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Editor & Publisher, CEO Jeff Burk
Managing Editor, COO Kay Burk
Editor at Large, Bret Kepner
Editor at Large, Emeritus Chris Martin
Bracket Racing Editor, Jok Nicholson
Motorcycle Editor, Tom McCarthy
Nostalgia Editor, Brian Losness
Contributing Writers, Jim Baker, Steven Bunker, Aaron Polburn, Matt Strong
Australian Correspondent, Jon Van Daal
European Correspondent, Ivan Sansom
Poet Laureate, Bob Fisher
Cartoonists, Jeff DeGrandis, Kenny Youngblood
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Contributing Photographers - Donna Bistran, Steven Bunker, Adam Cranmer, James Drew, Don Eckert, Steve Embling, Mike Garland, Joel Gelfand, Steve Gruenwald, Chris Haverly, Rose Hughes, Bob Johnson, Bret Kepner, "Bad" Brad Klaassen, Jon LeMoine, Eddie Maloney, Tim Marshall, Matt Mothershed, Richard Muir, Joe McHugh, Dennis Mothershed, Ivan Sansom, Paul Schmitz, Jon Van Daal
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Editor & Publisher
CEO Jeff Burk
COO Kay Burk
DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS
Director: Casey Araiza
Director: Dave Ferrato
Contact: Casey Araiza
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NEWS & ANALYSIS
VOLUME XIX, NUMBER 3 - March 2017
Jerry Ruth: The King Speaks...
Interview conducted by Brian Losness
Photos by Brian Losness and Tim Marshall
Many of the younger drag racing fans probably have no idea who Jerry “The King” Ruth is. The self-proclaimed “king of the Northwest” was one of the Northwest United States’ best ever Top Fuel and Fuel Coupe racers. He was an eight-time (1965-1966 and 1968-1973) NHRA Division 6 Top Fuel champion and a two-time NHRA Division 6 Funny Car champ. In 1972, Ruth took part in five Division 6 races and won both Top Fuel and Funny Car at the first four. He runner-upped at the 1972 Indy event after running the then lowest Top Fuel ET ever at 6.06. He won the 1973 NHRA Top Fuel World Championship and the 1968 PDA Meet at Lions. He also was a member of the Cragar 5-Second Club running a 5.95 at the 1974 AHRA Winternationals. He is one of those rare fuel drivers to win Top Fuel national events in NHRA, IHRA, and AHRA competition.
He has always been outspoken and remains a controversial figure in the sport. Drag Racing Online Nostalgia Editor Brian Losness met up with Ruth when he was the Grand Marshal for an event at Renegade Raceway in Yakima, Washington, and conducted this interview.
You have stated that the design of the current Top Fuel car was yours and you took it to Swindell. This design still is relevant to this day in modern top fuel cars. Take us back to your motivation for that design.
Jerry Ruth: Well, I got hurt at Indianapolis back in 1979 ’cause the tire shake knocked me out and I ended up with a broken arm from that crash. It just got to the point where it (NHRA Top Fuel cars) needed to be fixed; we needed a design that made the car easier to drive, more comfortable and safer. In the U.S. Nationals crash I broke my right arm -- so bad it was just hanging by the skin, and it ripped my right index finger off, but they (doctors) were able to reattach it, but they got it on sideways. I knew the car needed a redesign so while waiting for my arm to heal so that I could start driving, I came up with the design that I sketched on a cardboard box. I took the box over to Swindell and told him to build me a car that looked like the drawing on the box.
Who were some current and former crew chiefs that started their careers with you?
JR: Well, Lee Beard was the most notable. I brought along Mike Kloeber, Herm Peterson, Jerry Verheul, and I had five or six guys who would still be in it if they hadn’t died.
It is hard to imagine you and your intensity and Lee Beard in the same trailer. Tell us more about that.
JR: I have passion for what I do, and I love racing. It is my first real love, in some ways it’s my only love. Someone asked Beard one time, what did Jerry teach you that was so valuable and so successful. And Lee said, Ruth taught me attention to detail, and I didn’t realize how important that was.
What is your take on the state of drag racing today? What are your thoughts?
JR: My thoughts are that Wally (Parks) as great as he was, and he was great, he made the sport what it is, and made it a viable sport. However, it needs to turn from an amateur sport to a professional sport. Wally built it for average guys doing it. When I started you could take three or four guys, build a top fuel car and run it. That is not possible anymore. It’s all corporate money. It is just way too expensive for any one individual to do. NHRA Drag Racing needs to turn into a professional level sport, which is done mostly by marketing. It’s a good program, it doesn’t need a lot of changes, cause the cars are real fast and relatively safe, they don’t kill a whole bunch of drivers. It’s dangerous, but for the most part not life ending for everybody for sure.
How do you feel about the way current NHRA president Peter Clifford and his team are running the NHRA?
JR: NHRA has changed presidents lately and Peter Clifford got the job, and he has worked on marketing. Take what he did for the Pro Stockers as an example. Clifford mandated the change in the wheelie bar length. I guess that was to make them wheel stand. I don’t agree. If they (Pro Stock cars) are slower that is not good. He took the scoops off the hood, he made teams turn the cars around in their pits so the fans could see them working on the engines. That’s marketing, that worked.
This sport has a broad range of drivers. Diversity is the buzz word being throw about. NASCAR hangs their hat on Danica Patrick. So then going back to your marketing premise, do we need to do more with Courtney and Brittany, Leah, Antron, Cruz, the Arana’s?
JR: I’m not into that at all. Hell, when I raced Shirley all the time, she is a friend of mine. She is a good driver, in any respect man, woman or child, she is a good driver. And that is all that matters. We need to get away from drawing any lines. Because she is a lady that is somewhat exceptional. I think NHRA got carried away “The World of the Woman”. Come on! Shirley was a good driver, but without a crew of guys around her she is nothing.
Do you think NHRA is missing the boat by not cultivating younger racers that race nostalgia nitro cars? Team owners apparently are looking for someone who can write a check instead of looking for those kids who can really drive and have the desire.
JR: Oh yeah, starting with Jr. Dragsters and moving up. I think they have done that with people like Erica and Shawn (Langdon) there are a whole shit load of guys who did that.
What classes do you think now are driving the NHRA?
JR: The program that draws the fans are the professional cars. When the fuelers leave, the people leave the stands. I’ve seen that a lot. And the fans don’t stay until the fuel cars come back again. Nitro cars draw the fans.
Nostalgia racing in both the Pro and Sportsman classes seems to be gaining popularity with racers and fans. What’s your take on Nostalgia and would you consider going nostalgia nitro racing?
JR: Stop right there, nostalgia by the very word means it is over. Nostalgia means old and it is over. It will go for a while, because they had 38 cars at Bakersfield for a sixteen-car show. So right now it is tremendously popular. But remember those are cars that resembled cars that ran in the sixties and seventies, and a lot of those guys are dead or dying, or just damn old, one or the other. I’m one of those guys. I had one of those cars; I don’t want one again. I was asked and I said NO! Been there done that. I’m only interested in doing better. I like the big show guys, those guys haul ass. How can you not like the big show stuff? Lots of people say they are too fast to watch. Well, if you are looking for excitement let’s make them run right at each other. NOW THAT WOULD BE EXCITING!
So you feel nostalgia racing is just a passing fad?
JR: I think it is a brief flurry, yeah, for sure. For me nostalgia dragster, front motored dragsters are the most popular ones. But their numbers are dwindling ’cause it is getting too expensive to do it, and they (NHRA) don’t pay them anything. The NHRA likes it ’cause they get this terrific show for nothing. The NHRA don’t pay them shit. It won’t last at all.
Speaking of nostalgia, what is your opinion, 1,000-foot or 1320-foot track length
JR: One thing that people don’t understand is that the speed is set inside the quarter mile, or thousand foot, which ever. Remember they turn on the speed clock at sixty feet before the finish line, and shut it off at the finish line. Same at the eighth mile. We have already had a car 299 at the eighth. So the speed is determined by the average time it takes to go through that sixty feet. So they are still accelerating past the speed zone. They have already had a funny car at 335 in a thousand foot. The 1320 is over, all the drag strips are too short except for a handful.
Are we now into bullshitting the people about what is going on here? Just tell them what is going on here. They will understand, just let them know what is happening. The tires will not stand that much pressure and that kind of speed, and the continued use of it. On a run, another 320 feet of track is a football field and the end zones. How would you like to be in your fuel dragster bouncing in the shutdown area at 250 miles per hour with the brakes on trying to stop it and then someone removes a football field of track from in front of you? You would shit. Can’t do that. It will always be a thousand feet from now on. It could be eight hundred feet or eighth mile, but probably not.
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