Drag racing legend Jerry “The King” Ruth recently returned to the seat of his restored 1969 Top Fuel dragster – but only for a moment.
Ruth climbed inside his nostalgic front-engine machine, fired up its 392 cubic-inch Chrysler engine and delivered a loud roar of high RPMs that tickled the crowd’s ears at the third annual Kent Rod & Custom Car Show by Burlington Green Park last Saturday.
“It has great throttle response, doesn’t it?” the 75-year-old Ruth said after the exhibition. “It does take me back.”
The dragster roared, fed by methanol and nitro.
The man remains sharp, fit and ready to compete. He remains one of the sport’s most intriguing personalities, a piece of drag racing lore.
Ruth, who grew up Kent, dominated Northwest drag strips and tamed national ones to become a world champion. He beat the best to become one of the best in his day – a time when NHRA Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars were just beginning to evolve and accelerate down the quarter-mile track at top-end speeds of 220 mph or better.
“I was a great part of it,” Ruth said of his contributions as a fabricator and pilot during the hot rod golden age of the 1960s and ’70s. “I was only a part of it.”
The Ruth family became well known as they successfully campaigned their cars wherever they went – Kent’s Pacific Raceways, Puyallup and Arlington, even the tracks sprinkled throughout the western provinces of Canada.
Ruth began his racing career at a young age, racing various gas coupes and sedans along with his late brother, John, in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
Ruth built a number of cars, amassing wins and track records while capturing the NHRA Division 6 title in five of the six years from 1964-69. “The King” went on to win eight divisional Top Fuel titles, including seven straight from 1968-74, and two divisional Funny Car titles.
He was inducted into the Don Garlits International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
Ruth stays close to the sport, appearing at reunions and nostalgic drag events. He has climbed inside the cockpit – notably the famed Long dragster restored in mint condition by Bucky Austin – to ignite and rev up the engine.
Long removed from racing competitively, Ruth enjoys being around the sport.
“The body’s gone but the mind’s still going,” he said. “We still know what we’re doing.”