Photo courtesy of Pro Set Racing trading cards

Remembering Bob Glidden, one of NHRA’s best that there ever was

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The first time I met drag racer Bob Glidden was the 1982 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, literally a short burnout away from Glidden’s home and shop in nearby Whiteland, Indiana.

As I walked over to his pit area, I went armed with the information that Glidden was one of the toughest, hardest competitors that NHRA drag racing has ever seen.

With that in mind, I went over to speak with Glidden with some hesitation. I was prepared for someone with a brusque personality and disposition.

Instead, Glidden and wife Etta could not have been more friendly and welcoming. They offered me a chair and we began what was more like a get-to-know-each-other conversation rather than just another media interview.

Even though Bob was getting ready for another run down the quarter-mile dragstrip and was overseeing the preparation by the crew of his Ford Pro Stock, he patiently answered all my questions over the 20-minute interview.

I remember walking away thinking how could people think he was brusque or even an ogre, when he was completely the opposite – one of the nicest interview subjects I’ve ever met.

However, it didn’t take me long to figure out why his fellow competitors talked despairingly about Glidden. Outside his Ford, he was the nicest, easiest-going persons there was.

But put Glidden behind the wheel and he morphed into a guy fellow drivers would love to hate because, invariably, of his incredible level of fiery competitiveness.

Oh yeah, and because they were so damn tired of constantly being beaten by the string bean skinny guy from suburban Indianapolis, who did all his own body and motor work in a little shop out back of his house.

In drag racing terms, and to borrow a line from an Elvis Presley song, Glidden was the devil in disguise when it came to piloting a Pro Stocker: Mr. Nice Guy until he closed the door on his Ford and rolled up to the starting line.

All those memories came flashing back to me when I started receiving emails and texts from friends in the business Sunday night that Glidden, a winner of 85 races and 10 Pro Stock championships and who was ranked No. 4 on NHRA’s all-time list of it’s 50 greatest drivers, had passed away at the age of 73 after a long illness.

In the late 1970s and especially from the 1980s through the mid-1990s, Glidden was the sport’s biggest driver for much of his career before John Force became the most prolific racer in NHRA history in the late 1980s through today.

Glidden was the NHRA’s biggest winner until Force came along. Speaking of Force, here’s what he had to say when he learned of Glidden’s passing Sunday:

“We all know what Bob Glidden has accomplished in a lifetime. Feats that will never be broken, accomplishments that will never be broken. We know what he’s accomplished and what he’s done. He was the man.

“But there’s the other side of Bob Glidden, the personal side of Glidden, him as a person. The love that he had for his family, his boys and Etta. How he always treated everyone with respect, even if it was just in passing. That was the side of the man that I loved the most. He will be missed. I miss him already. But he’ll be with us every day.”

Glidden’s name was golden in the sport. Not only was he a big fan favorite, he also rarely had to worry about having enough sponsorship on his Ford. Rather, there were times where he seemingly had more sponsors than he really needed, there were that many companies that wanted their brand to be affiliated with Glidden.

Over the years, I interviewed Glidden a number of times and each and every instance was like the first: he was always genuinely easy-going with a slight hint of a drawl, friendly and a real treat to talk with.

He made me feel welcome each time we spoke. At times, he almost seemed embarrassed that a reporter from USA Today would want to talk to good old Bob from tiny Whiteland, population 4,200.

Sure, he had some bad days in his career, but he rarely let his frustration or anger show on his seemingly always-smiling face.

He and Etta, who was constantly at Bob’s side for more than 40 years, were the perfect couple, as if joined at the hip. Etta attended to the business side of the true family operation, sold t-shirts, and handled pretty much everything that needed to be taken care of, allowing Bob to focus on just one thing only: driving his bad-ass fast hot rod to victory.

Even though he had occasional spot starts until 2010, Glidden officially retired from NHRA drag racing in early 1997 to take on another challenge: building motors for Ford-powered NASCAR Cup cars. He was a success at that, as if there was any doubt he would be.

It’s been a number of years since I last saw Glidden. He battled health problems off and on for a long time. But every time I heard his name or fans brought it up, it was with both excitement and reverence.

He was one of the sport’s biggest stars for a long time, on the same level as Don “Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “Mongoose” McEwen, Kenny Bernstein, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and many more.

I once asked Glidden why he never considered switching to what, by that point, had become the kings of the sport, the big attention-getters and attendance draws: Top Fuel and Funny Car. Why did he stick with Pro Stock, which, even though it has its own big share of fans, didn’t quite have the lure that Top Fuel and Funny Car had?

Glidden said simply, “Because Pro Stock is pure and true. They look a lot like the cars you see and drive on the street or buy at the dealer. That’s what drag racing was built upon. Plus, there’s so many guys in Top Fuel and Funny Car, I don’t know if I’d have the same kind of success as I have in Pro Stock. This is home, this is where I have been, where I want to be and where I will stay for the rest of my career.”

It’s not an exaggeration or oversimplification to say that the NHRA would not be what it is today had it not been for a guy like Bob Glidden. That is plain fact. He and others like him were the core, the backbone of a sport built on one thing and one thing only: speed.

And for the longest time, no one did it better than Glidden. He will most certainly be missed, even by all the guys who he beat the pants off of so many times.

But you know what? That’s not an embarrassment to all the guys who lost to Glidden over the years. Rather, it should be considered a badge of honor: they raced the best and lost to the best.

INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after Friday’s two practices at Barber

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Friday’s two practice sessions for Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama (there’s one final practice plus qualifying on Saturday):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion): “It’s great…home track for me. It wins the war between this place and Indianapolis (Motor Speedway) because it’s an hour closer, so I think that’s why I call it the home track. Unfortunately, we don’t race in Nashville anymore. But I’ve always loved Barber. It is a special place for me. It’s the place I got my first win with CFH (Racing) back in the day, and it’s a place I won my first race for Team Penske. It’s had a couple firsts for me, so it’s been good for that. Good memories. I love this racetrack. I think it’s one of the best that we get to drive at from sort of a style standpoint. It’s very technical, but it’s got a lot of flow to it. It feels kind of like a roller coaster to me is the best way to describe the style of it. I have a lot of fun here. I think it’s great. We’re going to try and have a good weekend. We had a pretty good start for the most part. We had some issues in the first session. Just kind of been dealing with a couple things that I think we got sorted out for the second session there, but we seem like we’ve got some speed. I think our other cars got some speed, as well. Simon (Pagenaud) looked like he suffered from maybe a similar problem, and I don’t think Will (Power) had a very good lap, so I think those guys will be right there with us. Team Penske I think is going to be strong tomorrow, I’m sure.

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We’re struggling with understeer in mid-corner, so we need more rotation in the car. If we can fix the mid-corner understeer, we’re going to have a fast car tomorrow. We’ll keep working on it, and hopefully we’ll have a great weekend.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “We learned a lot today. We tried to come test here a few weeks ago, but unfortunately Mother Nature had a different plan, so we didn’t get a lot of running in. We came into this weekend with a bit of an evolution from what we tested, still were a little bit off, and over lunch, the Arrow Electronics guys made a couple of great changes. It doesn’t look great on the time sheets because our fast lap was when that red flag came out, so they took it away from us. I think we’re decently inside the top 10, which is a big jump from this morning.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “We lost water pressure somewhere in the Lucas Oil car, so we’re playing it safe. No water pressure means no water circulation to the engine, then it overheats and blows up. We’re taking the precautions to keep the engine alive, but unfortunately, we stopped after a couple of laps. It’s an hour free practice and we only did two competitive laps, so we’re just watching everyone else improve their cars and we aren’t able to right now. It’s pretty disappointing.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “We’re in the ballpark at the front, which is a good start for the No. 9 PNC Bank team. The Penske cars are up front and I think that’s a result of them doing some additional testing here. We kind of expected that to start. We did a qualifying run and the car was just too loose for some reason. And then we were fighting understeer this morning, so we’ve seen both sides of it. Now it’s up to us to get it right for qualifying tomorrow.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It was a difficult end to the day for us. I think after starting well this morning, we struggled in the afternoon. It could have been the heat that affected us, I’m not really sure. Tonight, we’ll have to look at the data and what we learned from the NTT DATA car, talk to Scott (Dixon) and look toward tomorrow. I’m optimistic because we have a good base setup and we just need a little bit more work to get it right.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I think once again the temperature of the track really makes it tough in these cars. It was very nice this morning and was easy to get lap times. And then all of a sudden this afternoon, even on reds (Firestone alternate tires), it’s very difficult to get the car right. We’re going to have to go back and have a good think about it.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It’s a difficult day. We’re struggling a lot. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “Today was OK. I didn’t think that we were great there in the second practice, but if you’re off a little bit, it can make a five-, six-, seven-spot difference. It’s going to be really tight (on the time sheets) there tomorrow, so we’ve got to work on it and get it a little better.” (About whether qualifying performance is even more important if rain falls during the race:) “Qualifying will be important, but I think if it’s rainy, I think you will be able to make moves and you will see a lot of guys make mistakes.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “I am not quite sure what to think about the whole day. We are not super happy with the car, but in the meantime, it is decently fast. We made some gains and at least the car is doing one thing, so that’s the good thing. The SealMaster Honda No. 18 is in the ballpark. It seems like all we are doing right now is preparing for qualifying because it is definitely going to rain on Sunday. We are going to have to think very hard on what we are going to do in those conditions. We just have to keep working and see what we get tomorrow.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “We didn’t have a great morning aboard the No. 19 Paysafe car as we struggled a bit with the balance, but the second practice session was a lot better. We ended up P12, but had the potential for a lot more. When we went out on the Firestone red (alternate) tires near the end of the session, a red flag came out and that didn’t help us. I think we definitely could have been in the top 10, maybe even the top five. Overall, it’s encouraging heading into practice and qualifying tomorrow.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “This morning was really good and we made some good progress. For this afternoon’s session, we changed a couple of things to see if they helped. We’re keeping the tradition, though, of not getting a lap time on reds (Firestone alternate tires), between traffic and red flags and yellows. We are farther down than I think we should be. We should be quite a bit quicker, probably seven or eight tenths faster than what we were. We’re not a million miles away. We just need a few more small improvements to get me a bit more comfortable with the car.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “That was a really good session. It’s nice to end up at the front here at Barber. It’s one of my favorite tracks, I really enjoy it. The session was good right from the get-go on black (Firestone primary) tires. We were quite fast, then when we put the reds (Firestone alternate tires) on, the car just gained more grip. Sometimes when you put them on, it can really change the balance, but this time it felt really good. We were able to get a little more out of the car in pretty much every corner. I’m very happy with the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy so far, hopefully we can keep it up there.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “The car is really fast. It was a really good session to start. But unfortunately, we had a bit of a spin on the reds (Firestone alternate tires) trying a little too hard, I guess. That’s what you have to do before qualifying. You have to find the limits, but I’m very happy with the Menards car. I think we’ll be in great shape tomorrow.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): “So far, it’s just been really nice to have experience at this track, which makes it a little easier coming in. We’ve been trying a lot of things today and I think we were a little stronger in the morning than this afternoon. We have a bit to go back and look at, but compared to where I was here last year, it’s night and day difference. I’m just happy to have the opportunity that we do, and we’re going to keep pushing forward.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “This morning was definitely a struggle for all of us. I think the No. 27 car was the most outside of the window, but we made a lot of improvements over lunch. We have something to be positive about going into this evening and looking forward to tomorrow. I think we need to take one or two steps in a similar direction, but if we can do that, I think the Kerauno car will be good enough for the Firestone Fast Six.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “I think we made steady progress through the day. We started out with the rear of the car way too exposed, too loose through most corners. We needed to bring it more into the window, which I think we did in the final session, considering we didn’t get a full run on new red tires due to a red flag. I think the DHL car has some good pace in it, so hopefully we can make the next step tomorrow.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “The second session was better. I think we made some good progress from the first one. The first session was a little bit of finding the right direction to go in and it seems we found one. Still, we have a little work to be done Saturday. Having said that, there was quite a few yellows and red flags that interrupted the session. I know everyone is in the same boat, but our best lap was like a rerun and we were never able to do a long run, so it’s a little gray on how we will be for Sunday (in the race). We lost some downforce compared to last year and the tires have quite a good drop-off, or degradation, so after you use them the first or second timed lap, the tires are losing a lot of grip. It’s not a huge amount, we’re talking about a small amount, but it’s enough to make a difference. We are trying a different kind of philosophy in terms of the mechanical setup, trying to match the balance and grip level of where we were last year, so that’s why everyone is trying different things. Some people struggle, some people find a happy place.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “I think that the practice went well in the beginning. We did find some improvement, so it went better and better. Then we put the red tires on and I tried to push hard and maybe a little too much. I then lost the car, it went straight into the wall. It was a little bit too late with my hands, taking them off the steering wheel, so my left hand hurts a little bit.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Tough day for us today. We had a mechanical issue towards the end of Practice 2, so it cut our time on track short. I know the Harding Racing guys are working hard to make sure everything will be good to go tomorrow for Practice 3 and qualifying. We’ll keep at it tonight to be ready to push tomorrow.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Kerauno / Curb Honda): “The Kerauno car was decent today, and coming out of Friday in the top 10 is a good place to start the weekend. We have a few things we want to work on overnight that I think will help the car be even better, and that’s what we’re going to focus on. Hoping to make it into the Firestone Fast Six tomorrow and challenge for the pole.”