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A True Family Affair: Hall of Famer Dave Elrod and the Elrod Clan

Wednesday, 08 September 2021

There is an old saying in life that goes, “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Apparently, Dave Elrod is still waiting on that first job.

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Elrod has lived a life filled with hard work and sacrifice, but he has done it all with his family by his side. He has traveled the country winning races, championships, and the respect of his drag racing peers, with his wife Barbara, children, grandchildren, and his closest friends huddled together in a pit area that more so resembles a small caravan than a working space for racecars. On any given race weekend, the collective Elrod clan can be found serving as crew members, racers, and just plain moral support.

They have become known as one of the first families of drag racing, and for their efforts on and off the track, the man behind it all – Dave Elrod – has been selected to the inaugural International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) Hall of Fame class as the IHRA celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021.

“It is an amazing honor and very humbling to be selected to IHRA’s Hall of Fame,” Elrod said. “To be recognized by my peers for doing something that I have loved is very unexpected and appreciated.”

During a career that has spanned four decades, Elrod has collected nearly 100 national, divisional and points-paying event victories, accompanying four IHRA world championships in three different classes in 1983, 1992, 1994, and 1995. He has appeared on numerous magazine covers, won several bigtime races, and even earned IHRA’s prestigious Sportsman of the Year award.

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“I would have to say that my greatest award was the Sportsman of the Year award given to me because it was voted on by my peers,” Elrod said. “Most people outside of racing do not understand how hard it is to do what we all love to do – race, work and take care of your family while being competitive over a long period of time. The people that I have become friends and competed with and helped over all these years thought enough to vote for me. It was a great award.”

Beginning with the father Dave, the two brothers, Tony and Jacob, along with driver Pat Forster, and sister Jamie, who serves as co-crew chief, Team Elrod has been racking up victories for years in nearly every class imaginable.

“I met Pat Forster in 1992 and he started going to the track with me. In the late 90s, he started driving our dragster and in 2005 we partnered up and formed Team Elrod,” Elrod said. “He is my partner, my friend, and has become family. His wife, Dee Ann, and their children, Kaylee, Joey, Will, and P.J. are our family and we wouldn’t want to be racing without them being part of it.

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“Racing is the sport that my whole family loves. My children, grandchildren, and every part of the family are involved in our sport. Our daughter, Shelley, and Travis Colangelo own American Race Cars and build amazing cars that allow us to win. Jamie drives our ATM American dragster, Tony drives multiple cars, Jacob drives the Corvette Roadster tribute car. Pat runs Top Dragster in the American dragster and P.J. drives the Junior Dragster. Tony’s son, A.J., and his daughter, Lily, are counting the time when they can run in Junior Dragster. Racing is our family. We work hard together, we play hard together and we pray hard together.”

And it is that family atmosphere, with both his family and the families of his competitors, that have made race weekends over the past 40 years so enjoyable for Elrod.

“That’s how IHRA racers are everywhere we went. It didn’t matter what state you were in, the racers were always willing to jump in and help you – until you got to the starting line,” Elrod said. “Most of our children are now racing each other. It really was a family atmosphere. I remember Jacob driving the 4-wheeler towing the car while my daughter would stay in the pits and prep the other cars. Before GPS was around, Jacob was also my co-pilot and he would take the atlas and a ruler to figure out how to get to a track and calculate how long it would take to get there.

“A lot of years there was a full northern tour with several races within two hours of our home. That’s when we would have three to five rigs at our house and everyone would stay together. That’s how we got to know so many other racing families.”

Collectively, Team Elrod has won seven IHRA world championships, 60 IHRA national event wins, and nearly 100 IHRA division wins. So many, that Elrod has a hard time finding just one that stands out above the rest.

“The IHRA world championships we have won have been special. Specifically, winning the points championship at Bradenton was great. After that, they started posting the wins at the Don Garlits Museum,” Elrod said. “There were numerous race wins that really stand out. When we ran the T-Bucket Roadster, it would leave so hard it would blow the bell housing apart, so we carried extra transmissions with us. We were racing the national event at Milan, Michigan, and it blew, but we were able to change it out in 15 minutes to make it back the next round and ended up winning the race.

“I have no idea how many local wins at Muncie, Tri-State, Marion, Norwalk, and others we have. I do remember there was a bounty on me for a year at Muncie and Marion. One of my favorite wins was the time Jacob and I both won the IHRA Northern Nationals at Martin, Michigan. I won in Top Dragster and Jacob won in Quick Rod. Then there were the races at Grand Bend Raceway in Canada. The Canadians were a great crowd and we always did well there. Jacob was the first to win three national events in one day there, winning Hot Rod, Quick Rod, and E.T. combo.

“Another race that stands was qualifying in Top Dragster at Norwalk’s national event in the early 90s. We had one of the oldest, smallest motors in the field of about 90 cars trying to qualify for a 32-car field. We did and we made it to the finals where I went red against Scott Stillings. Of course, winning at Bristol was always one of the more exciting victories because of how tough it was to win there, and my favorite track to visit was Epping, New Hampshire. There are just so many memories from so many places.”

And for Elrod, that amazing journey all began with a fascination with his brother.

Elrod’s brother, Max, was paralyzed from the waist down. Inseparable, Elrod began going to Kettlersville Drag Strip in Ohio alongside his brother as he competed in a ’63 Dodge with hand controls set up for the brake and gas. As he watched that night, Elrod remembers the excitement he felt as the cars lifted high off the asphalt at launch and powered down the strip.

“One night on the way to the track, Max had had a few beers and I had to drive,” Elrod recalls. “When we got to the track, I asked him if I could race, and he said OK. I used the brake and gas torquing the car up and had a better run than he ever had. From then on he let me run his car.”

Over the years, Elrod has gotten behind the wheel of a long list of race machines. From street cars, to stock, modified, and class cars. From Novas and Corvettes to Camaros, roadsters, and dragsters, Elrod has raced just about anything with wheels. As part of that impressive list, he has also competed in numerous classes including Top Sportsman, Top Dragster, Stock, Hot Rod, Quick Rod, and even Super Stock, where he was the first to run eight seconds in 1989 in a Firebird owned by Harold Stout.

“In the early days we didn’t have much to race on money-wise, so we stayed local. That is where I learned to be consistent and gained the knowledge you need to be competitive. I had to win to be able to keep racing and you can’t eat just by winning trophies,” Elrod said. “I went to a couple of IHRA national events and did well, so in 1981 we made the decision to start to follow the IHRA circuit. We built a Corvette to be competitive, but in 1982 I barrel-rolled it at the finish line at Bristol at the last race of the year. The next year we built a ’23 T-Bucket Roadster and went racing.

“The best part about those early years was being able to make lifelong friends throughout the United States. We traveled the circuit using our vacation time and raced all over the country. We decided that if a race was eight hours or less from home, we would take all four kids. If it was more, we would find family to keep them so we could have time together.

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“My family supported me in racing from the time we were married and started having children all the way to the present. They were not only my supporters but also crew chiefs, mechanics, co-drivers, and are racers today.”

Today, Team Elrod has three American dragsters, a 2019 American roadster tribute car, a ’63 split-window Corvette, and two American Junior Dragsters. Elrod was originally slated to fill one of the dragster seats, but he tore his rotator cuff and handed the ride over to his son.

Team Elrod continues to compete and be successful even today. And with every victory, with every race day spent in the pits with dozens of family members, Elrod vividly recalls those early years in the sport and how that determination and never-give-up attitude led to the full family affair he enjoys today.

“I am grateful for everything racing has allowed me to do in my life,” Elrod said. “It has been a great adventure and I really enjoyed everything about IHRA. The racers, officials, tracks, events, all of it. It has been a wonderful life.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 September 2021

 

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