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Words and photos by Ian Tocher

remember Roger Gustin from back in the late-‘70s, when I watched his jet Funny Car blast across the desert in Lava Soap TV commercials. At the time that was all I knew about a man who started racing straight out of high school in 1957 with a ’49 Chevrolet. “Driving a racecar came as natural to me as breathing,” the former farm boy says. “Once I got started there was never any question about what I wanted to do.”

After struggling just to make ends meet those early years with a ’55 Chevy, Gustin and brothers Phil and Bill got their first big break in 1965 when a Mercury dealer approached them about racing a factory experimental Comet originally built for Jack Chrisman after Chrisman’s bum leg gave him trouble driving the four-speed. Gustin, a dyed-in-the-wool bowtie man, admits to feeling skepticism and even a little apprehension at the time, but those sponsorship dollars meant the Gustin brothers could go racing full time.

That led to a Lincoln-Mercury deal in ’66 that lasted through 1971 when Gustin turned his attention to jet-powered cars. Although running strictly as an outlaw racer for several years, Gustin always promoted safety first and succeeded in 1977 in getting NHRA to sanction jet dragsters. Three years later jet Funny Cars also received official status.

His driving career essentially came to an end in 1992 after a massive wreck at Atco, NJ. Gustin says he tried to make a comeback, “but I had so many broken bones and injuries that the G-forces kind of took me out. They let me know that I wasn’t 30 anymore.”

Now 66, Gustin says he’s having the time of his life working 20-hour days and running the massive Super Chevy Show, which features quarter-mile racing and a major car show at each stop on its nationwide tour. And with 19 events this year Super Chevy ranks in scale behind only NHRA’s national event tour for professional drag racing organizations.

Gustin was inducted into the NHRA Hall of Fame in 1980, the ProJet Association Hall of Fame in 1993, and into Don Garlits’ International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2002. DRO caught up with him at a recent Super Chevy event.

How long have you been involved with the Super Chevy series?

GUSTIN: Me? I’ve been at it 11 years now, but this is the 25th year since the series started in California. It was Dave McClelland’s brainstorm when he worked for Argus Publishing. I was actually at that first event; they held that event the week I got the first jet funny car approved by NHRA, my old Smith Brothers car, and I was out there testing when they had the first Super Chevy Sunday.

What made you want to become a series promoter?

GUSTIN: Well, I had experience doing that all the way back to New Year’s Day 1966, when my brother and I rented a track in southern Ohio and put on our first race. And over the years I have been partners with tracks and promoted races many times, so I always liked this part of the business.

I spent my whole life working with track operators; I spent my time with the very best and a few of the worst, but I always liked the business. So, when the opportunity came along to buy this company (AutoStar Productions, Inc.), I was very glad of it because, as far as I was concerned, if I couldn’t drive racecars this is where I needed to be.

I know you attend most, if not all of the Super Chevy events, but are you a hands-on promoter?

GUSTIN: Yes, I would say I am. It’s a very demanding life, it really is, my wife Susan and I work basically seven days a week all winter long to get prepared. And we have a great staff of people; my brother Bill, he is our key person and basically runs these events. We have a couple of other businesses and we have to dedicate some time to them, but most of our time goes into producing these events, the marketing and advertising, and on up from there. But I love it. It’s what I was born to do, I guess.


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