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.
NHRA Denver: John Force one away from 150 career wins; Pritchett, Anderson, Arana Jr. also win
John Force may be 69 years old, but Sunday he proved he is still a major force to reckon with in NHRA Funny Car competition.
The winningest driver in NHRA history, the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion won his 149th national event Sunday, capturing the Dodge NHRA Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colorado (suburban Denver).
Force (4.075 seconds at 315.42 mph) defeated 2016 Funny Car champ Ron Capps (4.067 seconds at 308.71 mph) in the final round to earn his first win in over a year.
Force has now won at least one race in each of the last 31 seasons and qualifies for the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
“The fire is back in me, I’m fighting,” Force said. “I got tired of hearing me snivel to myself. My wife doesn’t even want to talk to me. … I don’t know why I won this race but I have a lot more fight in my belly.”
Admittedly, before Sunday, he has struggled for much of the last year since his last win.
“I found myself with all the crashes and everything that happened probably at the lowest point in my career,” Force said. “It has been worse than when I crashed in 2007 (in the worst wreck of his career).
“I have been fighting to get back. I never let on to anyone but it showed that I just looked like a mess. I am fighting to get back. I had four crashes (this season) and after my last one I had John Bandimere (owner of Bandimere Speedway) call me and say, ‘We have to talk.’ I said ‘I know you love God and I know where you want to go.’ He told me to listen to him and he set me straight.
“I didn’t know if I would ever get back in position to win a race. Bandimere told me I could and I won’t stand here and preach the Gospel but he said when I get to Denver I will be fixed. He didn’t say I was going to win but that I would be fixed. He told me to go out there and show me who John Force is.”
It was Force’s eighth win (and first there since 2016) and 13th final round appearance at Denver in his career, making him the winningest Funny Car driver ever at Bandimere Speedway.
Force defeated daughter and No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force in the semifinals to set up the deciding run vs. Capps. Prior to defeating Courtney, Force beat Matt Hagan and Cruz Pedregon in the first two rounds of eliminations earlier in the day.
“I had to beat a lot of great racers today, Hagan, Cruz, Capps, I love them all,” Force said.
Here are more tidbits about Force’s day, which leaves him one win away from 150 career wins:
Force now has 1,303 round wins in his career. He has beaten 137 different drivers en route to that mark.
376 of those round wins came against 15 world champions including two-time champ Matt Hagan, against whom he improved his record to 21-17 with today’s first round victory.
Force claimed 152 round wins at the expense of the Pedregon brothers: Cruz, Tony and Frank.
He has beaten fathers and sons (Jim and Mike Dunn, Paul and Mike Smith, Tim and Dan Wilkerson) and brothers (Cruz, Tony and Frank Pedregon along with Ron and Jon Capps)
He has beaten Cruz Pedregon 70 times, more often than any other driver
He earned 21 round wins against daughters Ashley Force Hood and Courtney Force and 22 against Robert Hight, his protégé and the father of granddaughter Autumn Hight.
He has won rounds on 27 different tracks in 18 states and Canada
He has won 128 rounds in three different events at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the most at any single track
He has won 76 rounds in the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, the most in any single event
Other winners in the first of the NHRA’s annual three-race “Western Swing” (Denver; Sonoma, California; and Seattle) included Leah Pritchett in Top Fuel, Greg Anderson won his first race of the season in Pro Stock and Hector Arana Jr. earned his first Pro Stock Motorcycle win since 2015.
The race was the 14th of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
In Top Fuel, Pritchett (3.831 seconds at 316.45 mph) earned her second win of 2018 and seventh of her career. She was No. 1 qualifier for the event (also for the second race in a row and 10th No. 1 of her career) and defeated Doug Kalitta (3.852 seconds at 319.82 mph) for the win.
Prior to facing Kalitta, Pritchett defeated Terry Totten, Scott Palmer and Clay Millican in the first three rounds.
“Our crew has really impressed, attitude of gratitude, as high as the altitude here,” Pritchett said. “They chipped away at it and didn’t let themselves get down earlier this year when we were in a slump and they didn’t let me get myself down in a slump either. I always have my confidence in them and they have their confidence in me and this weekend we pulled it all together.”
In Pro Stock, Anderson earned his first win of the season, his third at Bandimere and 91st triumph of his career.
Anderson (6.943 seconds at 196.53 mph) defeated Summit Racing Equipment teammate Jason Line (6.947 seconds at 196.19 mph). Also, the victory put Anderson back atop the Pro Stock points standings.
“We have had a heck of a battle this year, we have had great running cars but we have made mistakes on Sunday and haven’t been able to close the deal,” Anderson said. “The class is so tough right now, it is so hard to win. The bottom line is we haven’t put forth our best effort on Sunday, we haven’t lost giving it our best shot and today we did.”
Anderson defeated Joey Grose, Vincent Nobile, and Jeg Coughlin Jr. to advance to the finals showdown with Line.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana Jr. earned his first win since St. Louis in 2015 and his 12th career NHRA triumph.
In his first final round of the season, Arana (7.170 seconds at 185.89 mph), who earlier this year became the first rider to crack the 200 mph barrier, won easily when 2016 PSM champ Jerry Savoie fouled at the starting line.
“We have had a fast bike all the time, just been working on consistency and then when the bike was good I was making little errors,” Arana Jr. said. “Dedication, hard work, and practicing to bring it all together. Finally got over some hurdles over here and now we should be back on track.”
The Western Swing continues July 27-29 with the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.
FINAL FINISHING ORDER:
TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett; 2. Doug Kalitta; 3. Clay Millican; 4. Blake Alexander; 5. Scott Palmer; 6. Steve Torrence; 7. Jim Maroney; 8. Richie Crampton; 9. Tony Schumacher; 10. Antron Brown; 11. Greg Carrillo; 12. Terry Totten; 13. Bill Litton; 14. Brittany Force; 15. Mike Salinas; 16. Terry McMillen.
FUNNY CAR: 1. John Force; 2. Ron Capps; 3. Robert Hight; 4. Courtney Force; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. Cruz Pedregon; 7. Tim Wilkerson; 8. Jack Beckman; 9. J.R. Todd; 10. Jonnie Lindberg; 11. Matt Hagan; 12. Jeff Diehl; 13. Terry Haddock; 14. Bob Tasca III; 15. Shawn Langdon; 16. Todd Simpson.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson; 2. Jason Line; 3. Chris McGaha; 4. Jeg Coughlin; 5. Deric Kramer; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Alex Laughlin; 8. Tanner Gray; 9. Bo Butner; 10. Drew Skillman; 11. Matt Hartford; 12. Fernando Cuadra; 13. Erica Enders; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Joey Grose; 16. Will Hatcher.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Hector Arana Jr.; 2. Jerry Savoie; 3. Andrew Hines; 4. Karen Stoffer; 5. Scotty Pollacheck; 6. LE Tonglet; 7. Steve Johnson; 8. Matt Smith; 9. Hector Arana; 10. Angie Smith; 11. Jim Underdahl; 12. Angelle Sampey; 13. Ryan Oehler; 14. Joey Gladstone; 15. Cory Reed; 16. Eddie Krawiec.
TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 1,132; 2. Clay Millican, 959; 3. Leah Pritchett, 949; 4. Tony Schumacher, 930; 5. Doug Kalitta, 893; 6. Antron Brown, 750; 7. Terry McMillen, 696; 8. Brittany Force, 658; 9. Richie Crampton, 576; 10. Scott Palmer, 544.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, 1,156; 2. Matt Hagan, 946; 3. Ron Capps, 930; 4. Robert Hight, 911; 5. Jack Beckman, 906; 6. J.R. Todd, 832; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 746; 8. John Force, 735; 9. Shawn Langdon, 647; 10. Bob Tasca III, 596.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, 1,044; 2. Tanner Gray, 976; 3. Erica Enders, 969; 4. Vincent Nobile, 947; 5. Chris McGaha, 875; 6. Drew Skillman, 842; 7. Jeg Coughlin, 838; 8. Bo Butner, 782; 9. Jason Line, 778; 10. Deric Kramer, 725.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 591; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 564; 3. Hector Arana Jr, 501; 4. LE Tonglet, 493; 5. Jerry Savoie, 481; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, 417; 7. Matt Smith, 411; 8. Angie Smith, 304; 9. (tie) Hector Arana, 289; Angelle Sampey, 289.