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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.