MARK WOODRUFF NEEDS TO GO TO THE DRAGSTRIP . THAT ’ S WHAT THE JUDGE SAID WHEN A 16-YEAR-OLD WOODRUFF WAS HAULED INTO COURT TO ANSWER FOR HIS HIGH-SPEED ANTICS ON I-55 IN FESTUS , MISSOURI . YES , IT WAS A JUDGE ’ S ORDERS THAT BROUGHT WOODRUFF TO THE DRAGSTRIP AS A DRIVER FOR THE FIRST TIME , BUT HE ’ S BEEN GOING BACK AS A MORE-THAN-WILLING PARTICIPANT EVER SINCE .
As the son of a mechanic , Woodruff grew up around muscle cars . His father , Mark Sr ., specialized in fixing up and flipping GM muscle cars , and naturally Mark got involved too .
“ My dad would make a trip to the Chevrolet dealer every six months and buy 10 cowl hoods , 10 spoilers , 10 sets of Z28 emblems , and come home and then we would build ‘ 67 , ‘ 68 , ‘ 69 Camaros , El Caminos , Chevelles , that type of stuff . That ’ s what I grew up in ,” Woodruff remembers .
It wasn ’ t one of those ultra-cool , classic muscle cars that led to Woodruff ’ s run-in with the law . If Woodruff wanted one of those , he ’ d have to work for it and built it up himself , so the newly licensed 16-year-old first hit the streets in a little ’ 78 Ford Fiesta . It didn ’ t exactly look like it leapt off the pages of Hot Rod magazine , but that didn ’ t stop Woodruff and his buddies from cruising it around town like it did .
One day , Woodruff and his buddy drove down to Festus , just south of St . Louis , and what happened next set Woodruff down his lifelong path in drag racing .
“ We ’ re cruising around the town circle and it was kind of lame , so we ’ re sitting there bullshitting ,” Woodruff begins . “ I ain ’ t had my license two weeks , and my buddy ’ s asking if I think I can outrun the cops . I ’ m like , ‘ Hell , I know I could . I ’ ve been driving anything on wheels since I was old enough to walk . You ’ re damn right I can outrun them .’
“ Well , we get on 55 and we ’ re heading north to South County ,” Woodruff continues , “ and I ’ m going as fast as this thing will go , and we cross over the top of the hill and sure enough , there ’ s a sheriff or a city cop sitting in the median . Cherries come on , and he ’ s like , ‘ Man , the cops !’ I said , ‘ Well , we ’ re going to find out if I can outrun them or not ,’ and sure enough , the chase was on .”
As Woodruff tells it , he put a couple cops in the ditch playing chicken with them , which did not at all help his case when they finally stopped him .
“ The one officer that I put in the ditch , he shows up with his patrol car on a tow truck behind it , and he ’ s like , ‘ Where is this son of a bitch at ?’ The arresting officer points to me , and the other officer was like , ‘ I ’ m going to take them cuffs off of you and beat your ass .’ I said , ‘ Buddy , it ’ d be a lot easier than what I ’ m going to get when I get home . I would take that whipping any day .’ He was mad .”
In fact , the whole town was mad , and his parents were beyond mad . They were scared to death .
“ We didn ’ t have no money – they ’ ve got three kids , just trying to keep food on the table whenever it was , ’ 89 or ‘ 90 ,” Woodruff says . “ We go through the process of getting a lawyer , and they go and take a second mortgage on their house to pay for this lawyer . They think I ’ m going to jail and I ’ m losing my license for the rest of my life , the whole deal .”
Six or seven months later , the Woodruff family
88 | Drag Illustrated | DragIllustrated . com Issue 175