Hot rod honor
January 9, 2014
By Joe Grove
NHRA inducts local man into hall of fame
Jim Rockstad, former owner and longtime manager of the Seattle International Raceway, will be installed in the National Hot Rod Association Division Six Hall of Fame on Jan. 11, at the Seattle Airport Marriott.
At the same time, the crew of the Northwind, a fuel dragster, will also be inducted. Rockstad, 70, was a member of that crew, along with Jim Albrich, Earl Floyd and Jack Coonrod, all of Vancouver, Wash., and Ed “Ace” McCulloch, of Fresno, Calif.
The Northwind made hotrod news in June 1965 when it beat Georgia’s “Sneaky Pete” Robinson in a two-out-of-three match-race to win the coveted title of Drag News’ No. 1 spot in the nation.
“Back in those days, being No. 1 in Drag News was better than anything that could be accomplished in the sport,” Rockstad said. “If the Northwind could win this match race on its home soil, it would be unheard of in drag racing circles.
“A group of guys from the tall woods of the Northwest won the No. 1 spot in the nation. What a huge accomplishment.”
Each of the crewmembers would go on to pursue their own careers in the sport. McCulloch pursued a successful driving and tuning career that included many record-setting runs. Coonrod became one of the first successful touring gassers in the nation.
Albrich built a number of highly successful racing engines from his shop, Columbia Racing Engines. Earl Floyd owned an auto parts yard and continued in the sport with his wife and family, racing dragsters in the Northwest.
Rockstad, who went on to manage and then own several racetracks in the Northwest, lives with his wife Mo, 62, off Tiger Mountain Road. His path to the NHRA Hall of Fame began back in the mid-50s as a seventh-grader in Portland, Ore.
“I went to the drag races at Shelton, Washington, airstrip, and it is like it started a spark in me, because there were just hundreds and hundreds of race cars,” he said. “I had a little Brownie camera, and I was clicking off all these pictures and seeing the races, and it just really jazzed me up.”
As a boy, Rockstad lived in North Portland, and on the way to school each morning, he had to walk past the workshop where Albrich built racing motors.
“He was a premiere motor builder for fuel dragsters,” Rockstad said. “I’d go in and sit and drool over everything. He liked me and I liked him, and it was a perfect situation.
“He’d tell me how their cars had run when they went up to Seattle, how fast they ran and what engines they were using. It just opened my mind to the sport.”
Rockstad said he did not do well in school. He spent his time drawing hotrods or reading hotrod magazines, But with an extra semester, he managed to graduate and went into construction.
“High school was just in my way, because I wanted to be in this car world,” he said.
Albrich started Columbia Racing Engines in downtown Portland when Rockstad was 22, and offered him a job, which he took. He worked with the Northwind racing team, and when they were not on the road, he worked the parts counter at the shop.
In time, Rockstad had to build a racecar of his own. He found an old English Anglia and transformed it into a dragster, at first with a Chevy engine and then with a blown Chrysler engine and raced it in 1970 and 1971 on Northwest tracks against “funny cars.”
“This was a fast little unit,” Rockstad said. “I was making a run and the car got out of shape and broke off a hind joint on the ladder bar and rolled over into the parking lot.”
Rockstad said he wasn’t a Christian at the time.
“Thank the Lord I didn’t get hurt, but I felt someone was telling me I shouldn’t be doing this,” he said.
Rockstad gave up racing and sold much of his equipment, but he didn’t leave the sport.
He went to work for International Race Parks and when the owner moved to California in 1976, he put Rockstad in charge of his four Northwest racetracks. In 1979, Rockstad promoted a funny car event that brought 26,000 people to the Seattle International Raceway, “which ended up being the biggest event ever,” he said.
Following that event, the owner sold his four Northwest racetracks to Rockstad, who managed them until his retirement in 2001.
Rockstad met Mo on a blind date. She worked for a radio station where she sold airtime.
“When I was told he was a racetrack promoter, I expected this guy in a shiny black suit with a big cigar,” Mo said. “He shows up and he is this tall, lanky guy. I thought his being into racing was pretty unique. It was a foreign world to me.
“I never did take an interest in it, and to this day I can’t tell you what it is about,” she added. “I just see these two cars running side by side. Not long after we got married, we had kids close together, Maren and Zachary, and I was pretty busy with that.”
She said Rockstad had a lot of stress with the racetracks, and so they kept their business and home life separate so he could get away from the problems of the racetrack.
“Living out here in these pristine woods, it is just an escape from the noise of the racetrack,” Rockstad said.
Mo said when she worked at the radio station in Portland, Rockstad wanted to place a series of ads and asked, “How many free ads are you going to give me if the race gets rained out?” She said he called it rain insurance. “He was the only person in all advertising who got the radio station to give him rain insurance.”
Since retiring, Rockstad has turned his promotional skills to Christian charity work, mostly for the Seattle Union Gospel Mission. His big promotion every year is One Meal, One Hope, in which a Thanksgiving meal is purchased for everyone associated with the mission. In the past 11 years, the program has raised $67,000 and distributed 34,000 meals.