Rusty’s Racing Days

My Dad was truck manager at Grant Ford in St. Petersburg Florida, and I did pit-crew duty on Grant Ford’s Flying Horse 1965 Mustang, but it wasn’t until we raced at the 1966 U.S. Nationals that I became addicted to drag racing.

In 1968, my dad and I tried to buy one of the fifty 1968 Cobra Jet Mustang light weight fastbacks Ford built December 1967, but they were all gone. I ordered a 1969 428 Fairlane Cobra that I raced in F/S. I went to the 1969 (NHRA Spring Nationals in Dallas and on the way, I met Randy Payne, a member of the Platt & Payne Ford Drag Team. Randy said if I needed anything to come and see him, so when I broke a Detroit Locker in Dallas Randy gave me a new one. I ran 12.87 and lost to a Corvette with a 12.66 timeslip. Funny thing is that Detroit Locker was the only free part I ever got from Ford. Later that year, I suffered an engine failure at Gainesville, Florida. I got in touch with Randy, but he couldn’t help me. We ended up turning it back into a streetcar and selling it.

I went to the 1969 U.S. Nationals at Indy with a buddy who was racing a 289 Comet, and I met veteran Ford Super Stock racer Hubert Platt. I stayed and crewed with the Ford Drag team for two months traveling extensively with Hubert and Randy helping at the track and Performance Clinics at Ford Dealers. Hubert asked me to drive a new 1970 V-8 Maverick prototype from Paul Harvey Ford in Indianapolis to his house in Atlanta. Next, I drove Hubert’s F-350 car hauler with his 1969 SOHC 427 Mustang from Dallas for a long trek to New Hampshire to witness history firsthand. Tasca Ford was bringing a ’69 Boss 429 to Epping to lay down a challenge-any streetcar that could beat the Boss would win $1000. In those days that was a lot of money!

During a trip to Detroit, Hubert told me about his 1968 Super Stock Mustang that he raced a Pomona in 1968 which he had for sale for $3,500. I rushed home and borrowed money from my uncle to buy it. At that time the record was 11.70 in SS/FA competition. During my time on the road with the Ford Drag Team I learned a lot about professional drag racing.

In 1970, I drove to Pomona California for the NHRA Winternationals. I was the slowest in SS/FA class with my ’68 fastback that I only raced 6 times before. The first round was with a Camaro who red lighted, and the next round I outran a factory backed Mopar. The head of Ford’s drag-racing program at the time asked me to shut down at the 1,000-foot mark to keep from going under the record. Then I staged against Stacey Shields, who was driving a factory backed 1968 fastback just built by Holman/Moody/Stroppe in Long Beach and sponsored by Paul Harvey Ford out of Indy. I clocked a 12.00 at 104 mph shutting off, getting a win over Stacey who ran 11.82 at 120 mph. I set the SS/FA record at 11.59 at Suffolk, Virginia that year. The following year, I returned to Pomona, winning class, then on to Phenix City, Alabama and set the NHRA mph record at 120.64 mph. Next to West Palm Beach, Florida where I set the AHRA record at 11.46 mph at 119.84 mph.

Toward the end of the 1970 season, Hubert Platt told me about a 1969 Mustang body he had. It was a 428 Cobra Jet body that had been one of Ford’s Boss 302 test cars. It was a factory test mule that Hubert saved from the crusher. With help from my dad, we bought the Mustang and transferred everything from the 1968 fastback over to the 1969 Mach 1 in one week. The 1969 was heavier so it ran in the SS/GA class. A friend of mine painted it Pearl White, with a splash of Candyapple red and blue.

I ran 121.39 mph to set the NHRA record at the World Finals in Amarillo, then won the 1971 Miami National Open with an 11.24, below the 11.45 record. I was asked if I would test a new 9” slick Firestone was developing for Super Stock, so I went to Gainesville where Ronnie Sox and Arlen Vanke were testing their Pro Stocks for Mopar and Firestone. I went 11.22 on 9” slicks instead of 11.5” that I normally used. Firestone gave me a set of the 9” slicks and I again won class at Pomona in 1972 where my best time was 11.28. A few weeks later my best ET was 11.18 at Orange County California. I set the SS/GA record at 11.26 at Suffolk Virginia in 1974, and the next day went 11.13 at 122.95, the quickest and fasted it ever went in Super Stock.

During my career with the Boss 302 test mule I accomplished a lot from coast to coast, however NHRA changed the Super Stock rules in 1975, and along with the national gas shortage and insurance rates I decided to park the Mustang. I wouldn’t drive the car again until 1990 when I decided to rebuild it to race in Stock Eliminator.

In 2004 I started Gillis Performance Restorations where we restore largely Classic Mustangs. The first order of business, I repainted my race car close to the way it was painted in the 70’s to take it to car shows. After not racing since 2009 I raced in Bradenton, Florida in spring of 2021 at an NMCA national event, and won the first round of eliminations with .005 reaction time. My best ET 11.08.