You could say heads-up racer Eric Gustafson came from nowhere when he entered his supercharged ’69 Camaro in the Street Car Super Nationals VII in Las Vegas for the first time last year. Despite being untested on the Outlaw 8.5 class-mandated 26x8.5 slicks, Eric proceeded to qualify Second in this eighth-mile category with a 5.41 (mid 8s in the quarter-mile), get to the final round with some admitted luck, and take down the number-one qualifier with a superb 0.023 reaction. No one saw it coming, and since it’s not too often a heads-up rookie drops jaws like that, many fans thought it to be a fluke. “We had only tested the car on 28x10.5 slicks before,” Eric says, “so we didn’t know what to expect in Vegas. We wanted to win, of course; we just didn’t think we would with our limited data.”
Over the following months, the rush of driving a stock suspension car that could accelerate to 135 mph in 5 seconds and the rush of winning a National event fueled Eric’s competitive spirit and he craved getting back into competition. At his third event, the West Coast Hot Rod Association’s second meet of 2012, the Hermosa Beach, California, resident was on track to the finals again, taking out the number-one qualifier and getting past two rounds before bowing out due to a heart-shattering red light reaction. His passion for competition made Eric stew about his self-inflicted loss for the weeks leading up to the National Muscle Car Association’s first event, where he’d get a chance to redeem his early leave. “I felt like I let down my crew, so I really wanted to win the first NMCA West race to make it up to them, as well as myself.”
We caught up with the Camaro driver during said event in Bakersfield right after he qualified Third for Outlaw 8.5, just a day before he set the e.t. and mph records (5.39 at 135 mph) and won all the marbles. Judging by this ride’s performances in less than a year, we’d speculate the naysayers from his Vegas win are singing a different tune by now, as he currently sits in the points lead for the NMCA’s Outlaw 8.5 class. However, don’t get used to seeing Eric’s ’69 in the Outlaw 8.5 ranks after this year; Eric explains, “I am floored by how well the car has done thanks to my great crew, Theo Dec at Wizard Racing, and supportive family. But, this was primarily a street build, so I plan to retire it back to the street by next year.” The LS-powered ’69 may not be racing in heads-up classes in the future, but after picking up on the hints of another race car in the works from the Eric camp, we’d say you haven’t seen the last of them; just consider yourself warned. “I’m not going to reveal much, let’s just say we do plan on stepping up,” Eric says.
Eric’s drive for horsepower is in his blood. His grandfather was a founding member of the SCTA. His father, Ron, campaigned an alky dragster with NHRA in the ’60s and still has an active role in Eric’s racing program today. “He’s the mechanical one, I’ve always just been fascinated with horsepower and driving fast vehicles, whether it’s cars or whatever represents power. He’s a great racing partner and my best friend, I couldn’t do this without him,” Eric says. Eric also thanked his wife, Courtney, his employees at Coast Packing in Vernon, Theo Dec at Wizard Racing for building and tuning the car, Chris Alston Jr. at Chris Alston’s Chassisworks, Dave Werremeyer at ProCharger, his engine builder Kurt Urban, and his crew Bobby Canova, Eric “Big E” Broward, and “Lil” Jon McGovern.
We asked Eric if he had any tips for future generations of heads-up racers or for those who are about to start heads-up racing; his advice was pretty insightful. He said, “You can’t let yourself get discouraged if the race doesn’t go your way. It’s hard to pick yourself back up sometimes, but if you want to be competitive, you must. Also, we like to always leave the track, win or lose, with ideas to improve the car in testing between races. Another one is, if the car gets out of shape, don’t be a cowboy and try to manhandle it; a round win is not worth wrecking the car.” We tend to agree; wise words to drag race by.