As a kid growing up around the sport of auto racing, Joe Ruttman was prepared to become a race car driver from the start. His older brother, Troy, was the 1952 Indianapolis 500 winner, and his father Ralph and brother Jim were also racers. Joe actually ran a pair of NASCAR races at the Riverside, CA road course as a teenager in 1963.
Fast forward to the late 1960s. The Ruttman family moved to Michigan, where Joe jumped right into the stock car scene. With a burning desire to succeed in the sport, Ruttman was a threat to win almost from the beginning. And in 1969, Joe, at the wheel of his own #14, captured the 2nd annual Glass City 200.
In 1973, Ruttman teamed with close friend and mentor, the legendary Joy Fair and his car owners, William Gillelan and Russell Wainscott. When Fair was injured in an accident at Toledo in mid-season, Ruttman took over the controls of the Ford Maverick of Fair and the duo won 13 of 14 races, including Joe's second Glass City 200 win.
Ruttman's rise through the ranks of stock car racing to the pinnacle of the major leagues, NASCAR, is well documented. He made 225 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts, won 3 poles and had 19 top-5 and 60 top-10 finishes from 1963-2004, finishing 12th in points in 1983 and 15th in 1986. He is also a multi-time winner in the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards. And for the Silver Anniversary of the Glass City 200 race, Joe Ruttman has been named Grand Marshal of the season-ending classic.
"I have good, good memories of Flat Rock, Toledo and Mt. Clemens," said Ruttman, who now resides in Florida. I am looking forward to returning for the race. It brings back so many memories," noted Joe, as he took a break while working on a 1932 Ford Roadster, his "job" these days. "It was the best time of my life."
Joe's first ride was with Bill Hill, in the car #60, a 1957 Chevy. After a stint with Hill, Joe decided he could become "a big-time winner" if he was the car owner as he laughed while recounting those days. But Ruttman was successful, taking the 1969 Glass City race and others in the next few seasons.
"I bought that #14 car and bought it all-race car, trailer, tires, wheels, all of it," he said. "I borrowed $2500 from my Dad, and then I crashed it." Joe then made a bold move to fix the car-he took the radiator from his wife's 1965 Chevy Impala and put it in the race car, much to her displeasure.
Ruttman also owned the bright yellow #70. He was always asked what the significance of the number meant to him. "The car was in a fire, and all I wanted was the body," said Ruttman. "The frame was junk, but I needed a 1970 Chevelle body, so, #70 made sense, at least to me. I'm a simple guy."
Joe also drove a #40 car that he bought from fellow racer Dave Gershon. His winning ways landed him rides with Stan Yee Sr., Bob May and others as he polished his skills, always looking to move up.
His time racing against Fair and then driving the school bus yellow #1 Fair made famous for that 14 race stint in 1973 was something that Joe cherishes to this day. "It was just an incredible time for me. Joy was the nicest man in the world-I don't believe I have ever met a nicer man in all respects," exclaimed Joe. "It was a dream come true."
After his time at the wheel of Fair's car, Joe continued to race in the Midwest but eventually moved back to California. Why? "Because I could not beat Joy Fair. I was so frustrated, so driven that I could not beat him. I would tell Fair I'm going to beat you tonight, and Joy would say ok, but if you get by me, I'm going right back by you anyway."
His love for the sport and for Flat Rock and Toledo remains to this day. "The racers in this area pushed the bar so high," Joe said. "They made you better. For the most part, we all chased Joy, Danny Byrd, John Anderson, Bob Senneker, Ed Howe, Ron Grana, Dick Mitchell, Fran Harden, Jerry Makara, Moose Myers and so many more. I hate to leave anyone out. It just made all of us better racers. Everyone knew you had to get better if you wanted to run with this group around here."
As for the Glass City 200, "it is very hard as a group collectively to get these guys together and race the Glass City 200," said Ruttman. "But this race has always been able to do that. At the time, it was the biggest race and the biggest event I ever won, period. It was our Daytona 500. There were so many good drivers, top flight. Many of them could have gone on and raced elsewhere," added Joe. "The pool of talent around here was tremendous, and I'm sure it still is today."
ARCA, Toledo Speedway, its fans and race teams welcome Joe Ruttman back to the Glass City 200 for the 25th running of this prestigious event!