Story by Jim Hill
The formidable husband and wife drag racing team of Steve and Brenda Taylor created a powerful one-two competition punch that often found both members of the Taylor household taking home dual Eliminator wins! That one-two punch lasted for more than three decades, until May 20, 2007, when Steve Taylor passed away. The ravages of cancer finally got to Steve Taylor, something that few of the drivers he lined up against were able to do.
He worked for many years and retired from IBM Corporation, marrying his sweetheart, Brenda and raising two girls, Sandy (now Morgan) and Debbie (now Thomas). The couple met while both were attending a basketball tournament, as competitors. After they were married Brenda accompanied Steve to the races, acting as crew chief and helper before she began driving her own car, a pure stocker. Steve was a great instructor, and soon Brenda was carving up Christmas Trees and claiming wins, all on her own.
An engineer by profession as well as choice, Steve Taylor took unassuming Chevy Cavaliers and carefully turned them into formidible bracket racing vehicles. Often the slowest cars in a field, Taylor’s thorough car preparation and spot-on driving technique led to a hugely impressive winning record.
While Steve pursued a nine-to-five career with IBM, Brenda was a second grand teacher. Better yet, her daily to-school driver was her weekend racer, a Dodge 440 Six-Pack Super Bee coupe. At just 5’3”, the diminutive Brenda was hardly physically intimidating, but the popular teacher was quickly gaining a reputation as a deadly competitive driver at area drag strips.
Steve Taylor’s drag racing career began with an unlikely 1950 Chevy, running a three-speed manual transmission. That was in 1964, and in 1966 he bought a ’66 Chevelle. This became Steve’s first serious race car, a refrigerator-white, big-block SS-396 with the L-78 option, 375 hp and four-speed. Needing second-car transportation, the couple bought a ’72 VW Beetle, and it was soon called to action, running brackets with both Steve and Brenda driving.
Later, a ’69 Nova was prepared and run in Super Stock, and next a ’68 Nova, four-speed car that was soon changed to a PowerGlide, to control parts breakage and improve consistency. A friend, Howard Brewer, had an ’84 Mustang Super Stocker that Steve ran, and won in, even though he was primarily a Chevy fan.
Steve and Brenda were travelling racers as well as home-track threats. This ’66 big-block Chevelle earned Steve an IHRA title in Lakeland, Florid.
Later still came a fleet of innocent looking Chevy Cavalier’s, all prepared for pure consistency in Foot Brake ET racing. With both Taylors weeding their way through fields of cars, it wasn’t unusual for Steve and Brenda to come home Sunday evening, tired but satisfied, with a pair of eliminator trophies and the check!
Running across the Southeast, as far north as Maryland and as far South as Miami, the Taylor’s cut a wide swath across drag racing. Although they ran primarily with IHRA, the purchase of IHRA, from founder Larry Carrier, by Funny Car racer and track owner Billy Meyer drove the Taylors to NHRA in 1988-89. Meyer created a storm when he eliminated the Sportsman classes from IHRA, opting for the more spectacular, front gate pleasing nitro cars and Pro-Stocks. Steve ran NHRA those years, finishing eights in Super Stock points while running a friend’s ’69 Camaro, SS/HA.
Over the years of his career, 1964 to 2006, Steve accumulated a staggering total of more than 1,000 eliminator victories, a number that places him among the winningest ever. He also set several IHRA class records and was a prolific winner in brackets. Among those bracket wins were a pair of $10,000 paydays, at the same event! That came in 1990, at Bowling Green, Kentucky’s Beech Bend Raceway’s Triple Crown, with a field of 225 cars entered. Steve won on Friday night, July 20, and followed up with another win on Sunday, July 22, each one paying a hefty $10k! He was driving an obscure looking, ’68 Chevy Nova with big-block power and Taylor’s steady driving finding the ten-ring, round after round.
In spite of huge success running faster cars over many years, the success Steve and Brenda had with pure stock, footbrake bracket racers is nothing short of amazing! Steve discovered that the factory ABS (Antilock Brake System) of Chevy’s pedestrian little four-cylinder minicars made them a killer ride for footbrake competition. Their first footbraker was an ’81 Citation, capably driven by both Taylors. Next came a, ’89 Z-24 Cavalier with a 2.8L four-banger. That was followed by a couple more Z-24 Cavaliers, with “big motor” power from 3.1L four-cylinder ground pounders. After honing their driving techniques and preparing the growing footbrake fleet, Steve and Brenda proceeded to demonstrate how long term experience and clever adaptation can create prolific winners.
So successful were these low-key dominators that competitors often groaned when they saw Taylor’s racing Tag Team drive in the pit gate in their low-key killer Cavalry cars.
One of Steve Taylor’s favorite earlier rides was this Chevy Nova, a big-block powered Super Stock entry and regular in IHRA east coast events. Steve’s “Natural High” was known to go “sky high” with crowd pleasing wheelstands.
During their dual drag racing careers Steve and Brenda Taylor were accorded many honors and accomplishments, but it was the enjoyment of building, preparing, tuning and maintaining a fleet of different race cars that brought Steve and Brenda the most enjoyment. That they did it while their daughters accompanied them underscored the environment their family unit prospered in.
Brenda described Steve Taylor as one of those persons who was forever in “perpetual motion”, filling every moment of his life with some activity. While race cars and drag racing occupied a great deal of Steve’s time, his love of athletics and in particular, basketball, remained. With his plate always full, Steve still somehow found time to act as a basketball referee, giving back to youth through another game he treasured.
Although cancer eventually claimed one of drag racing’s most successful racers, Steve Taylor’s memory and amazing number of accomplishments are still talked about among drag racers, especially those he trailered. Equally admired and mentioned is Steve’s wife, Brenda Taylor, the little schoolteacher who not only stood by her man, but stood tall and alone as an equally successful driver.
The East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame Class of 2016 is particularly proud to induct Raleigh, North Carolina’s Steve Taylor and his wife, Brenda Taylor, as honored members.