Feature: Truman Fields

By Jim Luikens

In 1968 Truman Fields and his brother Dennis returned home from service in the United States Marine Corps. As part of their homecoming celebration they each purchased a brand new 1968 Firebird with the very rare Ram Air II engine option. While little is known about Dennis’ Firebird the same cannot be said of Truman’s. That car, which he is racing this year in B/PS, is one of the most successful Stock Eliminator race cars of all time. It has earned two world championships, won numerous event titles, set many national records and propelled Truman to a spot on the prestigious Car Craft Magazine All-Star Racing Team. The only thing is, he hasn’t always owned it and was only reunited with it last year. This is the story of Truman Fields and a green Firebird that has had more lives than a black cat.

After purchasing his Firebird, Truman raced it in Stock Eliminator. He enjoyed enough success with it that he came to the attention of Pontiac Motor Division, who asked him to be a part of their 1972 factory drag team. Pontiac provided Truman with a new 1972 Firebird and a new 1972 GTO to race in Stock and Super Stock Eliminator, respectively. However, Truman had done more than just catch the eye of Pontiac with his original Firebird.

He also had caught the attention of Kenner Toys. He was asked to be a part of the Kenner SSP Racing Team that included, among others, legendary Chevrolet Top Fuel driver Jim Bucher. Another of his sponsors during this era was Motor Wheel Corporation of Lansing, Michigan. Other members of the 1973 Motor Wheel Racing Team included Bob Glidden, Wayne Gapp and Jack Roush. These Pro Stock heroes were certainly pretty impressive company for a Stock Eliminator racer.

Although Truman liked racing the newer Pontiacs, he really loved his ‘68 Firebird. 1973 found him back racing his old reliable and, in fact, he won the 1973 NHRA US Nationals in that car. In 1975 he was approached by the father and son team of Roy and Mike McKinney from Richmond, Indiana. They were racing a similar Firebird but were not turning the type of times that Truman was with his car. They expressed an interest in purchasing his Firebird and a deal was struck.

When it came time to pick up the car however, the McKinneys told Truman they did not have all of the previously agreed money. They did have some money, a Kawasaki motorcycle and, of course, their Firebird. They proposed that he take what money they did have along with the Kawasaki and their Firebird. A revised deal was made and both parties went on their way.

Truman, with his long time sidekick Tommy, immediately began working on the burgundy Firebird that he got from the McKinneys. Five weeks to the day from the day that he had received it, Truman and Tommy rolled the McKinney’s old burgundy Firebird out of the garage and took it to the nearby Edgewater Sports Park drag strip in Cincinnati. As luck would have it, the McKinneys were also there that day racing Truman’s original green Firebird.

On its very first outing the burgundy Firebird, now prepared and driven by Truman, turned a best elapsed time of 12:38 seconds which was quicker than the 12:41 second time that the green Firebird, now raced by the McKinneys, turned the same day. An agreement was reached that the McKinneys would enter B/S at national events and Truman would compete in the C/S class. This would prevent the two Firebirds from knocking each other out of competition during class eliminations.

During this time Truman was employed by IBM, who didn’t hesitate to relocate him around the country. After living and working in Cincinnati he was transferred first to Colorado and then to Tucson, Arizona. In late 1980 IBM transferred him again, this time to Charlotte, North Carolina. This was where he first became familiar with IHRA racing. In 1981 Truman raced a little with the IHRA while he prepared for 1982 and a serious campaign. He had a very successful season in 1982 and won the first of his two consecutive world championships.

In 1983 Truman won more national events and his second world championship. In late 1983 IBM had him on the move again, this time to their headquarters in New Jersey. As much as he liked racing in the South, and as successful as he had been, he found it very hard to race in the South while being based in New Jersey. The readers of Car Craft Magazine however, remembering his two consecutive world titles, voted him onto the Car Craft All Star Racing Team as the 1984 Stock Eliminator Driver.

The next few years were a blur to Truman. A back operation knocked him out of commission for a year and a half. In 1986 IBM transferred him again, this time to Washington DC where he stayed from 1986 to 1991 before being transferred to Oberlin, Ohio, which is near Cleveland. It was during this period that his grandson was diagnosed with a form of Leukemia. Truman took another year and a half off from racing in order to spend as much time as possible with his grandson. Even to this day he gets misty eyed when reminiscing about his grandson.

In 1993 Truman retired from IBM. Looking forward to having more control over his time and residence location, he began racing again in 1994 by participating in a few All-Pontiac events. With all of the moves and distractions he had lost track of his original green Firebird, so he bought another to race in Pure Stock. In fact it was that very car that was the first Pure Stocker to break into the 11-second category.

Never one to fancy idle time, Truman began a second career in 1995 when he took a position with Marconi Communications. That continued until 2002 when he finally retired for good. During this period he also sold his house in Ohio and located a site in North Carolina on which to build a log home. But that wasn’t the biggest event of 2002 for him. The biggest occurred when a friend, who was an over-the-road trucker, happened to spot Truman’s original green Firebird for sale in an Auto Swapper type publication.

Needless to say Truman couldn’t repurchase his original car quick enough, even though the price went up when the seller realized whom the purchaser was. After successfully completing the deal and extracting the car from the horse barn where it had been stored, Truman dug out all his old 1971 era class-legal parts for the car. Many things had been changed since he had last seen the green car. It had been repainted to a red, black and persimmon color scheme, had a different engine combination installed and been converted to an automatic. After installing his old parts he ran as quick as 11.70 seconds on the 12.05 class standard for E/SA, which was the class for which the car was set-up when he found it.

Additional work last winter found him preparing the car for competition this year in IHRA’s B/PS. This has basically been a relearning year for Truman with a runner-up at the Rockingham Points Meet as his best result. Truman knows that his remaining time to race is limited. His wife retires next year and she is already making plans for Truman that don’t involve racing. Before he hangs up his helmet however, he would like to make one last serious attempt at another world championship.

Now that he has his original car back, he plans to repaint it back to the original green this winter and convert it back to the four-speed combination that he raced when it was new. Pending how the rules unfold he would like to take the original McKinney burgundy Firebird and convert that to race in IHRA's Top Stock. As a past winner of the NHRA US Nationals he would also like to compete next year at its 50th Anniversary event with his 1973 event winning car. If indeed next year is his last year of competition he doesn’t lack for plans, challenges or the opportunity for one last hurrah.