“It wasn’t a bad run, but after the third flip I lost control.” -Don Roberts, professional drag racer.
New England Dragway, April 20, 1975. It would be Don Roberts’ first ride in the top fuel dragster, “Jade Grenade”… and his last trip ever down the quarter-mile.
Amazing that Roberts was light-hearted about a wreck that fractured his leg so severely, doctors were forced to amputate it below the knee. “I never wanted to stop driving,” Roberts went on to say. “But sometimes we don’t have the luxury of having the choice… I have no complaints. I was very lucky to have so many opportunities to drive so many great cars.”
A car guy from the get-go, Don Roberts hooked up early with a club called The Orientals, which is still active in New England hot rodding. He took his first ride down the strip in 1966, and things just started falling into place for his racing career from there. He wound up on the pro fuel circuit, and raced against legends like Don Garlits and Tommy Ivo.
On a visit to Gainesville, Florida in 1975, Roberts learned that the Jade Grenade car was in need of a driver. A month later, he got the offer to drive and jumped at the chance. The Grenade was a premiere car that had run as low as 5.94, and this would be his chance to get back in and “do his thing.” Unfortunately, on his first run, the car got out of the groove and he lost control. After the third flip, of course.
If you’ve ever witnessed one of these old rails lighting the tires and slingshotting down the track at 200+ mph, you get a sense that the drivers have discovered something the rest of us can only guess at. So here’s my guess… Life lived close to the tipping point, and sometimes just over it, is lived more fully. And there’s no faster way to reach the tipping point than by strapping yourself to 1000 horsepower, mashing the pedal, and hangin’ on!
Credits and more great reads about Don Roberts and the Jade Grenade!
Photo credits: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
Read about Don Roberts’ amazing career at draglist.com
Read about the history and restoration of the front-engine Grenade at cacklefest.com
Read “Insanity is Colored Green” from the March, 1974 “Car Craft” at northernthunder.com