Please join us as we proudly welcome three new inductees into the Vintage Air Hall of Fame for 2018. Each of these men have undoubtedly left their mark on the Motorsport world in their own unique way and for that we are forever thankful. Without further ado, we welcome:
In 1963, he won the first NASCAR race he entered, one of the twin Daytona 500 qualifying contests driving for legendary team owner/car builder Smokey (‘Best Damn Garage in Town’) Yunick. Rutherford was still just 25 years old. Later in’63, he finished his first Indy 500 race. In 1964, he drove a Watson Offy roadster, returning the following year, making more of an impression. Early in 1966, JR crashed heavily at Eldora Speedway in a Sprint Car, breaking both arms and suffering a head injury. While hospitalized, Rutherford met a cute nurse named Betty, who would become his wife. In 1967, Rutherford made the transition from the front-engined Indy roadsters to the then-new mid-engine design. His talents were again shown by qualifying second for the 500 in 1970, and eighth in 1972. Rutherford’s for-tunes changed in 1973, when he was tabbed to drive for veteran Formula One entrant McLaren. Qualifying ninth in the F1-inspired McLaren, he won his first Indy 500. He drove for McLaren in seven consecutive 500s, gaining his second 500 crown for the team in 1976.
For 1980, Rutherford teamed with famed Texas racer Jim Hall, taking the pole and his third win in the Indy 500. Driving the Chaparral, Rutherford was the class of the Indy car field. In addition to the 500, he won four more of the Indy car series’ 12 races, adding three second-place finishes to his points total and finishing the year as the PPG Indy Car World Series champion.
1987 was Rutherford’s last as a full-season Indy car driver, though his career continued into 1994, when he officially retired, ending a remark-ably successful and diverse career as a driver. In addition to all his Sprint Car and Indy car races, JR ran 35 NASCAR Winston Cup races, and was selected for the International Race of Champions five times.
During the winding down phase of his career, Rutherford transitioned to working as a television analyst, for the “big three networks” and ESPN. More recently, JR became a series driver-coach and drove the IRL pace car for the Indy Racing League. Today, Johnny Rutherford remains one of the most visible and successful ambassadors of Indy car racing as well as enjoying cruising in his 1934 Ford coupe.
Gordon Leland has been a central figure in drag racing and hot rodding in the San Antonio area for more than 50 years. Like many of us, Gordon got the drag racing bug in high school, taking his daily driver to the old Double Eagle drag strip, with modest success. Taking a vacation to drive to California to check out the scene, Gordon was working his way back from the Bay Area when he decided to visit Woody Gilmore’s chassis shop in the L.A. area. He left for San Antonio with a brand new Woody dragster chassis strapped to the roof of his ’56 Chevy. At the ripe old age of 21, Gordon was the proud owner of the beginnings of a state-of-the-art fuel dragster.
Back here, Gordon quickly did a deal to combine his chassis and the blown fuel hemi then powering a rather dated Top Fueler owned and driven by San Antonio Speed Shop proprietor Danny Rightsell. Thus was born the second Texas Longhorn, now restored and on display in the cacklefest area here today.
Together, Gordon and Danny raced Texas’ first modern-era Top Fuel dragster to considerable success across the state of Texas and beyond. Racing against the major competitors of the time — men like Vance Hunt, Bobby Langley and Eddie Hill — they won as often as not, achieving best performances of 7.02 seconds and 205 miles per hour.
By the late ’70s, Gordon was back in drag racing, partnering in a Funny Car with Bobby Rex, a previous Hall of Fame inductee, and driver Jon Barrett. The trio raced in Funny Car for 10 years, achieving considerable success including Top Alcohol Funny Car at the Mile High Nationals in 1982, and won three consecutive AHRA Nationals at Alamo Dragway.
After the Funny Car, Gordon ventured into circle track racing, sponsoring George Hagy in Late Model Stocks. Hagy, by the way, had a major hand in the restoration of the Texas Longhorn II, and was a force in Late Model racing, as a driver and car builder.
In 1988, Gordon opened Alamo Hot Rod Parts. As the name implies, Gordon made a conscious decision to cater primarily to the street rod and street machine builders. Alamo Hot Rod Parts continues as a thriving business today.
Throughout, Gordon Leland has been heavily involved as a sponsor and partner in a wide range of racing cars. Among them are the carbon-bodied ’68 Camaro Top Sportsman driven by Trent Wilson, and a 1929 glass Model A-bodied C/Gas Roadster that has run 239 miles per hour at Bonneville in the hands of Ian Brown.
In a career spanned everything from circle track racing to Top Fuel and land speed racing, Gordon has been a central player in motor sport, and provided a helping hand to countless other racers and street rodders throughout Texas.
For Steve, it all began in the pages of hot rod magazines. In high school, Steve set his eye on a ’53 Cadillac, an idea his parents prevented him from realizing. But once free of parental restraints, Steve began modifying a succession of cars while attending the University of Texas, beginning with a ’59 Ford truck.
In 1987, Steve opened the Continental Club, which quickly became a nationally respected Austin music venue, and through the club met musicians, including Jimmie Vaughan, who shared his love of street machines. Inspiration from folks like this led to Steve’s first cus-toms, a 1951 Mercury and a ’57 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, both of which he still owns.
Steve soon took trips to the Paso Robles car show for a first-hand look at the way they were doing things out West. These road trips led to Steve to starting the Kontinentals Car Club, whose members honor traditionally styled hot rods and kustoms. Ultimately Steve and the club created the Lone Star Round Up for traditional rods and customs. Now one of the most popular automotive events in America.
It started small in 2002. The first one-day Round Up was held at an old football stadium attracting 80 cars. It was patterned after early So-Cal car shows Steve had seen in some old home movies. On the first night after the show a handful of cars were fired up on a street near the Continen-tal Club, a display which was quickly disbanded before the black-and-whites arrived to see what all the noise was about! Soon, word of mouth, the Jalopy Journal’s “HAMB” forum, and coverage in The Rodders Journal helped the Lone Star Round Up quickly outgrow the football stadium and it was moved to city parks in Austin for a few years. The show is now permanently housed at the Travis County Expo Center and draws over 800 cars and trucks each year.
In addition to running his music and restaurant businesses, Steve continues build and drive an impressive collection of early rods and customs. Two “stars” in his garage include the ‘barn find’ Tom Orren roadster, aka The Waco Kid, a ’29 Ford of which Steve has become the caretaker. One of the earliest well known hot rods in central Texas, it was stored away, untouched for almost 50 years! Acquired in 2004, the car remains the same as when it was put away in 1955. The other love is a radical Westergard styled custom, the Black Dahlia, a now topless ’36 Ford with an Olds V8 and Cadillac LaSalle grille. It and the Waco Kid continue to be street-driven regularly.
Another custom, that probably has the most miles logged on it, is Steve’s low and smooth 1957 Coupe De Ville, built by Vintage Air Hall of Famer Gary Howard. Steve’s passion for early period-perfect customs, flathead V8s and the 1950’s style has continues to grow, as has his collection. In turn, it has led to getting into the nostalgia race scene with a front engine late 1950s hemi powered digger and vintage race karts. Steve and the Kontinen-tals organized the ‘Day of the Drags’ at Little River drag strip, near Temple, Texas, where, as with the Lone Star Round Up, participation is limited to cars built before 1964.
All of which serves to illustrate that Steve is a certified car guy, a man of many hats, and the spark which ignited the Austin car scene. For all his many accomplishments, and his nurturing of that scene, we are pleased to induct Steve Wertheimer into the Vintage Air Hall of Fame.