SALTILLO – Jason Scruggs doesn’t look like one of the fastest men in the world. He’s just a farmer, after all, who’s more often covered in dirt than grease.
Once or twice a month, though, the 34-year-old Scruggs trades in a slow-moving tractor for a 3,500-horsepower 1968 Camaro that’s pretty good at harvesting wins and world records.
Scruggs has been drag racing for 19 years, and he’s currently in his third season in the American Drag Racing League. He’s won the points title in the Pro Extreme division the past two years, and he holds a 229-point lead this season with four races remaining.
He owns one win and has reached four finals this year. And during a Memphis race in May, Scruggs went faster than any driver ever has in a “doorslammer” – a full-bodied drag racing car, which has a working suspension, short wheel base, and doors that open.
He covered the one-eighth mile in 3.666 seconds and hit 207.43 miles per hour.
All this by a guy whose title is owner-mechanic-driver.
“They do it all on their own; they have no major sponsorship, other than just themselves,” said Shane Carr, Scruggs’ third cousin and owner of Carr Racing Motorsports in Saltillo. “And they’ve accomplished a great deal with what little resources they’ve acquired over the years.”
Like father …
Scruggs’ father, Mitchell, got into racing the old-fashioned way – on the streets, with his friends. It was the early 1960s, when street racing was a regular form of weekend entertainment.
Mitchell Scruggs, who owns Scruggs Farm, Lawn & Garden, would take his ’61 Chevy – with its 409 engine, two-barrel carburetor, big cam shaft and straight pipes – out to Palmetto Road, or Euclatubba Road, or sometimes even on a stretch of Gloster Street.
“The police knew everybody, wasn’t much traffic on the roads and stuff,” Mitchell Scruggs said. “They knew all the kids, and they kind of kept us in line.”
Once the roadways became more crowded, Scruggs and his friends turned to more organized racing, at local drag strips.
Now, the 59-year-old Mitchell helps his son go fast. They’re the two that make Jason’s racing career go – “We do everything” on the mechanical side, Jason said – but they’ve got some good volunteer help: Rhett Blankenship, Jackie Green, Ricky Light and car builder Garrett Livingston.
Most drivers Scruggs competes against have more people, or are part of a race team, and thus have more resources.
So how is Scruggs able to dominate? Experience, for one, but he also thinks being a lone ranger has its advantages.
“We do everything ourselves, so when I learn something, I kind of keep it to myself,” he said. “I don’t have anybody jumping around from team to team. I’ve got the best parts, a lot of good help, and we’ve just been doing it a long time and understand the concept of what it takes to get the cars out on the race track.”
Then there’s the rulebook, or the lack of one. There are no performance restrictions in the ADRL, which means Scruggs doesn’t have to expend time, money and energy trying to find an edge without breaking the rules. It encourages creativity.
It’s much the same approach Mitchell and his friends would take – find the best setup to make your car the fastest.
“At the end of the day, all you can do is bring one motor, one car, one of everything,” Jason said. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve got in the trailer, how many spares you have.”
Finding a balance
The ADRL races once a month, usually, but there are two races this month. Scruggs is in St. Louis this weekend – well, Madison, Ill., technically, at Gateway International Raceway – for the Hardee’s Gateway Drags II. Then it’s off to Hebron, Ohio, in two weeks.
The final two races are in Rockingham, N.C., and Ennis, Texas. The last race – dubbed The Battle for the Belt – is set for Oct. 23-24.
Scruggs said he isn’t sure how much he spends per year on racing, but the greater price is having to leave behind his wife, Alice, and their three young children, who can’t attend every race.
When Scruggs isn’t working the family farm – they grow corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat – he’s overseeing operations at Scruggs Farm and Supplies on Old Saltillo Road.
“My wife, Alice, pulls a lot of slack for me to be able to race when I’m not working. Between the working all the time and racing, it takes its toll,” Scruggs said.
On the other hand, father and son get quality time together. And racing’s in Scruggs’ blood. He started at age 15 running bracket races at local tracks, then moved up to pro modified cars in 1996.
He’s a Tupelo High School graduate and attended Mississippi State for two years before getting into the family business, which along with racing has been a constant in his life.
While work and family demand much of him, Scruggs wants to keep on racing.
He was the first driver to break 200 mph in the ADRL, in September of 2007, and the record he set in May broke his own record. He’s got three career wins in the ADRL.
“It’s a rush,” he said of going fast. “But it’s just like football at Mississippi State or baseball, or anything else. It’s all about the competition.”
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal