In the 1960s, a group of young men who had graduated from local high schools would head out to State Road 37 late at night, mark out a quarter of a mile with paint and try to sneak in some drag races without being caught by the police.
Even back then, Bob Glidden was almost always out in front.
“Bob was always the fastest,” longtime friend Steve Dillman said. “He worked harder at it than all the rest of us.
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A 10-time NHRA Pro Stock champion and a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Glidden passed away Sunday at the age of 73. He is survived by his wife Etta and their sons Rusty and Billy.
Glidden graduated from Whiteland High School in 1962, and his late-night circle of racing friends included Dillman, a 1962 Greenwood graduate, and Rick Burkert, who graduated from Southport that same year. The trio would ride around together looking for races, most of which took place on the long straightaways of State Road 37 or State Road 252.
By the late 1960s though, Glidden had started competing in organized drag racing. He made a name for himself in the Super Stock class before moving up to Pro Stock in 1972 and making a full-time career out of the sport.
He won his first Pro Stock series championship in 1974 and repeated the following year. He later added runs of three consecutive titles, from 1978 to 1980, and five straight titles from 1985 to 1989.
Remarkably, Glidden’s incredible run of success came without help from a large crew. He did all of the work on his cars with only his wife and sons there to help. Glidden would routinely spend upwards of 16 hours a day working in his shop, Dillman said.
“Bob was a self-taught man,” Dillman said. “Nobody ever really gave him anything to help him with his racing; he succeeded on his own.”
When he retired as a full-time driver in 1997, Glidden was the winningest driver in NHRA history with 85 first-place finishes. On the organization’s list of the top 50 drivers from its first 50 years, Glidden ranked fourth.
“He was a true competitor who left a lasting legacy of excellence both on and off the track,” NHRA president Peter Clifford said in a statement.
Glidden was beloved by his fans, more so in Johnson County than anywhere else. For those who raced with him on local streets many decades ago, when he and his friends put every spare dollar they had into their cars, news of his death has hit particularly hard.
“I loved him dearly,” Dillman said. “Losing him is like losing one of my brothers.”
“He put Whiteland on the map.”