Russ Truelove was born in 1935 and became interested in racing cars when he was 10, after watching a friend’s father working on his race car.
“As a boy, I watched them working on that car and trying it out on a private road next to the Chase Grass Co. It was a open-wheel ½-mile car like most that you saw back East and it had a McDowell engine, which was built on a Ford B block,” Truelove recalls.
Russ got out of high school in 1942 and went into the Armed Forces. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After he was discharged in 1946, Truelove started racing at East Coast tracks. He drove a 1947 Crager and raced at places such as Danbury, Conn. and Rhinebeck, N.Y. And he started driving on the NASCAR circuit seven years later.
Russ worked as a service manager for a Ford dealer in Waterbury, Conn. and later held a similar job with the Lincoln-Mercury dealer there. He became acquainted with Bob Sahl, the Northeast Representative of NASCAR. In 1955, he purchased a ’55 Ford and took it to race on the old beach racing course at Daytona, a four-mile course consisting of sand and a paved portion of highway.
Truelove competed with Tim Flock, Frank “Rebel” Mundy, “Fireball” Roberts and Lee Petty. The cars driven by independent drivers like Russ were usually purchased at a local dealership and driven to the track They were mostly production cars with taped headlights, a roll bar and the doors chained shut.
Sahl told me Truelove that after going to Daytona with a Ford in 1955, he should go with a Mercury in 1956. The Mercury Monterey was heavier than the Ford, but had a larger 312-cid V8. Truelove’s car was a showroom-stock car—actually a salesman’s demonstrator. “I bought it on the installment plan,” he recalled. “You paid $50 a month for six months and then you got a big surprise.”
In 1956, while racing the Mercury on the sand at Daytona Beach, Truelove got his picture in Life magazine for the wrong reason. He had downshifted while entering the North Turn at 130 mph and his right tire dug in. He went into a skid and rolled the car over six times, and, consequently, spent the night in a hospital.
After he was released, Russ rebuilt the Mercury. He got a new hardtop body from the factory, put the car back together and raced another season, but when the V8 blew up during the 1957 campaign, he packed it in. He could not keep up with the costs involved while running as an independent in those days.
Russ made “piecemeal” repairs after getting the car back together, because he actually used the Mercury as his driver. Then, it stayed at his dad’s house when he went to work for Bill Leer in Grand Rapids, Mich. It stayed at his dad’s house for years and was very well preserved.
His two top 10 finishes in Grand National racing were enough to satisfy Russ, at least until 1989, when his wife gave him a Spec Racer kit car for a Christmas gift. He ran the four-banger in Sports Car Club of America races at age 62 until he was bumped from behind in one race and slammed into a wall. “The track medics convinced me I was getting old for this stuff,” he said.
Russ was always an enthusiast and believes that NASCAR played an important role in keeping racing alive in the United States during a very difficult period for motorsports in general. “A Senator from Oregon introduced a bill to ban auto racing by the end of 1955 and he tried to get Eisenhower’s attention on it, because so many people had been killed,” Truelove remembers. “Bill France jumped on the bandwagon to say he was using showroom stock cars to develop safety in the cars and in the tires,” Truelove recalled. “He promoted the idea that the racers were the experimental portion of the factories and that caught on and got the factories interested. They started pumping money in.”
Russ lives in Waterbury and served as a director of The Living Legends of Auto Racing, Inc. (www.livinglegendsofautoracing.com). The all-volunteer Daytona-based organization hosts a variety of activities throughout the year and publishes a quarterly newsletter called The Cannonball. The Living Legends of Auto Racing Museum of Racing History can be reached at (386) 763-4483. [inpost_gallery post_id=35372 group=’all’]