Bob Glidden, the 10-time NHRA pro stock champion, an IHRA pro stock champion, a native of Whiteland, Indiana, and one of the greatest drag racers of all time has died at age 73, surrounded by his family. It is with great sadness that we bring you this news. Glidden’s career was marked by incredible amounts of personal dedication, success, domination, and a work ethic the likes of which the sport has seldom seen. His career accomplishments are nearly superhuman with one of the most incredible stats being that the man appeared in the finals of the US Nationals 13 times IN A ROW. That’s a factual statement no matter how outlandish you think it sounds. He was voted #4 all time on NHRA’s Top 50 list during the 50th anniversary season of the organization’s existence.
The son of a sharecropper, Glidden lived what many would consider the motorsports equivalent of the American dream. A self-taught mechanic who overhauled a broken family tractor at age 12 because he was the only person not working in the fields, he went onto a career as a Ford mechanic where he not only excelled in the garage but also in sportsman racing promoting the very dealership he worked for, Ed Martin Ford.
Through the middle 1960s Glidden competed in a lightweight 427 powered Fairlane among other cars like the Galaxie above which were terror machines in the stock and super stock scene of the midwest. Glidden set the B/SA national record in the above pictured machine.
In 1968 because of his burgeoning success, Martin put his prodigy racer in the hottest thing Ford had to offer for sportsman racing, a 428 Cobra Jet Mustang stocker. A super stock Cobra Jet was later added to the fleet. Maintaining his job as a line mechanic at the dealer and racing a schedule that was busy but paled on comparison to what his later career would look like, Glidden graduated to super stock and became the man to beat in NHRA division three competition. In a situation that would become all to familiar to him during his pro stock career, Glidden became such a focus of rules makers and fellow competitors that his car was torn down at every available opportunity.
During 1972 he and his wife Etta decided to do what they had always wanted to do, which was to race on a professional level in the NHRA’s pro stock category. They sold the Mustangs, the Fairlane, and whatever else they had to rase the money and bought a Pinto from Gapp and Roush. Between the truck, the trailer, the car, and a spare engine with parts they had $18,000 invested in what they hoped would be their future. The relative unknown from Indiana traveled to the NHRA Supernationals in California, the final event of the 1972 season and managed a runner up finish to Bill Jenkins in his first ever pro stock race. He collected $12,400 and on that day one of the greatest careers in drag racing history was born.
Here’s the thing to remember about Bob Glidden. He raced like the same guy who showed up at that first event every day of his life for decades. Nothing was taken for granted. Nothing was considered easy or mundane. He, like so many other prolifically successful people in any form of sport never considered himself great, even in the face of clearly being so. He woke up every morning with a drive to succeed and a nagging fear of failure in the back of his head. Bob Glidden never drank his own Kool-Aid and he approached each and every of the hundreds of events he ran like a kind of desperate guy who had spent his life’s savings to take a shot at the big leagues and could literally not afford to fail.
The eventual hell that Bob Glidden would wreak in the lives of his fellow competitors began to appear in 1973. During the eight race 1973 season Glidden had a runner up finish to Butch Leal in Canada and then at the US Nationals he defeated Wayne Gapp in the finals to win the first of NINE Indy titles in his career. At the Supernationals Gapp got one back on Glidden, beating him the finals. So he made the finals three races in a row winning once. If anyone had doubts about Glidden’s designs on success, their blood had to have run cold watching him race in 1974 and 1975. In 1974 he won the Springnationals, and in the final three races he had a runner up in Canada at Le Grandnational, then he won Indy, then he won the World Finals. 1974 would be the first of his 10 NHRA championships.
He won the first two races of 1975, beating Wayne Gapp, the guy he stole the title from in 1974 along the way. He then won the fall nationals and the World Finals beating Wayne Gapp and Bill Jenkins at those events. During this time in NHRA history, racers ran both divisional and national events to gain points. Due to his national and divisional success Glidden captured his second NHRA championship in 1975. He was dominating with five number one qualifiers, he set low ET a half dozen times during the season and all the while, NHRA rules makers were adding weight to his combo, moving weight from others, and basically playing musical chairs to keep things in balance. Additionally, Glidden drove three different cars in 1975 while winning this title including the old Pinto that he used to kick ass at the end of the year.
1976 was a down year for Glidden and one where he actually raced a Chevrolet…for one race. Glidden showed up at the 1976 US Nationals in a Monza, much to the amazement of everyone. Remember, Ford was not giving Glidden factory support so he was beholden to no one but himself. The Monza was done out of spite, to teach people a lesson. While the car did not perform to his standards at Indy, the point was made and while the 1976 season frustrated Glidden, it set the stage for a run that no one in the world of drag racing could have fathomed in the seasons to come.
Glidden at 1976 Winternationals – STORY CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO
The 1977 season was one where Glidden returned to form. He and his trusty Pinto came away with four wins and a runner up. With that success he managed a second place finish in the standings behind the one and only Dyno Don Nicholson. Glidden started the season of 1978 in his Pinto winning the Winternationals, pulling a runner up at the Gatornationals, and then winning the Cajun Nationals. He then had a runner up at the Springnationals, appearing in every available final round to that point in the season. At the next race, the Summernationals at Englishtown Glidden unveiled his doomsday weapon, the 1978 Ford Fairmont that would become the only undefeated pro stock car in NHRA history. He literally never lost a race he entered with it. He won the Summernationals, he won the Le Grandnational in Montreal, he won Indy, he won the Fallnationals, and he closed the deal out by winning the World Finals. Insanely, 1979 was better.
GLIDDEN WIN’S ‘EM ALL – STORY CONTINUES AFTER VIDEO
Late in the 1978 season, in the midst of completely devastating the competition in the Fairmont, Glidden was approached by Chrysler and offered a sponsorship deal to compete in a Plymouth Arrow for 1979. Because Ford had yet to provide Glidden with factory support and Chrysler was willing to pay him directly to go racing, he took the deal. While many people would have thought he was crazy, Glidden raced to feed his family and while he was switching brands, he would not switch off the competitive spirit that he used to dominate so hard in Fords. He actually dominated harder in the Plymouth.
The 340 based small block in the Plymouth was a godsend for Glidden. Not just the engine itself but the race weight he was allowed to use in competition with the Arrow. Lighter than the Ford and making scads of power through his genius as an engine man, Glidden did something that today seems thoroughly impossible. Picking up the win streak that began at Indy in 1978 Glidden went on to win 14 races and 50 rounds of competition in a row. This includes national and divisional races before turning on the red light at the Mile High Nationals. 50 rounds of competition in a row. In pro stock. Hell, in anything that is impressive. No, it is mind boggling. After the Mile High Nationals? He appeared in every final round of the season, winning three out of five. A vengeance ride of a season the sport has never seen before or since. Amazingly, Glidden won the title by the slimmest of margins that year over Lee Shepherd, his main rival and a man who would make life both interesting and difficult for Bob over the next half decade.
1979 profile of Bob Glidden – STORY CONTINUES AFTER VIDEO
Chrysler ran into the financial rocks heading into the 1980 season so his deal there ended. Enter Ford who immediately signed him to a factory sponsorship in fear that Glidden would take his talents under the GM umbrella. It was the Glidden and Shepherd show through the entire 1980 season. When you look at the history books those guys were like prize fighters trading blows and wins back and forth. Glidden held onto the title by the slimmest margin in 1980.
The 1982 season brought on the NHRA’s new format for pro stock. Gone were small blocks and weight breaks and in was a 500ci displacement rule and a 2,350b race weight. This did not lend it self kindly to Glidden’s program at the time. He had a Ford Escort EXP that was designed to hold a Cleveland engine and he had to stick a vastly more powerful Shotgun Hemi into it. While he did make several finals and won the Springnationals, it was a tough row to hoe in a car that was definitely not one of his favorites. He talked about that short little Ford in ill-terms from 1982 forward. 1983 was another successful season and frankly a dream season for anyone but Bob Glidden. There were wins but no title.
Glidden wins Indy vs Lee Shepherd – STORY CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO
The worm turned for Glidden during the 1984 season when he debuted the aerodynamic Thunderbird. That car came into its own during the second half of the year and he appeared in the Indy finals and won the World Finals to close the season and give everyone a taste of what was to come.
Glidden winning the World Finals – STORY CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO
Five championships in a row. That’s what started at Indy in 1984. Glidden came out like the Incredible Hulk in 1985 and leveled everyone. He led the points from the first race to the last and there was never a question at any point in time who was going to be collecting the big check at the end of the year.
If there was a singular season that summed up the life and times of Bob Glidden it was 1986. We have all seen the video of his famous wreck in Atlanta when wind caught a parachute sending his car hurtling into the guardrail. The car made sickening rolls on top of the steel guardrail edge and while the damage was incredible, Glidden was ok. He stumbled out of the car and immediately covered the intake manifold (or what was left of it) with his fire jacked to protect the design and not allow any competitors to see it. Bleeding, but OK he had protected his work.
The 1986 crash – STORY CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO
The whole 1986 season had been a disappointment to that point and people were wondering what would become of Glidden. Well a month later he was at the Cajun Nationals and while it took him until Denver to win a race, he went on to win six of the last seven events of the year and he collected another NHRA championship. It is a comeback story, it is a perseverance story, it is an amazing story.
1987 was more ridiculous domination. Glidden was the number one qualifier AT EVERY RACE. He was in 10 of 14 finals and won the last five races of the year for his 8th title. The was a man on an absolute mission. This was a man who was doing exactly what he was put on this Earth to do. Glidden also had a 42 round win streak, you now, because that’s what the guy did.
1988 was really close to 1987 in the sense that Glidden completely owned the second half of the season winning five of seven races and winning his ninth title. Many people consider 1989 to be Glidden’s finest year when measuring up the quality of the competition and the arduous nature of the circuit. Glidden won nine of 19 races and appeared in the vast majority of the final rounds. His win at the 1989 World Finals was his 76th. While Glidden would not collect another NHRA championship after 1989 he continued winning multiple events a year for several years. His last came in 1995 at Englishtown.
Watch Bob Glidden’s last win – Story continues below video
He retired early into the 1997 campaign. Ford had pared back their support and he did not feel as though he had the resources to compete at the level he wanted so rather than do something he did not feel 100% about he retired from the seat.
Bob Glidden’s legacy in the sport is alive and well today with his son Billy who continues to be one of the hardest working, most resourceful, and dedicated competitors in the sport. Competing at the NHRA pro mod level, he does things his own way and lets his car do the talking, much in the same way his dad did.
The man was a legend not just because of his incredible performances on the track and the career numbers that he amassed. He was a legend because of the way he approached the sport, because of the fact he never took success for granted, and because of the fact that a sharecropper’s son from Indiana who started off in life as a self taught mechanic making a living in a Ford dealership became one of the most vaunted racers in American motorsports history.
You may not like Fords, and you certainly did not like them when Bob Glidden raced but giving anything but respect to this man is a massive, massive mistake. Godspeed Bob, we’re sure Grumpy met you at the gates and was talking smack to get you fired up the second you got there.
Something tells us that the next time you hear a thunderstorm in the distance it may actually sound like a screaming Ford Fairmont with a skinny guy from Indiana behind the wheel, shifting the Lenco as the car hurtles down the big strip in the sky to a win light. Just like the good old days.
RIP Bob, we will miss you.