Spotlight on Judy Staton—Cars and Camaraderie are at Her Core

Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photos by Steve Turner and Mary Lendzion

When Judy Staton was a teenager learning how to drive in her parents’ station wagon, she would happily hug the curves around their home in Pennsylvania.

Her father would tell her to be sure she was belted in, and to be sure that she was careful, but he would also tell her that he was confident in her abilities behind the wheel.

Several years later, she married a man, Bill Staton, who also was confident in her abilities behind the wheel, and they have been racing together ever since.

Judy was competitive in NMRA Detroit Locker Truck and Lightning in her Ranchero for several years, and is now competitive in NMRA QA1 True Street in her Fairlane, while Bill is running his Mustang in NMRA ARP Open Comp and Brackets.

We had the opportunity to be Judy’s passenger in her Fairlane during the NMRA QA1/NMCA Gear Vendors True Street cruise on the tri-oval at the 14th Annual Nitto NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing in July at Route 66 Raceway in Illinois, and her passion for motorsports was palpable from the moment she climbed into the car to the moment she goosed the gas pedal, not once, not twice, but several times.

Read on for more about Judy, who has been married to Bill for fifty-three years. The popular and personable pair lives in Illinois, and they have a son, Ronald, a daughter, Dawn, and four grandchildren.

WHAT WILL YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR CHILDHOOD?

I grew up in Bolivar, a very small town of about 200 people in rural Pennsylvania. Everyone knew everyone else, and everyone knew everyone else’s business. I say I came from a medium-sized family, but I had three sisters and one brother. My mother was forty when I was born, and my oldest sister was already married when I was born. My brother was the baby at the time, and he was fourteen, so basically, I was raised as an only child even though there were five of us. My mother stayed at home with us, and my father worked at the Boliver Foundry as a superintendent. They took scrap metal, melted it and made manhole covers there.

WHEN DID YOU START TO PAY ATTENTION TO CARS?

I always liked cars, and because I lived in a small town, you really had to drive a good distance if you wanted to go to retail stores. My father was a Chevy fan, and we always had station wagons. I don’t know why because when I was growing up, there were only three of us. Ones that stick out are the 1957 Chevy station wagon and the 1963 Chevy station wagon. That one was for nine passengers, and I remember thinking later that it really was overkill.

WHAT WAS THE FIRST CAR YOU OWNED?

The first car I owned was a convertible 1961 Ford Sunliner. It was after I moved to Frankfort, Illinois, when I was eighteen because there was no work in Bolivar, Pennsylvania. The coal mines were closing, and the steel mills were not doing well. My two sisters were married to fellows who worked for Ford and they thought they could get me a job at the stamping plant in Chicago Heights, Illinois, so I came out and put in an application. But, I was willing to try anything, so I also put in an application at a place that made Styrofoam containers, and at a Ford dealership behind my sister’s house, Cooper Show Ford, which was looking for a secretary. I was offered a job at both places, and I accepted the job at Cooper Show Ford. I was still 18.

IS THAT WHERE YOU MET THE MAN WHO BECAME YOUR HUSBAND, BILL?

Yes, I met Bill at the Ford dealership, where he worked in the body shop, and I was probably nineteen at the time. We ended up dating. I loved working there until Bill was drafted into the Army in 1965. He did his basic training in Louisiana and we would correspond back and forth, and he decided it was costing too much for phone calls and that we should just get married. So, he came home on October 5 and we got married in a Methodist church in Frankfort, Illinois on October 7. I wore a wedding dress and he wore his uniform. Then, he was transferred to Oklahoma, and we moved there and rented a trailer and lived in it.

IT WASN’T LONG BEFORE BILL FOUND OUT HE WAS BEING TRANSFERRED, WAS IT?

No, it sure wasn’t. Bill, who was a mechanic in the Army, found out that his unit was going to Vietnam and he was going to Germany, and I went back home to my mom and dad in Pennsylvania, and started saving money to join him in Germany. When I went there, I was there for fourteen months, and he was there for eighteen months, and our son, Ronald, was born there. My parents had retired and moved from Pennsylvania to Florida, so when I left Germany with the baby, I stayed with them until Bill got out of the military. He came and got me and brought me back to Frankfort, Illinois, and we stayed with his parents until we found a place. Bill was always into cars and fixing cars and racing cars, and he had a 1959 Ford but he had sold it to his brother when he went into the service, and I had sold my car to my sister so that I could join Bill in Germany, so we ended up buying a used 1957 Ford, and Bill got a job at the stamping plant in Chicago Heights, but it wasn’t his thing and after only six weeks, he went back to Cooper Show Ford as a mechanic. Cars have always played a big part in our lives.

WHEN DID YOU BEGIN RACING AS A COUPLE?

Soon after our daughter, Dawn, was born in 1969, we would put them in our 1969 Torino, along with their toys, a cooler, a grill and extra tires, and go to an old track in Indiana. Bill would race, and I was always excited when he did well and won. In those days, you won a trophy. He did that for years, and then decided we needed to focus on getting into a new house, so his racing fell by the wayside for a while. Then he lost his job because the place closed down. He had a little Pinto that he had built up, so he sold it and the guy have him money plus the 1964 Fairlane that we have now. That was in the 1970s.

SO THAT’S WHERE THE 1964 FAIRLANE THAT WE LOVE SEEING AT NMRA/NMCA RACES CAME FROM.

Yes, it had come from Arizona. It was Vintage Burgundy. Bill would put his tools and a jack in the trunk and do side jobs so we had money. Then we decided we would do car shows, and redid the Fairlane to show it. Then we raced it a little and then, in the 1990s, added the Mustang that we have now, the one that you see at the races. At that time, I was working in the accounts receivable department for a trucking company, Packard Transport, in Illinois, and the Mustang was to be my work car. A friend of ours had found it in Ohio, paid $50 for it and drove it to his home in Ohio for us, and I drove it from Ohio to our home in Illinois. I drove it to and from work for three years, and then Bill decided we should make it his race car. That’s when I got a different daily driver, a Ford Focus.

DID WATCHING BILL RACE MAKE YOU WANT TO RACE?

Yes, and I did, off and on, in the 1990s, in whatever I could get my hands on, whether it was the Fairlane or even the Focus, and I raced in Fun Ford. I actually won a Stock race in the Focus. Then, Bill wanted a dually truck. He told me that the dealer had one and that it was gold. He said he wanted to take me to see it and get it. I said that was fine. Then he said he wanted a bigger trailer to take the Focus and the Mustang to races, so we got a bigger trailer so we could haul the Focus and the Mustang, or the Fairlane and the Mustang, depending on what was broken and what was working. We went to a lot of all-Ford races, including NMRA, Fun Ford and more. I raced in Brackets and Bill raced in Open Comp and Brackets.

YOU ALSO HAD A RANCHERO IN THAT TIME, DIDN’T YOU?

Yes, we had bought a 1964 Ford Ranchero at an action in Michigan in the 1980s, but Bill wasn’t too happy with it, so it just sat. Finally, the guys talked him into doing something with it, and he started working on it. Then, we traded the Focus for an Escape, and we had the Escape, the Mustang and the Ranchero. I started racing the Ranchero in NMRA Truck and Lightning in 2009.

WHAT ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION DID YOU CHOOSE FOR THE RANCHERO, AND HOW DID THINGS GO IN NMRA DETROIT LOCKER TRUCK AND LIGHTNING?

It had a 351 cubic-inch Windsor engine, and an automatic transmission, and I was running 12s. I was competitive, and I won rounds. I wanted it to be fun, and I didn’t want to have to prove anything to anyone. I wanted to feel that if I won, fine, and if I didn’t win, that was fine, too. I did have fun as long as I did it, but then Bill retired from his job with Frankfort Township Road District and I retired from my job from the trucking company, Packard Transport, and we couldn’t really commit to always taking two cars to every race.

FROM THERE, YOU DOVE INTO NMRA QA1 TRUE STREET AT NITTO NMRA/NMCA SUPER BOWL OF STREET LEGAL DRAG RACING EVENTS AT ROUTE 66 RACEWAY IN JOLIET, ILLINOIS, IN THE CHOCK-FULL OF CHARACTER 1964 FAIRLANE. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO DO THAT?

I tried it for the first time two years ago because we had decided that we would tone down the Fairlane so that I could drive it to the track and not worry about putting it in the trailer, and so that we could drive it on the street when we wanted to. My grandson had been a passenger in the Fairlane with me when he was a baby, and he came with me when I did the True Street cruise a few years ago, and so did his girlfriend. I like True Street. It’s fun, and it’s different. I’m looking forward to doing it again. Of course, the racer in me always wants to go faster, though.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO WHEN YOU’RE NOT CRUISING ON THE STREET OR ON THE STRIP?

We like to travel, and visit family and friends. I bowl twice a week. I’m a lousy bowler, but I go for the exercise and to give the rest of the team a hard time. I do chair yoga once a week through the American Cancer Society. I’ve been a breast cancer survivor for two years now, and the chair yoga helps me relax. While I’m doing those things, Bill is working on cars, cars and more cars, whether they’re our cars or our friends’ cars. When we’re not doing all of that, we’re looking forward to getting to the track. We’ve met a lot of people at the track through the years, and we look forward to seeing them race after race, year after year.

(Interview from the January 2020 issue of Fastest Street Car)

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