Sherwood Allen: Three Generations of a Drag Racing Family

April 29, 2016

Wheels-up launch is typical for driver Michael Allen in dad Sherwood’s Pontiac Firebird. The 1969, 427, 425 hp engine places the car in SS/GTA Automatic. (Photo by Quarter Mile Brothers) 

Story by Jim Hill

Drag racing has always been more about how fast your car is and less about skin color. For Sherwood Allen, patriarch of a three-generation drag racing family, his passion for racing with his son and grandson has been a high point of his life. One of the earliest successful African-American northeastern drag racers, Sherwood set high standards for himself, his son Michael Allen, and now Michael’s son, Michael, Jr.

Sherwood Allen’s lengthy, notable career has earned him the honor of being named to the 2015 East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame, in Henderson, NC.

An auto repair mechanic, Sherwood Allen began racing in 1959 on the streets of his hometown, Chester, PA, and then on legendary strips in the northeast. Among those were Maple Grove, PA, Island Dragway, Great Meadows, NJ, Cecil County Dragway, in Maryland, Madison Township Dragway, Englishtown, NJ, and Atco Dragway, also in New Jersey. Each of these venues provided formidable weekly competition among the region’s razor-sharp Super Stock class racers, many of whom have themselves become drag racing icons.

Sherwood’s son, Michael, shared his dad’s zeal for building, preparing and maintaining the family’s race cars. He and Michael raced nearby until 1969, when Sherwood bought one of the era’s greatest examples of Chevy musclecars, a big-block 427, 1969 Camaro. Working together, they prepared the car for competition, using the Chevy C.O.P.O. Option Code L-72, a 427 CID, 425 hp big-block engine and Turbo-Hydro 400 automatic transmission. This placed the car in SS/D Automatic, (SS/DA) a class hotly contested at all NHRA events.

Allen’s tuning and driving allowed him to win Super Stock Eliminator in 1970 at the Cars Magazine Championships, held at Cecil County, MD. And again in 1972, at Atco, NJ. In 1978 they towed to National Trail Raceway, near Columbus, Ohio, for the NHRA Springnationals. Sherwood went all the way to the final round in Super Stock, earning a runner-up.

Sherwood Allen (center, with gray cap) provides info to an admirer at his October 2015 induction as an East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame member. Sherwood brought 40+ years of photos and memorabilia to share. His collection includes several NHRA Class Winner trophies and a Super Stock Eliminator NHRA “Wally”!

Michael got his driver license in 1979, and shortly thereafter took over driving. Sherwood was then able to focus solely on preparation, maintenance, tuning, and race strategy. In March of ‘79 the father-son team headed to Gainesville, Florida, where 18 year old Michael got his first taste of NHRA major event S/S driving at the Gatornationals.

By 1982 the Allen duo had a new race car, a Gen-II, 1982 Camaro, into which they dropped in their old SS/DA combination to run in GT/A Automatic (GT/AA). After two years running the Camaro they built a ’69 Corvette for SS/CA. The Corvette failed to score a national event win, but did catch the eye of Pontiac factory race executives who provided them with a new 1998 Firebird. The Firebird remains as their current race car.

Through the years Allen & Allen have had numerous divisional wins and tough-to-come-by class wins at national events. At every event they perform with hard-nosed racing, sportsmanship and generosity towards fellow competitors. These efforts have earned them a high degree of respect from their colleagues.

Now a third Allen family member, 15 year old Michael, Jr., has joined the team, learning the patient, careful attention to detail that made his father and grandfather successful in one of NHRA’s toughest divisions. Michael, Jr.’s grades in school are the benchmark for how deeply his involvement is permitted, and the plan is that he will soon take the wheel of his own Allen Family race car.

Now in his mid-70’s, Sherwood continues to work as a repair technician at a local Mercedes dealer, and shows no sign of slowing down. The team keeps their racing activities close to home, choosing events that do not overly tax their work and school responsibilities or their modest racing budget. Now in his mid-50’s, Michael and has worked nearly 30 years for Kimberly-Clark. Just like his dad, Michael’s priorities revolve around his job responsibilities, raising his son and making sure that their racing operation and performance is tops.

For Hall of Fame inductee Sherwood Allen, Michael Allen, and now, Michael Allen, Jr. these responsibilities and the well-deserved reputation for always bringing their “A-Game” to the races and their personal lives is their credo.

The East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame salutes 2015 inductee Sherwood Allen.