DRAGGIN' THE LINE
By Tom Gillispie
JULIAN — Todd Tutterow was expected to be one of the big dogs at a packed Piedmont Dragway on Thursday, April 10.
But Tutterow, of Yadkinville, was making his first start of the season, and even he didn't know if his '41 Willy's was ready for the Big Dog Shootout. He'd done all he could, though, and it was time to qualify.
"If it is, it is, and if it ain't, it ain't," he said resignedly. "We should be ready."
He had taken a strong resume to Julian. He was the Farmington Dragway track champion in 1987 and the Sportsman Class Racers Association champion in 1989. He finished fourth in IHRA Pro Stock in 1991, and he won the Mountain Motor Shootout in 1993. He was the Quick 8 Racers Association champion seven times, most recently in 2005. He won the Big Dog four times, most recently in 2006. He was the North vs. South $50,000 winner in '04 and the Mean 16 champion from 2004 to '06.
He's run in the ADRL, the Big Dog, the Mean 16, the Mad Dawg, the Top Dawg and selected Outlaw Pro Mod races.
"I'm a big draw at that track (Piedmont Dragway)," Tutterow said. "A lot of fans pull for us to get beat. My wife has stated that I'm the Dale Earnhardt of Big Dog. Most of the time, I'm the big contender here. And 85 percent of the time, I'm the No. 1 qualifier. I've had the most rules changes against my car."
In the end, things worked out. Tutterow qualified first and made the finals in his blower-powered Willy's, losing to Ronnie Gardner of Greensboro in a nitrous-powered '68 Camaro. Gardner ran a 4.26-second, 170-mph final to Tutterow's 4.83-second, 152-mph final.
Tutterow, always looking for a victory, was thrilled with second.
"We lost in the finals. We had troubles in the finals, but we done good," Tutterow said. "I'm pleased. We done good considering the ways things were going. You can't win every race."
Tutterow says he didn't tune for the track on the last run.
"I didn't shake the tires, and the car overpowered the track; that's what we call it," he explained. "My car makes more power the cooler it gets, and the track gets slicker. I didn't adjust."
Tutterow says he works on his cars in the evening after working at his business, West Bend Grading. After 10 to 12 hours of grading subdivisions and such, he'll eat supper, then head to the shop for work on the Willy's and the Mustang, which he says is the world's fastest blown small block with street tires and mufflers.
He says his right-hand man is Neal Gordon, his crew chief. They do everything themselves, he added, except machining parts.
"We work during the day and race at night," he said.
Actually, he does more than that. He's also the crew chief this year for Randy Weatherford's cars and also helps Brian Williams, Andy Beal and others. He says that he won't lie to them, although sometimes he says nothing at all.
This all started 27 years ago when Tutterow started racing street cars in high school; then he worked his way up through the classes. But why would someone devote his life to racing?
"Speed, I guess," he said with a shrug.
"It's an obsession," interjected Denise, his wife.
"Competition," Tutterow added to the mix.
The Tutterows' two children, Ty, 13, and Tia, 10, both race junior dragsters. No surprise there.
"When you grow up in it and get involved, one thing leads to another," he said. "With my daughter, I was surprised (that she raced). "She was a dress-wearing girl."
Now she dresses to race, and her dad is pleased.
"I know where they're at," Tutterow said. "They're not at the mall."
He says he has several sponsors but is always looking for more. He used to race all over the country. Other than a trip to Tulsa coming up, he's staying mostly local this year because of fuel prices. He wanted to race Saturday at Dunn-Benson Dragstrip in Dunn. His goal?
"To win; that's what we go for," he said.
Tutterow probably had a few disappointed fans, though, since Dunn-Benson was rained out.
After his first run at Piedmont Dragway, fans milled around the car, talking with Denise and watching Tutterow. One man used a cell phone to take photos of Tutterow and the orange car with the hood off.
"A lot of fans love us, and a lot hate us," Tutterow said Friday, the day after the Big Dog. "We struggled a bit last night. I was busy, but I tried to talk to people the best I can. Without fans, they can't pay the purses they pay."
He says that he gets email everyday, and sometimes it's unusual. His favorite fan story involves a man from Roanoke, Va., who was in Strabane, Ireland, on business. The man was visiting a glass shop, and two teenagers approached him to ask about the Todd Tutterow shirt he was wearing.
The man said he was trying to figure out how there could be Tutterow fans in Ireland. They told him they'd seen several videos of Tutterow's Willy's on YouTube.com, and they mentioned some of Tutterow's races by name. The three discussed the drag-racing culture in Ireland.
Then the man went into a store, bought a shirt and gave them the Tutterow shirt off his back.
"So you now have recognition across the waters," the man wrote in his email.
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