The Story of James “Hank” Hankins

Many have asked us where the name “Hank’s Filling Station” originated. This is the story of local racing and car enthusiast James “Hank” Hankins who inspired the name and concept behind Hank’s Filling Station.

James Hankins was born in Darlington, South Carolina in 1930. He left Darlington at an early age, learning the auto body repair and painting craft up north before settling in Norfolk, Virginia where the skills of his craft grew and he became affectionately known as “Hank” Hankins. In 1958, Hank opened a successful auto paint and body repair shop in Norfolk which was his first foray into building and driving race cars and eventually drag racing. His body repair and painting skills taught him to appreciate the fine craftsmanship of drag racing cars, while the quest for more power and faster speeds satisfied his mechanical needs.

Although Hank’s passion for racing was strong, his love of his family was equally so. Hank and his wife, Georgia Mae, raised nine children, all while juggling drag racing and several businesses including Hank’s Curb Service Store. Although Hank did not have much spare time, he always found time for his family.

Hank began drag racing at nearby tracks in Virginia and North Carolina so he could operate his business without undue time away. Eventually, Hank met and befriended Dan Weis, a Virginia racer who later gained fame as the promoter of Richmond Dragway and had a reputation for booking top name, traveling professional racers. Weis was also fond of promoting a local hometown hero driver against the visiting traveler. Many times the local hero was Hank, who always put on a good show and sometimes even upset the professional racers.

Always the underdog, Hank challenged his opponents with his homebuilt cars – the “Hooter Scooter” and “The Trader.” The crowds would roar their approval whenever Hank would enter the track. Weis loved to pit the “hometown hero” against the national star and Hank raced many stars including Dick Landy, Ronnie Sox, Tom Sturm, Don Gay and even Richard Petty. Thanks to Hank’s cunningly sharp driving, many times he would even outrun the professional racers. The successful combination of Hank’s cars and his driving nabbed him several Super Stock Eliminator wins at Virginia and North Carolina tracks. His competitiveness and clean, hard running cars also earned Hank a favorable reputation among fellow racers, track operators and officials.

After an untimely and serious crash at Roxboro, North Carolina left Hank injured and his race car destroyed, he decided to revise his involvement with drag racing, becoming the manager-promoter at Suffolk Dragway. A former airfield with concrete runways, Suffolk was famous for its excellent traction. Hank managed Suffolk Dragway until 1972 and in that time he created many standout and enduring events such as the hugely successful “Little Guy Nationals,” a breakthrough event that featured Sportsman racers instead of big-name nitro pro heroes, and the “Dixie Drag Classics,” an event that ran for multiple years at Suffolk. During this period, Hank also took on the promotion and operation of Langley Speedway, a storied short circle track in Hampton, Virginia. Finally, in 1973 Hank took over Virginia Beach Dragway which he managed until 1980.

Hank Hankins gave many Virginia and North Carolina racers their “big break,” the chance at moving up the ladder to faster and more lucrative racing. Some of these racers even became successful pro racers. After a non-stop life of never standing still, James “Hank” Hankins earned a much-deserved rest when he passed away November 26, 1994, in his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia. In 2016, the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame respectfully inducted James “Hank” Hankins to its ranks.

Hank’s Filling Station, which inhabits the same location as the original Hank’s Curb Service Store, is proud to pay tribute to local hero Hank Hankins, whose lifetime and career achievements touched tens of thousands of individuals.

*Story adapted from “Hank Hankins’ Non-Stop Journey As A Larger-Than-Life Drag Racing Legend” by Jim Hill posted May 2, 2017 on

Spread the love


  • Margaret Posted May 26, 2018 5:48 PM

    Is this where the body shop was on Colley? I believe my brother worked at the body shop

  • Ron Riebe Posted March 25, 2019 11:33 AM

    I use to drag race at Virginia Beach Dragway. In 1979 I took down the Christmas tree with my drag Harley a night I will never forget. I won a motorcycle event there and still have the trophy on my shelf.

    • Hank’s Filling Station Posted February 22, 2020 4:28 PM


  • Mollie Spring Page Posted February 10, 2020 10:08 AM

    My brother, Tommy, worked for Hank for many years!! How awesome to come across this article!! Thanks to my niece!!

    • Hank’s Filling Station Posted February 11, 2020 2:51 PM

      That’s awesome, Mollie. Stop in to see us when you can. Let us know who you are when you get here.

    • Jim King Posted December 24, 2023 9:05 AM

      Hi Mollie I remember your brother Tommy working there as I did when I was 15 & 16 yrs old. You and I also went to JEB Stuart together in the 7 th grade and you and Wally Ballard were an item then. Hope this message reaches you and finds you well. Merry Christmas.

  • Dennis Brinck Posted February 21, 2020 5:59 PM

    Thank you so much for posting this article. I always wondered what ever happened to the Hankins family and businesses. I greatly appreciate this.

    • Hank’s Filling Station Posted February 22, 2020 4:27 PM


  • M.E. Bridgers Posted August 1, 2020 7:06 AM

    I worked at Hanks body shop, started in 73 and stayed for a couple years. I use to help at the pungo drag strip. The body shop has a new name so not sure if it was sold out of the family. The store, about a block away was a convenients store, my wife worked there for awhile. Hank, and his kids were all very nice people. Every Friday after work we would sit around and drink rum and coke. He also owned the gas station across the street from the body shop, but had just closed it down before I started working there. This has brought up some old but good memories.

  • Big Hank Posted July 26, 2021 10:06 AM

    My Grandparents, Willie Hankins & Mae Francis Hankins built the bathroom at Darlington track years ago

  • Trackback: Celebrating Hank with A Hoppy American Lager – Hank’s Filling Station
  • David Posted October 14, 2023 11:52 AM

    I have been looking for a good old fashioned New York City Rueben pastrami since I fell in love with the sandwich and I was happy to have found your restaurant and I was hooked with the history. My son and I will find our way there for the holidays

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *