There’s been a revival, in recent years, of making people the stars of drag racing, once again, and their hot rods the revved and revered co-stars. Certain personalities lend themselves to stardom better than others, and while Gardner Stone may not be a household name in drag racing, his personality is larger than life and has certainly earned him recognition in his time.
At nearly 77 years old, he flies under the radar, running in the Factory Stock Showdown in the NHRA and Factory Super Cars with the NMCA. His love affair with motorsports has come full circle and is complete with a myriad of stories nearly too good to be true. For Stone, it all began on a farm.
“When I was a kid I worked on my cousin’s farm, and I loved driving the old John Deere tractors. We had an old car we used to chase cows back to the barn with in those days. I had a little racer that when I was six-seven-eight years old I used to take kids for a ride on in the park. I always had something with wheels. Eventually they got motors on ’em and so on. That’s my life.
“I started drag racing in 1964 with a 421 Grand Prix Pontiac and progressed on up there with Chevelles and Corvettes and so on up through 1970. Got out of that in ’70 and went snowmobile racing. I did that for quite a few years and also go kart racing. And then I got into late model modifieds on dirt and then went to straight modifieds on dirt. Then I’ve gone to asphalt and then got into tractor pulling full tilt. Probably in 2012 I gave up tractor pulling. It was a lot of work back and forth across the country, and the tractor was getting out-dated. I knew I had to do something different. My son called me up one day — we’re a Ford dealer — and he said, ‘We’ve got a chance to get a Super Cobra Jet.’ That was in 2013. I said, ‘Well, put my name on a white one.’ And that’s how my drag racing started back up again. I hadn’t been in a drag car since 1970 and here I am jumping back into it at 70-something years of age.”
From the word ‘go’ Stone has been on wheels, and it’s clear whatever he’s doing, he’s full throttle. Stone is probably best known for two things: his unique bartering style to car sales and his four jet engine, 12,000-horsepower, flame-throwing tractor named The General.
Drag racing was an entirely different deal [in the ‘60s]. When I started there was a flagman out in the middle of the track. There wasn’t a Christmas tree, there wasn’t a burnout box, there wasn’t any of that stuff.
The self-made businessman started his G. Stone Motors company in 1974 with already a decade of sales experience behind him. “Soon as I went on my own I realized there’s customers out there that maybe have something that isn’t necessarily automotive related — an oddball thing,” Stone storied. “If they can turn that to cash on trading it in, that makes the deal more palatable to ’em. And what the heck? It gives me something else to sell other than just an automotive thing. And it’s worked extremely well.”
Stone has taken on trade everything from livestock to antiques to maple syrup. “Anytime you stop in a business and you don’t continue being aggressive, your business is going backwards,” Stone continued, alluding to both his unique business model and his newest endeavors in heavy commercial equipment. “You’ve always got to look for the next horizon, look for the next whatever’s going to happen and not be afraid to take a chance. Throw your hat in the ring and go for it — whatever you think is going to work.”
It certainly has worked, and worked well, for Stone, supporting his family and his hobbies while also earning him a reality TV series, “Family Trade,” which aired on GSN in 2013.
Stone has turned over the day-to-day operations of both the dealership and his heavy equipment sales and rentals to his two children. His son Todd runs G. Stone Motors and daughter Darcy handles G. Stone Commercial.
Stone’s try-anything mentality fit in well with the National Tractor Pulling Association [NTPA], where he garnered a host of championships. Prior to Stone’s 30-year history in the sport, however, he thought the idea of tractor pulling almost laughable.
“When I first heard about putting big motors on an old tractor and go pull something down a track, I thought that sounded awful stupid to me — until I made a mistake and went to a tractor pull. Instantaneously, I was hooked. I just had to be part of that. You see these huge, huge tires turning — back then — 50 or 60 miles per hour. My latest tractor I turn at 160 miles per hour. It’s just something that once you saw it, God I gotta’ be part of that. I was in between motorized sports at the time so that’s what I jumped at.
I’m always willing to take a chance. I mean, I’ll take a chance on anything. If I could go out on the track and know I could make an easy run and finish third or put it on the edge and win the race, what do you think I’m going to do? I’m going to go for a win.
“I started with a mini-modified, which is 1550 pounds, then progressed up to one with four jet turbine engines that puts out 12,000 horsepower, weighs 8,000 pounds and blows fire. It’s a nice rig, if I do say so myself. We’ve been the national champion five times. The tractor has worked very well.
“I just got back from the Netherlands,” added Stone, who’s raced worldwide. “I went over there tractor pulling. This is the fourth time I was invited over. They’re very nice people. They got into tractor pulling probably 35 years ago, and in the U.S. the sport is 50 years old. They invite American tractors over once a year to put on a show and let their contingency see what’s available.”
Stone has largely hung up his helmet for tractor pulling. He stays involved watching his grandson, who now competes in the sport, but Stone has enjoyed reintegrating himself into drag racing after his 40 year absence.
“Drag racing was an entirely different deal [in the ‘60s]. When I started there was a flagman out in the middle of the track. There wasn’t a Christmas tree, there wasn’t a burnout box, there wasn’t any of that stuff. So the handicap, they just gave you different spots on the track. They didn’t have a staggered tree. I mean, it’s all changed. Everything is different.
“I’ve enjoyed being back in it. Good bunch of guys in the class we’re in, Factory Super Cars. We’re all working out of our hip pocket. There’s very little money or sponsorship in that. Almost all the guys are down-to-earth, good guys; most all of them are self-made, just good people. No attitudes. Nobody thinks they’re better than anybody else. We know we gotta’ put a show on. We’re all there to help each other get down the track. That’s the way racing should be. When you’re on the track, yeah, you can be bitter enemies, but when you’re back in the pits helping each other, working together, you’re friends — share a meal and share a drink. That’s my type of racing.”
The Vermont native has raced with the NHRA Factory Stock Showdown and NMCA Factory Super Cars over the last five years. He currently focuses on NMCA, and with his longstanding ties to both GM and Ford, he sees the power of factory drag racing classes in promoting interest in the automotive industry as a whole.
When you’re on the track, yeah, you can be bitter enemies, but when you’re back in the pits helping each other, working together, you’re friends — share a meal and share a drink. That’s my type of racing.
“Factory hot rod racing is good for the fans; it’s good for everybody. The only downside, as far as the competitors are concerned, is they have to take this class very, very seriously. In both NMCA and NHRA these cars are so difficult to hook up and get going down the track that these tracks have got to be really prepared. We’re only allowed 9-inch tires and we’re putting 1,200 horsepower to these things. We weigh 3,550 pounds. You trigger that combination, it’s extremely difficult to get down the track. For a person like myself — I live in the extreme Northeast — so to go to any race, bare minimum I’m 10-11 hours up to 15-18 hours of trucking. So when you truck all the way to east-bejezzus somewhere and you go to get up on the track, and it isn’t prepped, you spin out, then you load your rig and go home, what have you accomplished? It’s just frustrating. The promoters and so on need to take this class extremely serious if they want to keep it going and propel it because we’ve got to be able to put a show on. If ten of us go out there and spin out, we didn’t put a show on; we bored the crowd.”
As a lifelong proponent of the automotive industry, Stone hopes the class continues to create interest in cars for future generations. He’s been able to make a living and a pretty incredible life from various forms of horsepower, and a lot of that has simply come from him embracing both risk and opportunity. From taking a second mortgage out on his house to start a business from scratch, to taking a Victrola phonograph on trade, to putting four jet turbines on a tractor, there’s not much Stone hasn’t tried.
“I’m always willing to take a chance. I mean, I’ll take a chance on anything. If I could go out on the track and know I could make an easy run and finish third or put it on the edge and win the race, what do you think I’m going to do? I’m going to go for a win. I’m not going to be safe. I’ve done this my whole life. You can’t be afraid to take a chance.
“The bottom line is I just enjoy motorized, competitive sports. That’s been my whole life. That’s just the way it is. I’ll probably race something until I physically can’t do it anymore, or I’m dead. I just enjoy what I do. I enjoy my occupation. I enjoy my racing. I enjoy my family. I just enjoy life.”