Canada’s scenic left coast Vancouver Island is home base to a very inspiring and multi-dimensional drag racing effort….

During this just past season aspiring Victoria-based drag racer Phil Ruskowski hit the racing surface with a creative NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series level Top Fuel dragster. That development marked another important first for our country with Phil becoming the first Canadian racer ever to dabble within that dynamic class category.

Make no mistake – this circuit of front-motored Top Fuel dragsters are anything but exhibition vehicles. Despite their nostalgic looking configruation – they are serious high tech machines racing a highly competitive series.

Coming to a stop at Bakersfield….

For Ruskowki, who had fooled around with an assortment of hot rods and race cars dating back to age 14, the move to Top Fuel has full-filled a lifelong passion.

“I was into anything with a motor when I was young – at 14 yrs old had a 1955 Studebaker Champion that was all hot rodded up,” Phil reflected. “I soon realized however that I wanted to run a light weight purpose built race car – Sling Shot style. My first dragster was a 152” with a big block Chevy for power and I have owned four front motored dragsters with different injected small block to blown Nitro engine combinations. My previous (“the Xibitionist”) was a 180” blown nitro FED with high gear pedal clutch. We ran it Exhibition and match races only – it wasn’t legal for NHRA Heritage Series Nostalgia Top Fuel.”

Phil Ruskowski

During the 2015 season – Phil began his vision quest for a bonafide Top Fuel class car and the end result was the acquisition of a very significant and reputed race car.

“I wanted something special,” he admitted. “So when Tony Bartone’s Championship winning car (2014 season) became available I realized that type of opportunity wouldn’t come along often. So we moved on that car then brought it coast to coast – from Long Island NY to Vancouver Island.”

Phil’s car is a 225” chassis – the first front motored car ever built by reputed Murf McKinney. But his team then added another interesting dimension to the program. Instead of a normal for the NTF class Hemi-powered engine configuration – they elected to go with a Chevrolet engine program – to draw upon all their previous “bowtie” brand racing experience.

That is a specialty built 400 CID small block Chevrolet which features a Bryant billet crank, Santos Intake, Brodix 12 Heads, Earp billet rods and JE pistons. They also employ a RCD Tri Drive, MSD 44 Mag, a Waterman 20 gallon fuel pump, Pluger dry sump system and a Enderle Bug catcher sitting on set back 6.71 retro super charger.

The “Mouse that roars”…

“I thought (that this chassis) was a great place to go play for my nitro Chevy engine project,” Phil added. “I don’t need to rotate the world to be satisfied. This is truly about the joy of running a small block Chevy effectively on fuel – which is a rarity. That’s satisfying for us in itself.”

During the late season of 2016, Phil and his team first took the car to Mission Raceway Park where they attended the Langley Loafers B.C. Old Time event. They made their first 3 test runs ever there – hitting a best shut off early time of 6.82 secs @ 191.32 mph. They they loaded the car up and took it down to Bakersfield’s California Hot Rod Reunion event in October – where they entered it in NHRA’s Hot Rod Heritage Series racing for the very first time. At that event they did makes some progress and gained experience while qualifying #14 of 15 cars entered for the 8-car field.

Phil is quick to cite the support of his crew and also his valued associate sponsors.
  “I’ve been fortunate to have a great crew some of my guys have been with me from the beginning,” he emphasized. “In this sport you 
have to love to work and devote time and all that takes support from families and employers.”

Ruskowki’s team is a talented pool of individuals, consisting of Campbell Thomson, Scott Tucker, Gary Stossel, Steve Martins, Steve Ried and Ben Thomson.

“I couldn’t do any of this without “my better half” Vicki Hall,” Phil added. “She is my #1 fan and the first to say — just do it!

A very strong supporting staff!….

The race car’s primary backer is Trotac Marine and that company’s owner Campbell Thomson who Phil has had racing involvement with for over thirty years. Trotac Marine has been in Victoria for 45 years. They are an industry leading marine supply store selling Recreational/Commercial/Industrial boating, fishing and sailing equipment. Trotac Marine is also deeply involved with scientific research vessel equipment.

The team also values it’s associations with Lordco Auto Parts, Lucas Oil Products, Autolite Spark Plugs and Whiplash Custom Paint (Tim Scott).

A couple more fun facts about Phil. He is also an avid Vintage car Road Racer who has driven a 1959 Lola MK1,a Lotus 23B and an Elva Courier. And his reputation as a total “gear head” also includes experience as a crew member with Jeff “The Surfer” Diehl’s NHRA Nitro Funny Car team.

But maybe the most important dimension to this racer is how he uses the straight-line sport to overcome some diversity.

During 2011 Phil was diagnosed with Parkinson Disease and that is something he must continuously deal with on a daily basis. But incredibly his passion for drag racing helps greatly with that personal aspect.

“For sure my life changed with the diagnosis,” Phil affirmed. “But after the shock, I realized how lucky I was in life and in racing and this was the big push for the new car. I feel life is short and you better do what you want when you can. My P.D. doesn’t stop me from doing anything. I keep positive and healthy. For me the intensity and the adrenaline rush of driving one of these cars works! It actually helps my body make the chemical it needs. When I get into the race car my symptoms actually dissipate! My neurologist just laughs about that and encourages me to “just keep on doing what you’re doing.”

“Who says driving a fuel dragster isn’t good for you,” he laughed.  “I feel healthy and I’m focused on having a few more years of driving.”

For 2017 Canadian racing fans can look for Phil’s “Xibitionist” racing team to run the full NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series of races.

Post and photos by Bruce Biegler