Jeff Ledford - More Twists than a Bag of Pretzels

By Jim Luikens

Jeff Ledford was the 1992 IHRA Top Dragster World Champion. Despite being just 23 years old at the time he already had eight years of drag racing competition under his belt. After having to step away from the cockpit for a while to run the family business, Jeff is now back competing in the IHRA with a vengeance. This is the story of Jeff Ledford who has one of the most unusual day jobs in all of IHRA Drag Racing. He is an NHRA track operator.

Jeff began his drag racing career at age 15 when he raced a S/G-style 1967 Camaro that regularly recorded 9.30-second elapsed times at 145 miles-per-hour. The car had originally been built by Inkster, Michigan’s Jim Howe and was a regular competitor at the Ledford family’s Central Michigan Dragway. Jeff was quick to snap up the Camaro when Jim moved up to a S/C-style Corvette.

Jeff ran the Camaro for three seasons and did quite well in spite of his tender age. Highlights included winning a $5,000 bracket race and being the runner-up at the Martin US 131 Super Chevy event. From the Camaro he moved up to a magnificent Olds Calais that had been built as an A/Gasser by Ed Koerner. Originally powered by a small-block Oldsmobile engine, this ultra-trick, ultra-lightweight racer won Best Engineered at no less an event than the NHRA’s US Nationals when it debuted.

After getting the Calais in August and converting it to Chevrolet power, Jeff took it to that fall’s Moroso 5-Day bracket event for his big-stage debut and promptly won the overall championship with it. He then attempted to do some Top Sportsman racing but was never able to achieve the level of success he had enjoyed in bracket racing so he took the Calais back to the bracket wars.

He ran the Calais for two more seasons and once again went right to the top with it, winning a $5,000-to-Win bracket race at Rockford, Illinois as well as a Super Chevy event. Jeff’s younger brother Mike then began driving the Calais when he turned 16 and Jeff moved up again, this time to a rear engine dragster that he bought from midwestern Comp Eliminator standout Doug Stewart.

With his brother driving the Calais and Jeff the dragster they made a formidable pair wherever they raced. One particularly memorable weekend they went to “Da Grove” for one of Broadway Bob’s three-day 4th of July spectaculars at Union Grove, Wisconsin. Jeff won the first day’s $5,000-to-Win race and his brother Mike won the third (and final) day’s $5,000-to-Win race. What about the second day’s $10,000-to-Win bracket race? Well, Jeff won that and Mike was runner-up.

The next year Jeff concentrated primarily on Super Comp and finished fourth in NHRA’s Division 3. He returned to the Moroso event as well, winning one day outright and finishing fourth in points overall. He then ordered his first brand-new race car ever, a Mike Spitzer dragster that he intended for bracket racing and IHRA’s Top Dragster. After never having run an IHRA event in their lives the Ledford brothers traveled to Bristol for an IHRA points meet and the results were immediately impressive. Jeff won using his new Spitzer car while Mike, now driving the former Doug Stewart dragster, was runner-up. Jeff also won a $5,000-to-Win bracket race that year.

Fueled by the consistent late-round successes that he had achieved during the previous several seasons, Jeff decided to make an all-out assault on the 1992 Top Dragster World Championship. In a story book year Jeff won three IHRA national events (Darlington, South Carolina; Bristol, Tennessee and La Rue, Ohio) as well as three points meets to earn his first woHaving now reached the pinnacle of his sport, Jeff was forced to take a step back. His parents, who had previously sold the family dragstrip, were in the process of getting it back and they needed Jeff to work at the track. Thisrld championship.

limited his ability to travel and he didn’t really race for the next two seasons while the entire Ledford family worked to restore their dragstrip facility, now named the Mid-Michigan Motorplex, to its previous prominence.

But Jeff’s competitive fire never dimmed and, in 1995, he purchased a new Racecraft dragster. After the racing season ended in Michigan he traveled South and returned to a familiar stomping ground, the Moroso 5-Day bracket event to debut his new car. Despite the fact that it wasn’t even painted yet, he and his new dragster won the opening night to get off to a great start. But more distractions lay just ahead.

Jeff’s father, Jim Ledford, became sick with what ultimately proved to be a fatal disease. During the time that Jim, one of the nicest guys ever, battled his illness it fell on Jeff to run the family’s drag strip and he sold his virtually unused Racecraft dragster. After his father’s death Jeff bought a 1967 SS/IA Camaro but discovered he really wasn’t a S/S racer at heart and ended up selling that as well. What he learned from the Camaro experience was that he really preferred racing a dragster.

When he researched his options for another dragster he discovered that most of the top dragster chassis builders of that time were located in Florida, far away from his Michigan home. After weighing his options he decided to build his own dragster chassis. He purchased the necessary equipment and then took a Tig Welding course at the local Community College.

Finishing his home-built car just prior to the 2002 World Nationals there was only time for one checkout pass before he loaded it up for Norwalk. Testing at his own track, the car did a 15-foot wheel stand but fortunately didn’t bend anything when it came down. With no damage showing the new dragster was hurriedly loaded into his trailer for its maiden voyage. On the first run at Norwalk the car did a 25-foot wheel stand and this time there was damage, which ended his weekend and his season.

Simultaneous with the construction of this dragster he purchased the family dragstrip from his mother. This purchase limited his travel the last two seasons as he worked to make the track function properly without him having to be there all the time. Jeff has since repaired his dragster and raced it occasionally during this period with mixed results. He has a win at the Cordova WCS this year along with some disappointments such as a wounded engine at this year’s Grand Bend national event.

Jeff is the first to admit that he is burning up with the desire to race and it appears that he finally has all the elements in place to do just that. A notorious tree killer, there seemed to be no limit to how high he could fly when he won his first world championship at just 23 years of age. A decade of distractions has since limited his available time for racing but now he finally appears poised to deliver on the considerable promise that he has always shown. Jeff Ledford is a credit to his parents, a worthy representative of both drag racing sanctioning bodies and a threat to win wherever he goes. As they say, his future is so bright you have to wear shades.