Written by Mary Lendzion
Photography and Video by Kevin DiOssi, Steve Baur, and Dr. Rudy Rouweyha
Whether it was a weekday, weeknight, or weekend, Billy Glidden could be found helping his father, Bob Glidden, work on his race cars throughout his childhood. He doesn’t remember having many days off, but he does remember learning how to design heads and intakes, build short-blocks, set up equipment for machine work, install headers and so much more.
He also remembers writing comprehensive notes about everything he was doing and how he was doing it, and while that certainly served his father well when he was competing in Pro Stock and other categories, it also served Billy well.
He went on to climb into the cockpit of the Project 514 Mustang that Don Walsh Sr. and Steve Grebeck built, but wanting his own car, he prepared a 1989 Mustang in the early 1990s with a small-block Ford featuring J302 heads and some parts purchased at a salvage yard. He pulled it into an enclosed trailer, which he described as “the nicest thing I owned at the time,” hopped into the back of it and handed his now-wife, Shannon, the keys to his old F-350 pickup truck and asked her to drive while he wrapped up the wiring on the car on the way to a Fun Ford race that was 200 miles away.
“It felt like Shannon was driving through a field while I was riding in the enclosed trailer with the generator running and the roof vent open so that maybe I wouldn’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Billy. “When we got to the race, I entered Street Stock and from there, we ran Fun Ford, Mr. Gasket Challenge, some 10.5 shootouts, and other races.”
After masterfully putting his name on the motorsports map one race at a time, Billy became known for his passion and persistence, ingenuity and inventiveness, even as he was forced to change course in the mid 1990s.
“I crashed the 1989 Mustang that I had built when the slapper bar pulled in two,” Billy said. “Prior to that, I had driven the 1989 Mustang that Jonathan Bennett had been racing. It was built by Alan Dudley, had a four-link and was on slicks. It had a small-block Ford with a sheetmetal intake and nitrous, and I went on to purchase it.”
He proceeded to pull all of the parts from his former Mustang, which weren’t compromised in the crash, and put them in the new 1989 Mustang. Kooks Headers and Exhaust built headers and exhaust for it, and then Billy headed to a Hot Rod Series race in Pennsylvania.
“We had a Liberty five-speed in the car, and we found the clutch mechanism, which was a cable rather than a mechanical type was hard to manipulate,” Billy explained. “It was hard to do a burnout in the car. We got through that race, but we sure didn’t win it.”
With a list of things he wanted to do to the car upon returning home to Indiana, Billy got busy. He modified the clutch setup and replaced the fuel injection with a carburetor, among other things.
“After that, we went to the FlowMaster Invitational in Virginia, and my nitrous was coming on in third gear,” said Billy, whose equally committed crew chief is his wife, Shannon. “I had never run a fuse in my nitrous but was told I needed to. Then, someone suggested I put a relay in it instead, and we went to a parts store and bought a Ford starter relay, and the next day, I ran 7.90 and that was the first legal 7-second run in 1997 for 10.5 cars, and I won. That came with a financial reward, and from then on, we had a very good racing history overall. We won most everything we went to. I worked toward making the car as user-friendly as possible because it was just Shannon and me, and because I knew we could have to work on it at any time, including in motel parking lots, store parking lots and anywhere between the race we were just at and the race we were going to.”
Billy was earning wins at World Ford Challenge, World Street Nationals, Fun Ford Weekend, and other events, and setting plenty of records along the way.
“For a lot of years, when many other drivers ran nitrous, I would run as good or better, but in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, the turbo stuff started coming in, and turbos would have more speed, but we would still run quicker,” said Billy. “We were able to continue winning races and to hold our own, but then turbo racers, and even blower racers, started figuring out how to go even faster.”
Unwavering in his determination to always do better, Billy raced the 1989 Mustang as often as he could, including in NMCA Super Street and match races. Sometimes, he would take part in three or four match-races per week.
“That lasted for quite a while,” said Billy. “That’s how Shannon and I survived. We raced. That’s just what we did. We learned to get down race tracks that were hard to get down, and race tracks that other racers weren’t able to get down.”
Billy went on to share that one of the ways in which he learned to get down less-than-ideal track surfaces involved backing his Mustang out of his shop, staging it, dropping the clutch, banging second gear, and jumping on the brakes.
“That attracted a lot of attention from people passing by,” said Billy, with a laugh. “Some of them wanted rides, so I would give them rides. It didn’t matter if it was a local farmer, someone delivering a package or someone else, and it didn’t matter if it was a man or woman. Plenty of people can attest to that.”
Billy dove into NMRA Pro 5.0 competition in 1998, and won the event at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania.
“One of the prizes was a Vortech blower, and after I accepted it, I took my car to Steve Grebeck and he did chassis work and prepared it for a blower with the piping and the intercooler,” said Billy. “I put an engine together and made a dyno pull. I made 1,000 horsepower with the nitrous and 1,600 horsepower with the blower. I was going to make the switch to the blower, but then I thought about how I would be changing my entire program, so when Elias DeLaTorre called and asked if he could lease or buy one of the blowers, because I had won another one in the meantime, I went ahead and sold both of them to him.”
Glidden continued to win races in all of the series he was competing in, and championships in several of the series, in the fan-favorite and famous 1989 Mustang. He also continued to set records.
“If I were to share the complete history of this car, it would take a year,” said Billy, who also went on to successfully race other Mustangs and Camaros, and in various Pro Mod events, with support from Mickey Thompson, Ray Skillman Auto Group and Edelbrock, among others. “To summarize at this point, I took the 1989 Mustang to the Pritchett Brothers Ultimate Outlaw race at Milan Dragway in 2010, and I had a different clutch combination in it. The car was a little ill-handling. We made 11 attempts to get down track, and we got down three times. We got to the final, where I blew the tires off. We parked the car after that.”
The stock-bodied car sat in a corner in Billy’s shop for nine years, while he focused on racing other cars and work, but that changed in the spring of 2019, when he decided to bring it back to life.
“We just thought it was time to put it back together and see what it could do,” Billy said. “Between helping the farmers around our house, and doing side work for people, we knew it was going to take some time to get the car to where we could actually race it.”
After deciding to return the 1989 Mustang to racing, Glidden read NMCA ARP Nitrous Pro Street rules, and decided to give that category a go.
Billy and Shannon began working on the car’s wiring, water system and fuel system.
“All of that had to be different,” Billy said. “One thing that didn’t have to be different was the chassis. Keith Engling of Skinny Kid Race Cars had built a rearend housing, a Funny Car cage, more bars and other things for the car through the years. In fact, Keith had been instrumental in updating the car from 2000 on.”
When the car was ready late in the year, Billy and Shannon headed to a Wild Wednesday program at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana to test.
“Because there’s minimal track prep for that program, my anxiety about running the car that day was high,” said Billy. “I made a pass and went 4.46, but I felt like that was a fluke because I could tell the car didn’t have the tires hooked up hard. I had to fix some stuff and we couldn’t make another run, so we went home.”
When they tended to what Billy felt they needed to tend to, they headed to a test session at Ohio Valley Dragway in Kentucky.
“I never even got into third gear because the car was so ill-handling, so we went home and looked at things,” said Billy. “Then, when I felt like I had identified something that was not correct, I called Greg Risk, who’s here in town, and asked if he could come and help me look at the car, and we found the issue. It had to do with front-end geometry. It was hard to believe that it could cause the car to be so ill-handling.”
From there, Billy took part in another test session at Ohio Valley Dragway in Kentucky, dead-set on getting dialed in to compete in ARP Nitrous Pro Street at the 18th Annual NMCA World Street Finals presented by Chevrolet Performance in September of 2019 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana.
“The test session was extremely uneventful,” said Billy. “We only made one run, and we shot right down track. We had the opportunity to make more runs, but money is tight, so we decided to just wait for the NMCA race.”
It was worth the wait, for Billy, Shannon and all of their fans, as he sailed to a 4.347 — quicker than the 4.356 record held by Tricia Musi — to set the pace in the 14-car field, and went all the way to the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle with an even-quicker 4.317 against Tony Gillig at the event in his home state.
In true Billy fashion, he backed that win up with another win a few weeks later, this time in Pro Street at Ohio Valley Dragway in Kentucky.
“We prepared all summer long to bring this car back out, and to win both of the races we went to was personally very gratifying,” Billy said. “Actually, just being at the races was even more gratifying.”
Owner and driver: Billy Glidden
Hometown: Whiteland, Indiana
Occupation: We have used our race cars to survive, and I tune for racers and help local farmers
Class: NMCA ARP Nitrous Pro Street
Crew: Shannon Glidden, Nick White
Engine: Small-block Ford
Engine builder: Billy Glidden
Displacement: 430 cubic inches
Block: RDI aluminum block that’s over 20 years old
Cylinder heads: Edelbrock SC1 heads
Intake: Cast Edelbrock
Camshaft: COMP Cams
Carburetor: Pro Systems
Power-adder: Nitrous system by Nitrous Outlet
Transmission: Liberty five-speed with an EastWest clutch
Transmission Builder: Billy Glidden
Rearend: Strange Engineering
Differential: Strange Engineering
Body and/or chassis builder: Alan Dudley with additional work by Steve Grebeck and Keith Engling of Skinny Kid Race Cars
Suspension: Skinny Kid Race Cars
Brakes: Strange Engineering
Wheels: Mickey Thompson
Tires: Mickey Thompson slicks, which were from 2007 when I ran them in 2019
Body modifications: Rear-wheel tubs by Skinny Kid Race Cars
Fiberglass/carbon body components: Carbon fiber hood and doors
Vehicle weight: 2,200 pounds (at the NMCA race in Indiana in 2019)
Quickest ET: 4.31 seconds (at the NMCA race in Indiana in 2019)
Best 60-foot: 1.01 seconds
Fastest mph: 167.82 (at the NMCA race in Indiana in 2019)
Sponsors and people who help: You can’t do this type of racing without a lot of help, and we have certainly had a lot of help from a lot of people through the years.