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Yesterday's Heroes
Aug 19, 2005


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RON COLSON

By Bud De Boer

As we had lunch on a blustery spring day in Rockford, Illinois, one couldnít help but notice the twinkle in Ron Colsonís eyes when asked if he still had the desire to drive a competitive drag car. His reply was a quick "Yes, if it was the right deal." Ron has run the gamut of quarter-mile machinery during nearly 22 years as a driver. It all began in 1958 at Cordova, Illinois, behind the wheel of his sisterís Ď57 MGA and ended in 1980 at the NHRA World Finals, driving Roland Leongís Corvette bodied funny car.

In both cases, his beginning and end as a 1320 shoe were winning endeavors. Ronís first time at the track saw him take home class honors in D/Sports Production while his final appearance netted him a "Wally" in AA/Funny Car. Not bad for a lad from Oregon, Illinois (Pop. 4,060), who in just over two decades, went from cars with 18 second, 70 mph clockings to those capable of running in the low 6ís at over 250 mph.

THE EARLY YEARS... Born in September 1940, Colson was introduced to the world of horsepower at a very early age. His dad not only ran a garage in the city where he grew up and still calls home, but also dabbled in harness racing as a hobby. So whether it had four wheels or four legs, Ron helped out where needed. As time went on, it became apparent that his ponies of choice thrived on high-test gasoline and not bags of oats. Graduating from Oregon Community High School 1958, Ron was a confirmed "motorhead," be it on the street or at the track. He also spent time in the U.S Army Reserves from 1963 to 1969. As he said, "The unit I was in had over 40 racers in it, mostly of the ľ mile variety, with a sprinkling circle track and road racers." There must have been some great conversations when they gathered on duty weekends at the local armory.

Born in September 1940, Colson was introduced to the world of horsepower at a very early age. His dad not only ran a garage in the city where he grew up and still calls home, but also dabbled in harness racing as a hobby. So whether it had four wheels or four legs, Ron helped out where needed. As time went on, it became apparent that his ponies of choice thrived on high-test gasoline and not bags of oats. Graduating from Oregon Community High School 1958, Ron was a confirmed "motorhead," be it on the street or at the track. He also spent time in the U.S Army Reserves from 1963 to 1969. As he said, "The unit I was in had over 40 racers in it, mostly of the ľ mile variety, with a sprinkling circle track and road racers." There must have been some great conversations when they gathered on duty weekends at the local armory.

FIRST TIME AT THE TRACK... It was during the 1957 World Series of Drag Racing in Cordova. Ron went there to see Emery Cook in the Cook & Bedwell dragster. But also competing was a relative unknown at the time by the name of Don Garlits. With hemi Chryslers sporting 8 Stromberg carburetors on a log manifold and running on a healthy dose of nitro, ETs were in the low 9s and speeds approached 170 mph. Colson was hooked and as he says, "I havenít gotten over it to this day."

It was during the 1957 World Series of Drag Racing in Cordova. Ron went there to see Emery Cook in the Cook & Bedwell dragster. But also competing was a relative unknown at the time by the name of Don Garlits. With hemi Chryslers sporting 8 Stromberg carburetors on a log manifold and running on a healthy dose of nitro, ETs were in the low 9s and speeds approached 170 mph. Colson was hooked and as he says, "I havenít gotten over it to this day."

FIRST CAR DROVE... As stated earlier, it was his sisterís Ď57 MGA at Cordova Dragway in 1958. It was a day that broke him from street racing for good. No longer would he have to look around for a police car each time he lined up to face the flagman. Not only did he get a jacket for winning his class; he became hooked on the sport even more.

As stated earlier, it was his sisterís Ď57 MGA at Cordova Dragway in 1958. It was a day that broke him from street racing for good. No longer would he have to look around for a police car each time he lined up to face the flagman. Not only did he get a jacket for winning his class; he became hooked on the sport even more.

1959... Colson ran a 1956 Chevrolet with a Corvette engine. "One of only 50 that were factory built," according to Ron. He had bought the car earlier for $1,400; half of it was his own money and the other half borrowed from dad. However, his father put a stipulation on the loan: "No racing the car until it was completely paid for." Ron said thatís why it didnít see any drag strip action prior to 1959. Though it ran well in A/Stock, the car produced no significant wins.

Colson ran a 1956 Chevrolet with a Corvette engine. "One of only 50 that were factory built," according to Ron. He had bought the car earlier for $1,400; half of it was his own money and the other half borrowed from dad. However, his father put a stipulation on the loan: "No racing the car until it was completely paid for." Ron said thatís why it didnít see any drag strip action prior to 1959. Though it ran well in A/Stock, the car produced no significant wins.

The Ď60s... The decade began with Ron at the helm of a Ď56 Chevy D/Gasser. Though it also ran well for its class, it too produced no significant wins in 1960.

The decade began with Ron at the helm of a Ď56 Chevy D/Gasser. Though it also ran well for its class, it too produced no significant wins in 1960.

Come 1961, it was a switch to B/Gas and a 1939 Studebaker. With an injected Chevy motor and help from Sterling Speed of Rockford, the car posted times in the 12.40s and speeds near 115 mph. It also became a Drag News 1320 Record Holder.

Come 1961, it was a switch to B/Gas and a 1939 Studebaker. With an injected Chevy motor and help from Sterling Speed of Rockford, the car posted times in the 12.40s and speeds near 115 mph. It also became a Drag News 1320 Record Holder.

In 1962, Ron teamed with Gary Wood, moving up to Ď41 Studebaker. Chevrolet still provided the power, but with a much-improved suspension. Clockings of 11.40 at 125 mph were not uncommon. In addition, the team again posted a Drag News 1320 Record for the class during that year. 1963 saw Colson team with Gene Halgrimson and Dick Rockman. Running a Ď56 Chevy D/Gasser, Ron again garnered a Drag News 1320 Record, making it three years running that he set a new mark in the Gas Coupe & Sedan ranks.

In 1962, Ron teamed with Gary Wood, moving up to Ď41 Studebaker. Chevrolet still provided the power, but with a much-improved suspension. Clockings of 11.40 at 125 mph were not uncommon. In addition, the team again posted a Drag News 1320 Record for the class during that year. 1963 saw Colson team with Gene Halgrimson and Dick Rockman. Running a Ď56 Chevy D/Gasser, Ron again garnered a Drag News 1320 Record, making it three years running that he set a new mark in the Gas Coupe & Sedan ranks.

1964 saw Colson move up to one of the quickest and fastest classes in the sport at that time: Top Gas. With a Garlits chassis and a supercharged small block Chevy for power, Ron posted times in the low 8s and speeds near 195 mph. The year 1965 saw him in the same car, with the highlight of the year being a trip to the winnerís circle in Gary, Indiana, where he took Top Gas at the Drag News Invitational.

1964 saw Colson move up to one of the quickest and fastest classes in the sport at that time: Top Gas. With a Garlits chassis and a supercharged small block Chevy for power, Ron posted times in the low 8s and speeds near 195 mph. The year 1965 saw him in the same car, with the highlight of the year being a trip to the winnerís circle in Gary, Indiana, where he took Top Gas at the Drag News Invitational.

1966 included what Ron called "one of the best two months of my life." After building the first Stiletto chassis (w/rear suspension) and installing a supercharged Chevy small block for power, Colson was asked to join the U. S. Drag Racing team on its first-ever trip to Australia. According to Ron, eight cars made the trip: four Top Fuel and four Top Gas. The team visited 6 or 8 Australian tracks, playing to huge crowds wherever they appeared. But a trip of this magnitude is not without risks.

1966 included what Ron called "one of the best two months of my life." After building the first Stiletto chassis (w/rear suspension) and installing a supercharged Chevy small block for power, Colson was asked to join the U. S. Drag Racing team on its first-ever trip to Australia. According to Ron, eight cars made the trip: four Top Fuel and four Top Gas. The team visited 6 or 8 Australian tracks, playing to huge crowds wherever they appeared. But a trip of this magnitude is not without risks.

It seems during the latter part of tour in the "land down under," the promoterís rep made off with all the tour funds that were accumulated thus far, leaving the racers and crews to fend for themselves. Luckily, there were two more events scheduled before the U. S. Team departed for home. Tour funds from the gates at those appearances were divided among the group so that plane tickets could be bought. Shipping cars and equipment back to the states was another story. Most of the cars and gear had to be sent C.O.D. Colson said the tab to get his car back home was around $1,500. It was a lot of money at the time, but as he says, "The trip was well worth it."

In 1967, Colson converted his Stiletto chassised digger to accept a larger motor with more horsepower. Still running in Top Gas, the car was now powered by a supercharged big block. The end result according to Ron was that he was the "First gas Chevy to run in the sevens."

In 1967, Colson converted his Stiletto chassised digger to accept a larger motor with more horsepower. Still running in Top Gas, the car was now powered by a supercharged big block. The end result according to Ron was that he was the "First gas Chevy to run in the sevens."

In 1968, Colson once again moved up the ladder to the pinnacle of competition: Top Fuel. Working for Ken Peterson as driver/ tuner/ mechanic, Ron posted ETs in the high sixes and speeds between 210 and 220 mph. This ride provided a good training ground for the type of equipment Colson would drive in the not too distant future.

In 1968, Colson once again moved up the ladder to the pinnacle of competition: Top Fuel. Working for Ken Peterson as driver/ tuner/ mechanic, Ron posted ETs in the high sixes and speeds between 210 and 220 mph. This ride provided a good training ground for the type of equipment Colson would drive in the not too distant future.

1969 proved to be quite a year for the Colson/Peterson team. Heavily involved in the UDRA Top Fuel points chase, they scored enough markers to bring home the championship at seasonís end. Here Nikki Phillips presents the winners trophy to the duo.

1969 proved to be quite a year for the Colson/Peterson team. Heavily involved in the UDRA Top Fuel points chase, they scored enough markers to bring home the championship at seasonís end. Here Nikki Phillips presents the winners trophy to the duo.

THE Ď70s... For the early part of the 1970 season, Ron drove a top fueler belonging to Dick Huffer. Then about mid-way through the year, he resurrected the Colson-Peterson car, running it under Dick Clarkís American Bandstand colors at the U.S. Nationals. For 1971, Colson joined the Minneapolis based Hoover Wheel Alignment team and drove their Woody chassised fueler that ran a stout 426 hemi Chrysler for power. For most of 1972, Ron again raced with the Hoover team, this time in a mid-engined car. It too featured a Woody chassis and a 426 hemi Chrysler. Then in June of that year, an opportunity came for Colson to get behind the wheel of one of the most celebrated cars of its time, the Chi-Town Hustler funny car. Ron jumped at the chance.

For the early part of the 1970 season, Ron drove a top fueler belonging to Dick Huffer. Then about mid-way through the year, he resurrected the Colson-Peterson car, running it under Dick Clarkís American Bandstand colors at the U.S. Nationals. For 1971, Colson joined the Minneapolis based Hoover Wheel Alignment team and drove their Woody chassised fueler that ran a stout 426 hemi Chrysler for power. For most of 1972, Ron again raced with the Hoover team, this time in a mid-engined car. It too featured a Woody chassis and a 426 hemi Chrysler. Then in June of that year, an opportunity came for Colson to get behind the wheel of one of the most celebrated cars of its time, the Chi-Town Hustler funny car. Ron jumped at the chance.

1973 saw the team campaign a new Romeo Palamides built Dodge Charger to replace the previously run Challenger. This new mount also became part of the Revell Model Program. The team won numerous IHRA events that year, notching ETs in the 6.40s and speeds close to 230 mph.1974 had Ron with the Chi-Town Hustler group once again. Winning continued as it did during the previous season, but this time the end result was the team capturing the first ever IHRA Nitro Funny Car World Championship! Shown here is the excellent rebuild of the car done by new owner Troy Martin.

1973 saw the team campaign a new Romeo Palamides built Dodge Charger to replace the previously run Challenger. This new mount also became part of the Revell Model Program. The team won numerous IHRA events that year, notching ETs in the 6.40s and speeds close to 230 mph.1974 had Ron with the Chi-Town Hustler group once again. Winning continued as it did during the previous season, but this time the end result was the team capturing the first ever IHRA Nitro Funny Car World Championship! Shown here is the excellent rebuild of the car done by new owner Troy Martin.

1975 had Ron in a different car, the Chapman Automotive Chicago Patrol Mustang II. In mid 1976, Colson moved on again, taking what he called a "temporary ride" in Roland Leongís Hawaiian Monza AA/FC. Though Ron thought it was "temporary," the job began a multi-year relationship with one of the top teams in the sport. 1977 had Ron shoeing the Torco Oil/ Powergloss Polish Hawaiian Monza. 1978 had him at the controls of a brand new Hawaiian. It had a Jamie Sarte chassis, a Monza body, and sponsorship by Avanti antennas.

1979 saw the debut of a second Sarte chassised car. This time it had a Corvette body, but as it had the previous year, it carried the sponsorship of Avanti antennas. Ron and the team ran well enough to post a Top 5 finish in NHRA points for the season.

1979 saw the debut of a second Sarte chassised car. This time it had a Corvette body, but as it had the previous year, it carried the sponsorship of Avanti antennas. Ron and the team ran well enough to post a Top 5 finish in NHRA points for the season.

1980... FINAL YEAR IN ACTIVE COMPETITON... It had been over 20 years since Ron Colson took his first ride in a drag car. Nearly a quarter century. It had been a long road to reach this level in the sport. The 1980 season began at the helm of the 1979 chassis re-bodied to look like a Dodge Charger. It also carried a different sponsor: Kingís Hawaiian Bread. In its first race of the year, the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, the team performed well enough to take runner-up honors. The team was ready to make its mark in the points chase during the months ahead. But there were bumps along the road.

It had been over 20 years since Ron Colson took his first ride in a drag car. Nearly a quarter century. It had been a long road to reach this level in the sport. The 1980 season began at the helm of the 1979 chassis re-bodied to look like a Dodge Charger. It also carried a different sponsor: Kingís Hawaiian Bread. In its first race of the year, the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, the team performed well enough to take runner-up honors. The team was ready to make its mark in the points chase during the months ahead. But there were bumps along the road.

Bumps like qualifying at Englishtown, New Jersey, for instance, where the body imploded at the finish line. Last yearís Corvette body was re-painted in the Kingís Hawaiian Bread colors and the show went on. The 1980 season closed at the NHRA World Finals in Ontario, California, the last drag race held at the facility. Not only did Ron win the Winston World Finals that day, but he also finished third in points for the season. With no "quality ride" available in the immediate future, Ron decided it was time to move on and focus on the business side of drag racing. He left the drivers seat in style. Thanks, Ron, for "giving it your all" wherever you appeared.

WHAT IS HE DOING TODAY... Still in the business of drag racing, Ron has his own consulting firm called Track Planning Associates. Colson handles site selection, zoning issues, facility design, construction management, and operator training. As if thatís not enough, Ron is also involved in his local government as a member of the County Board

Still in the business of drag racing, Ron has his own consulting firm called Track Planning Associates. Colson handles site selection, zoning issues, facility design, construction management, and operator training. As if thatís not enough, Ron is also involved in his local government as a member of the County Board

HOW WOULD HE LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED FOR HIS CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE SPORT... As one of those joined drag racing in its infancy and played a part in developing it into the tremendously popular sport it is today.

As one of those joined drag racing in its infancy and played a part in developing it into the tremendously popular sport it is today.

Photos by Ray-Marís, Leslie Lovett, Jon Asher, and from the Ron Colson collection .

 

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