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Drag Racing Legend Bob Glidden Passes at 73
Hall of fame driver Bob Glidden succumbs to illness
Ford racing icon and 10-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Bob Glidden passed away December 17 at the age of 73. Glidden, of Whiteland, Indiana, was one of the most prolific builders and drivers the sport of drag racing has ever seen. Glidden’s career spanned over 25 years and in addition to running Pro Stock, Glidden made a few appearances at World Ford Challenge events behind the wheel of his son Billy’s popular Fox-Body Mustang. Bob Glidden passed away at 9:40 pm, Sunday evening—he was with his wife of 54 years Etta, and their sons Billy and Rusty.
Glidden’s storied career began in the late 1960s behind the wheel of a 427 Fairlane and a Galaxie in the Stock ranks, and he continued driving full-time in Pro Stock until 1997. Along the way, he acquired the nickname “Mad Dog” for his relentless work ethic and dedication to giving it all. Glidden dominated the scene in the 1970s and 1980s, winning back-to-back NHRA Pro Stock championships in 1974-1975, followed by three in a row from 1978-1980, and then five straight championships from 1985-1989.
Glidden retired from full-time driving in 1997, after an accumulated 85 NHRA national event wins, the most in NHRA at the time, which has been only surpassed by John Force and Warren Johnson. Bob Glidden remains third on the NHRA all-time win list.
Glidden’s accomplishments didn’t end at the 1,320 either, he is listed 4th on NHRA Top 50 drivers (1951-2000), he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2005 and he received an induction to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1994.
“Everyone in the NHRA community is saddened to learn the news of Bob’s passing,” said NHRA President Peter Clifford said in a statement. “He was a true competitor who left a lasting legacy of excellence both on and off the track. Our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences are with the Glidden family at this difficult time.”
While he briefly drove a Chevrolet and Plymouth, Ford fans consider him the ultimate Blue Oval driver. Glidden got his start while working as a line mechanic at Ed Martin Ford in Indiana before making racing his full time career. Glidden drove the aforementioned big-block Fairlane in NHRA Division 3 Stock and Super Stock competition, but switched to a 428 Cobra Jet Mustang in 1968.
Eventually, in 1972, Glidden sold a pair of Super Stock Mustangs and purchased a Pro Stock Pinto from Jack Roush and Wayne Gapp. Glidden’s success on track led him to resign his position at Ed Martin Ford. That same year, he made the courageous move to full-time racer and scored a runner-up to Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins at the final Supernationals of the 1972 season.
Glidden claimed his first national win in 1973 at his hometown race, the coveted NHRA U.S. Nationals. Bob Glidden ran a 9.03-second run at 152.54 mph, which was top speed in qualifying and of the Pro Stock field.
Glidden improved his engine building and race craft and that helped him achieve strength in throughout the 1970s. He won his first championship in 1974 and in 1975 he scored five top qualifiers and eight top speeds. He also won seven events and his second straight Winston Drag Racing championship.
Glidden locked in his third Winston title in 1978. He started the season in his Ford Pinto, winning the Winternationals and Cajun Nationals. By season’s end, Glidden switched to the boxy Ford Fairmont, and with that car he finished the season undefeated in five national competitions. Glidden had seven national victories that season, tying Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. That year he broke the Pro Stock single-season record of six wins set previously by Jenkins.
Due to a change in the rules, which didn’t suit his Ford, Glidden switched to a Plymouth Arrow for 1979. Despite running a new car and engine, he won the season-opening Winternationals and did not lose a round until mid-season. His streak ended after 50 rounds (14 races), when he uncharacteristically redlighted the second round at the Mile-High Nationals.
Back in a Ford for 1980, Glidden was the man to beat. He chased Chevy Camaro driver Lee Shepherd for the 1980 Winston title all season, barely eclipsing Shepherd to claim his fifth overall and third straight championship.
For 1982 NHRA went from a power-to-weight formula to a new 500ci displacement limit for Pro Stock. Glidden commissioned chassis builder Don Hardy to build a new Ford EXP for the season and was planning on running a 351 Cleveland engine in the car. Due to the new rules, he was forced to use a modified Boss 429 Ford engine in the short wheelbase car. The results were as Glidden put it, “the worst handling race car he ever drove.”
Glidden won only a single event, the NHRA Springnationals, with three Runner-up finishes. The following season, he and Ford teammate Rickie Smith debuted new Thunderbirds at the 1983 season opening Winternationals at Pomona.
The T-Bird was an instant hit with fans, and it wasn’t too shabby on track. It set top speed at 177.86 on route to a runner-up finish at the opener in Pomona. Glidden scored victories in 1983 at the NHRA Springnationals, Mile High Nationals, Northstar Nationals and at the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis where he ran a track record of 7.68. Glidden also set a speed record in 1983 with a pass of 182.18 mph.
Glidden had a handle on the longer-wheelbase Thunderbird, and the 500-inch Shotgun engine and that allowed him dominate the 1985 season. He led the chase from start to finish, winning five national events and securing his sixth Pro Stock championship.
Glidden was back for 1986, but things didn’t go as planned. After a semifinals round win at the Southern Nationals in April, his Thunderbird got crossed up and he shot to the left-side guardrail. Glidden hit the railing nose first, which caused the car to flip over and then barrel roll multiple time before coming to rest right-side up in the shut-down area. The Ford was destroyed but Glidden climbed out unscathed. In fact, he had the wherewithal to remove his fire jacket and place it over the carburetors and manifold to hide any secrets.
Glidden returned to the next race with a new mount, though his first victory of the season came in July at the Mile-High Nationals. It was the first of his three straight victories. And despite the slow start, he hoisted the Wally at the final seven events to claim his seventh Winston NHRA Drag Racing title.
Glidden was victorious in 1987 eight times, which included his 60th NHRA national win. And he completed the season with five straight wins and his eighth Pro Stock championship. This was perhaps his most dominant season, as he made 10 final-round appearances, won a record 42 rounds of competition, and he qualified number one in all 14 events!
Glidden’s two-season streak finally ended at the 1988 Gatornationals with 22 straight top qualifiers. And in 1988 he won five of the last seven races en route to his fourth straight title. For 1989 Glidden switched to a Ford Probe that set a national e.t. record at 7.277 seconds—the quickest Pro Stock run in NHRA history. He used the Probe to win at the Fallnationals, which was his 67th career victory. Glidden again showed his Pro Stock prowess, winning his record 10th and final championship in 1989. He swept 5 of the first 7 events and 7 out of the first 11. Overall he won 9 times that season, ending the 1980s with 49 wins.
Glidden completed his career winning three events in 1990, one event in 1991, two events in 1992, and two events in 1993. He won his 85th and final national event at the Mopar Nationals in 1995, after missing most of the 1995 season due to open heart surgery during the off season. Glidden retired after just two events in the 1997 season.
But regardless of those impressive stats, Bob Glidden was the guy Ford fans rooted for, and even if you didn’t like Ford, you respected him. He dominated and continued to keep Ford at the top of Pro Stock, even when outnumbered by Chevrolet and Mopar. He was humble with the fans, and feared by his opponents. He was a fighter, even in his last hours.
“He fought like you wouldn’t believe,” his son Billy confirmed. “He even tried to get out of bed last night at 8:20. But today, his condition took a turn for the worse. Even when his nurse believed he wasn’t going to make it long into today, he once again defied the odds.” Rest in peace Bob Glidden.