Originally published Sept. 27, 2012.
Gerald Ingle's motivation to get into drag racing when he was in high school was simple.
"I just liked speed," he says.
This motivation led Ingle, now the owner of Ingle's Service Center Inc., in Huntington, from drag racing buddies in his '67 Mercury Cougar on county roads to competing in race finals with rear-engine dragsters where cash prizes in the thousands of dollars were on the line.
Before Ingle could get to that point, however, something needed to happen to get him to start racing on drag strips, and that moment came when he and a friend were drag racing and got pulled over by the police. And as Ingle's luck would have it, one of those police officers was his foster dad, Dale Smitley, a deputy sheriff.
"The sheriff was sitting on top of the overpass and saw me and another guy drag racing and he pulled me over there at Stults Road, by the hospital now, and my foster dad pulled the other guy over up at Kmart," Ingle says. "So that didn't work out real good. The sheriff handed my license back and said, ‘You're supposed to go home. Your dad's going to be there in five minutes.'
"And I said, ‘I'd rather have the ticket.'"
From that point forward, Ingle stuck to drag strips.
Ingle's graduation from high school saw him also graduate from drag racing motorcycles with a friend at a venue in Avilla to drag racing a '67 Mustang that he purchased, and then modified, at local drag strips from Bunker Hill to Muncie.
Things cooled off after that, as Ingle got married and started a family. This led to a hiatus from drag racing that spanned, Ingles speculates, five to seven years.
It was just the calm before the storm.
Ingle made his return to drag racing in a familiar car - a '67 Mercury Cougar - that he bought already modified as a super-stocker and eased right back into a pattern of drag racing at local strips.
"I just kept progressing from there," he says.
After the Cougar came a '67 Chevy 2 and a rear-engine dragster, which Ingle cites as taking his career to the next level.
"Probably about '96, got my first rear-engine dragster and that's when we started getting real serious about drag racing and going to big-dollar drag races ... up in Michigan and Ohio and Bowling Green, KY," Ingle says.
"Even went as far as Moroso Motorsports Park in Florida. So, we did a lot of traveling to bracket races where they paid $5,000 to win, $10,000 to win, even one in Michigan was a $50,000 to win bracket race.
"It was still a hobby, but we were doing it as a business, trying to make money."
And the money came. Ingle made his first $10,000 race final in 1998 at Bowling Green, finishing runner-up. Two years after that, though, he returned to Bowling Green, this time behind the wheel of a new '67 Chevy 2, and won the $10,000 prize.
Ingle's next car was like something out of the dreams he may have had as a high school drag racer: another rear-engine dragster, outfitted with a 600-cubic-inch motor, built by Ingle himself, that punched up its speed.
"We won a lot of races with that car when I bought it," he says proudly. "We put it into a final, had a friend driving it and we got into another final down in Bowling Green."
Currently, Ingle's race car is a '66 Chevy 2 station wagon - a departure from the cars he previously raced with.
"Everybody calls it a ‘grocery-getter,'" he chuckles. "But it's a fun car to drive. The thing leaves with the front wheels about five feet in the air, almost on the back bumper. That car is just so fun to drive."
For Ingle, fun is now the name of the game when it comes to drag racing.
"I've been drag racing for 35 years," he says. "Probably two years ago it started becoming work, and I always said when drag racing became work I was going to quit. I thought, to have fun, I want to go back to a door car that does wheelies, that's fun to drive, where I'm just going to do it just to have fun."
Ingle says he no longer seeks out the big-dollar races that he used to and sticks to local tracks.
"Before it was: Had to go racing. Every weekend, I had to go. Go racing somewhere," Ingle says of his drag racing mentality. "Now it's: Go if I feel like going. Go have fun, socialize with your friends."