Jan 182011

I wanted to include Gary Ormsby in our Northern California Race Car Driver directory, so I looked him up on Google. To my surprise, there was no website about him, no fan page, not even a wikipedia page. So I decided to write what I could find and then ask for help from you. If anyone can help me with more details of his amazing life I would appreciate it. I am even trying to write a wikipedia article on him too. Please email me here: tnewey@norcalcarculture.com.
Gary Ormsby was the 1989 NHRA Top Fuel Champion. He owned Auburn Toyota and Auburn Subaru Hyundai in Auburn, California. His crew chief was Lee Beard. Together they were within one round victory of winning the championship in 1990 as well. He died the following year of intestinal cancer in Roseville, California on August 28, 1991.
Gary Ormsby's 1962 Vagabond Dragster
One of Gary’s first cars, Vagabond, a 1962 AA/Fuel Dragster.

It was during 1990 that he set the (at the time) World Record of 4.881 seconds at 296.05 mph in Heartland Park, Topeka Kansas. He helped put that track on the map in the drag racing world. Since then, they have named one of the roads around the raceway, Gary Ormsby Drive.

In 1989, Gary destroyed 2 cars in terrifying accidents on the way to winning the championship. He had to drive an old retired car that he had on display in the showroom of his car dealership in Auburn to finish the season. This video shows the 2 accidents.

Gary Ormsby was one of the best drag racers to come out of northern California. I am anxious to learn more about him and his racing career. There is a great article on Lee Beard and Gary Ormsby and their championship season together here.

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  10 Responses to “The late Gary Ormsby from Auburn, California – 1989 NHRA Top Fuel Champion”

  1. I met Gary Ormsby in the pits at Sonoma in 1990 or 1991. I think at the time he already knew that he had cancer. I walked up to his pit and he was busy getting ready for the next round. I called him over and he signed my ball cap. He was pleasant and seemed like a great guy! I was very surprised to learn later that year that he had cancer.

  2. I met Gary in 1986 when my father, Don Marshall, had put a crew together and was racing the America car with Rocky Epperly at the wheel.

    I was 21 years old, living in San Francisco for the summer and had blown the head gaskets on my 1983 Ford EXP. My father contacted Gary, who sent a tow truck and brought my car back to his car dealership in Auburn for repairs. A few weeks later when I went to get my car, Gary took me to lunch in his (I think) Lamborghini, filled my gas tank for the trip back to S.F., and left the bill open until I saw him later that season at Indy, where I paid him in full.

    He was gracious, funny, and very kind to a 21 year old girl who was far away from home and needed help. Even when I saw him again at Indy, with Castrol as his sponser if I remember correctly, busy in the pits and in the middle of a race, he made time to chat with my friend, Kim Bouldin-Jones, and me.

    I was shocked when my father told me a few years later that he had died of cancer. I will always remember his kindness off the track as well as his expertise on the track.

    • Rhonda, Thanks for sharing your story. It’s nice to hear things like that about racing stars. I do hear stories about how great a guy Gary Ormsby was pretty regularly.

  3. I lived on Royalglen Avenue in Sacramento from 1969 until I moved to Downey in 1972.
    Gary lived directly across the street from my house. One night I am sitting in my family room watching TV and all of a sudden I hear a loud noise, like an air plane motor and I saw flashes of light on my back fence. As we were on the flight path for McCLenand Air Force Base, I thought an air plane was going to crash into my house. I went to the window and looked out and their was Gary’s dragster outside of his garage spitting flames from the headers. Gary had rolled his machine out of his garage and lighted it off. Talk about noise and fire!!!! What a thrill!!!!

    • Great story, it’s funny how many people have sent me emails and examples of what a great guy Gary was. Thank you!

  4. Thanks for sharing.
    I just dug up some photos in storage of Gary sitting in his rail warming up on jack stands at the ’89 or ’90 Winternationals at Pomona, spectators with fingers in their ears! Also photos of Don Garlits looking nervous which led me to your nice tribute to Gary.

    • If you were so inclined, I would love to see your photos of Gary or perhaps add them to this end of this piece.
      Thank you, Tim

  5. I saw Gary run the McChord and Ormsby funny car at the Bakersfield March Meet in 1972. It was not his best outing. My uncle, Carl Forsberg, used to process chickens in Auburn. One of his major clients was the Ormsby Chicken Farm. I have always wondered what Gary’s connection to the poultry business was. Carl’s son, Richard Forsberg, and Richard’s son, Andy Forsberg, are long time sprint car racers from Auburn.

  6. My first NHRA national event was the 86 Cajun Nationals in Baton Rouge LA. I was 15 years old.
    G.O. had his Castrol streamliner and Garlits had Swap Rat 30. Those two cars were the class of the field and I just thought the Castrol car was the coolest thing ever. Almost 30 years later I can still vividly remember the ultra professional demeanor of Gary and his team of Beard, Mike Green and Dickie Venables. RIP G.O.

  7. My significant others brother has his red corvette. It still has a personalized plate on the front. He is trying to sell it if anyone is interested.


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