NASCAR Pioneer Russ Truelove is Still Running

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Although the car is authentic, Russ says it is “not original” since he had to replace the body after his 1956 crash at Daytona Beach.

As a New Englander, Russ Truelove played an interesting role in the history of the “rebel rousing” NASCAR racing circuit. Truelove was born in 1935 and got interested in auto racing when he was 10. His friend Juney’s dad had a racing car that was painted Coca-Cola Yellow and had red No. 26 graphics on the side. Truelove watched them work on the car and test it on a private road next to Chase Grass Co. It was a open-wheel ½-mile car, common in the Northeast then, and it had a McDowell racing engine built on a Ford B block.

After being discharged from the Navy in 1946, Truelove started racing at Northeast tracks in a ‘47 Crager. He raced at Danbury, Conn. and Rhinebeck, N.Y. Truelove was a service manager for a Ford dealer and met Bob Sahl, the Northeast Representative of NASCAR. Most of the action was modified stock car races on smaller tracks up north. Truelove’s NASCAR debut came in 1953, when he competed at Rochester, where he moved from 18th place to 9th.

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This may be the only genuine surviving 1956 Mercury NASCAR stocker.

 

Truelove did not return to the sport until 1955, when he purchased a ‘55 Ford and took it to race on the beach racing course at Daytona—which was part sand, part paved. He quickly grew more active, running six races on the NASCAR schedule. After finishing 27th at Daytona Beach, Truelove did no worse than 19th the rest of the season. A basically strong season was highlighted by a solid 10th place at Fonda and a career-best 7th place showing at Altamont.

The cars driven by independent drivers like Truelove were usually purchased at a local dealership and driven to the track They were production cars with taped headlights, a roll bar inside and the doors chained shut. Sahl and Truelove went hunting in the latter part of 1955 and Sahl suggested racing a Mercury in 1956. The Monterey was heavier than a Ford, but had a 312-cid V-8. Truelove’s car was a showroom-stock car—a salesman’s demonstrator.

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Truelove bought the car as a slightly used salesman’s demonstrator and actually drove it to the Grand National races that he competed in.

The ‘56 Monterey had hooded headlights, vertical “chubby cheek” taillights and a bumper-integrated grille. Montereys had heavy chrome around the windows and chrome rocker panels. The body molding made a sort of lightning bolt pattern. Chrome “Monterey” nameplates decorated the front fenders. The car sold for $2,630. It weighed 3,590 lbs. and 42,863 like it were built. A handful became stock cars and Truelove’s is likely the only one of those left today.

In 1956, while racing his Merc on the sand at Daytona Beach, Truelove got his picture in Life magazine, but for the wrong reason.. He had downshifted while entering the North Turn at 130 mph and the right tire dug in. He went into a skid and rolled the car over six times. What a way to earn some media attention!

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Former NASCAR driver Russ Truelove is getting lots of recognition at age 84 and picked up an award during SVRA’s Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival.

After he was released from the hospital, Truelove started rebuilding the Mercury. He got a new hardtop body from the factory and put the car back together again in the form it is now. Truelove competed in five 1956 events and earned a 60th place finish in the points. He got 47th place at Daytona. He then took 40th at Langhorne. After that, things improved. Truelove finished 9th at Syracuse, 19th at Old Bridge, and 10th at Langhorne in his NASCAR finale.

Truelove raced for another season, but when the Merc’s V-8 blew up during the 1957 campaign, he packed it in. He could not keep up with the costs involved when running as an independent in those days.  He did manage to compete at Daytona, where he finished 55th in the field of fifty-seven.

Two top 10 finishes in Grand National racing were enough to satisfy Truelove 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.

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Russ in the driver’s seat at the Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival in Sept. 2009. He and the car are still participating in 2013 events.

Russ still lives in Waterbury and has served as a director of The Living Legends of Auto Racing, Inc. (www.livinglegendsofautoracing.com). This group was founded in 1993 to recognize, honor and promote the pioneers of beach racing and stock car racing.  The organization has over 600 members and is a 501-C-3 non-profit group.  The all-volunteer Daytona-based organization hosts a variety of activities throughout the year and publishes a quarterly newsletter called The Cannonball.  The free Living Legends of Auto Racing Museum of Racing History is operated in South Daytona, Fla. For info call (386) 763-4483.

Replica of Russ’ Ride

Fairfield Collectibles created a 1:18 scale replica of Russ Truelove’s 1956 Mercury Monterey No. 226 NASCAR stock car. The replica of the Historic Daytona Beach racer was approved by Russ Truelove and has over 200 parts. It is 11 inches long.  The model has a fully detailed driver’s compartment and engine bay. It is Fairfield Collectibles product No. 13010NX.

Fairfield Collectibles product No. 13010NX.
About John Gunnell 104 Articles
John “Gunner” Gunnell has been writing about cars since ‘72. As a kid in Staten Island, N.Y., he played with a tin Marx “Service Garage” loaded with toy vehicles, his favorite being a Hubley hot rod. In 2010, he opened Gunner’s Great Garage, in Manawa, Wis., a shop that helps enthusiasts restore cars. To no one’s surprise, he decorated 3G’s with tin gas stations and car toys. Gunner started writing for two car club magazines. In 1978, publisher Chet Krause hired him at Old Cars Weekly, where he worked from 1978-2008. Hot rodding legend LeRoi “Tex” Smith was his boss for a while. Gunner had no formal journalism training, but working at a weekly quickly taught him the trade. Over three decades, he’s met famous collectors, penned thousands of articles and written over 85 books. He lives in Iola, Wis., with his nine old cars, three trucks and seven motorcycles.
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