabamian I." However, disaster struck as the car burned. Undeterred, Holt built another funny car and aptly named it the "Alabamian II." The "Alabamian II" won 80% of scheduled match races, numerous competitions shows and set track records. The "Alabamian III" car was built by Don Hardy in 1972 and powered by the engine that Holt built. The car had a great year running all of the IHRA (International Hot Rod Association) Nationals and a couple of NHRA Nationals qualifying well in the field and being runner-up in two events. The "Alabamian III" also campaigned in the southeast and midwest setting many track records and winning numerous races, always performing well and being popular with fans.
One of Holt's biggest fans was his nephew Jerry Barksdale. "My uncle was a man I idolized as a kid," said Barksdale, now an Athens attorney. "When I was a young boy, I would stay with my grandmother and I couldn't wait until Uncle Billy would come home on short leave from the 82nd Airborne. I would stand over his bed until he woke up so we could go outside and play. He was like a father to me." The "Alabamian IV through VII' was built in 1972 and 1973 to support and sometimes replace the fatigued "Alabamian."
By the mid 1970's, Holt stopped actively campaigning drag cars and spent full time at his automotive machine shop building engines for active racers both drag and circle track. In 1989, due to health problems, Holt retired from the sport altogether.
In 2001, the urge to build another car brought Billy out of retirement. He chose to build a 290" wheel base top alcohol dragster. His son, Greg, campaigned this car for one season. Holt gave it the name "Alabamian VIII."
Barksdale said his uncle left a great legacy. "When I would accompany him to the drag strips, he was always on top of his game. My uncle was a very intelligent man of whom I have always said could easily pass the entrance exam to MIT. He was just a brilliant person who was a true pioneer in his field," said Barksdale.