For 30 years, Jason Rueckert’s stunning 1982 Cutlass didn’t suffer anything more than a scratch. Along with that type of fortune, Rueckert developed a certain affinity for a car that’s treated him well for so many years.
The unfortunate part is the turbocharged Oldsmobile isn’t scratch-free anymore. But it also has Rueckert more determined than ever to get the Cutlass running better than ever — and looking just as good as has for the past three decades.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #158, the State of Drag Issue, in July of 2020.]
While making a test hit before Radial Fest at Huntsville Dragway in late May, Rueckert crashed into the wall on the top end — on a run shaping up to be a career-best, no less — putting the first major damage onto the car. The good news is the damage wasn’t massive and the car is already on a swift and impressive road to recovery.
“It made me sick that I had it 30 years and I had never wrecked it, not even in the street,” says Rueckert, a Midwest Regional Manager at VP Racing Fuels. “I can play it back in my head a million times. I’ve slid the car before and it’s always recovered, it’s always come back out of it. It’s been unbelievable the amount of people who have reached out, and it will come back out bigger and better. It’s already a cool car, and hopefully it will be even a little nicer now.”
Rueckert is updating the components and technology to the car with plans of jumping into the 4.10s when he returns, which he hopes happens at the Shakedown in September.
In replaying the run over and over again, Rueckert is likely most upset it happened on a run that was shaping up to be a killer one.
Using the same tuneup from his 4.24 pass, Rueckert had a 1.09 60-foot time and went 2.82 to 330 – both career-bests for the car – before running into trouble. Rueckert started to slide, and despite a furious effort, slammed the front of the car into the wall at 130 mph, hitting the side and grazing the back of the car.
“I drove it back to the left and eased it back, and started sliding that way,” Rueckert says. “I was wheeling on it and the skid marks show a pretty long power slide on the driver’s side. I just kind of slid for a while and I saw the wall coming. I tried to kick it back to the left, screamed a few obscenities and just saw it coming.”
Rueckert immediately radioed he was fine injury-wise to his fiancé, Kyla Lachat, and it turned out the car escaped significant harm.
The door was crinkled and crunched, but several major aspects, including the turbos, were relatively fine. From there, Rueckert went to work on getting the car repaired — and he had plenty of offers for help, which blew him away.
“I’ve had tons of people reach out for help,” Rueckert says. “I didn’t even get back to the pit and I already had people reaching out. It’s just awesome. Racing is a community and a big family, and that’s why we do it. The people in the industry have been great, and it’s been so humbling to have everyone reach out.”
Rueckert and Lachat have been hard at work in the weeks since, crediting a host of people who have chipped in to get the car ready for fall as well.
When it returns, Rueckert fully expects to have a Cutlass superior to the one he raced just two months ago. Everything in the car has been looked at, with a number of upgrades, including new billet spindles and much more.
To put it mildly, Rueckert is thrilled for the finished product and has some big goals ahead.
“I’m like an impatient child. I’m exciting to bring it back out bigger and better, and that’s the plan,” Rueckert asserts. “It’s got every bit of power to run at the front of the pack in [Limited Drag Radial]. I want the car to be competitive and it was hauling ass on that run. Now it’s just going to be bigger and better.”