That 200 kilometre-per-hour mark on your odometer? The one you’ll never touch with the needle? Fred Thibeault drives faster than that and he can do it from standing still in the length of time it took you to read this.
He’s 69 and he can do 132 miles and hour in 9.98 seconds. That’s 212.433 kph.
He’s got a 50-year-old, 10-second, quarter-mile car.
He owns Fred’s Auto Sales just east of Middleton but he’s a legend in the drag racing world in Canada and the US. Proof that age has nothing to do with it, some people are naturals, and experience does count. And if you want to race, buy a racecar.
“1974 a friend of mine, Nichols was his name, he lived up here in Wilmot, convinced me to go to PEI. And I had a nice little street car, ’67 Chevelle,” Thibeault says. “I said ‘well, we’ll go over for the weekend.’ So I went over in 1974 and got hooked on it I guess.”
He just played around, won a couple of times a year until ’77.
“The end of that year I decided ‘I’m gonna get a real racecar,’” he says.
He went to Montreal and bought one from a guy there. That’s when the real story starts.
“In 1978 I raced that car locally, PEI, Penfield, Sackville, and by the end of the year I paid for the car,” he says. “You can’t do that nowadays. Back then the purses were good compared to what it cost you to race. I could go to Penfield for 50 bucks – in New Brunswick – and race. But you can’t do that nowadays.”
That 10-second car he has now is a ’69 Camaro. He bought it in 1988 from a helicopter pilot.
“It’s a 396 and it’s bored out seventy-five-thousandths,” Thibeault says. “So whatever that figures out to be. Somewheres around 410 cubic inches or something like that. On Armstrongs’ dyno it makes 610 horsepower.”
Thibeault got the car when the pilot crashed his chopper and got hurt.
“He said ‘I can’t pay my bills. They’re gonna repossess my stuff,’” Thibeault says. “He called me up, said ‘Fred, I want you to have the car.’ He didn’t really know me. He knew of me. We raced on the same track together. We weren’t buddies or nothing.’”
Thibeault didn’t have a racecar right then and the chopper pilot figured he’d do well with it.
“I couldn’t really even afford it at the time,” he recalls, “but I did it anyway and that’s when it all started with this car.”
“The cheapest way to go racing is to buy a race car – it ain’t buildin’ it,” Thibeault says. That’s old advice from the Armstrong brothers from nearby Melvern Square at A & J Automotive. “That kind of got me racing too, once I got involved with those guys. They’re serious. We’re very good friends. John and Allen Armstrong. John and I have been like brothers for years. They do all my engines.”
The trailer he took to Montreal to pick up that first car? The Armstrongs built that for him.
“If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be racing,” says Thibeault.
The garage where he keeps the Camaro has walls filled with trophies going back decades. There’s old car memorabilia, signs, old oilcans. The Camaro has it’s own hoist and you could eat off the floor. Nobody else can bring a vehicle in and when nobody’s around there’s a big, heavy sliding door that locks away what his sons believe is possibly the fastest ’69 Camaro in North America.
The trophies for all the big wins are in a cabinet in the house. “Redding, Pennsylvania. The Keystone Nationals,” he says. “I can’t even remember what year it was. Probably ’94. Here a couple years ago I won a ten thousand US dollars race in Quebec at a place called Napierville.”
“It’s so hard to explain if you’ve never done it,” Thibeault says about racing and that moment the tree goes green and success is measured in 100ths of a second. “Some people are naturals and other people aren’t.”
They sell books on it, he says.
“It’s psychological and focus and all that kind of stuff,” he says. “You’ve really got to stay focused on what you’re doing and blank other stuff out of your mind if you can.”
He learned early on to let the car match him, not the other way around.
“Don’t change yourself, change the car,” he says. “If you’re who you are you can’t really change who you are so you change the car to suit you.”
Thibeault is one of those guys with good reaction time at the tree and a car that can make the speeds once he puts his foot down. You can’t have one or the other. You have to have both.
He races ‘stock eliminator’ and his car will run three different classes. He usually runs B.
“I’ve had a lot of things happen to me in 40 years,” he says. “One time in Maitland I had the front control arm break off and I went right into the field. I won the race too. I was going 120-something. It was just about dusk and I won the race and almost hit the other guy. Just came right across behind him. I hit the brakes and when I did the control arm broke off.”
The wheel went right back into the firewall. They’d just passed the finish line and the guard rail had run out by that point.
But perhaps his biggest crash wasn’t on the track.
“In 2007 I left the highway in St. Stephen, New Brunswick and wrote it all off. Everything I owned. Everything. A gravel truck cut me off. My oldest son Scott, he was with me. We went right into the woods. Cut off trees that big,” he says, indicating trunks 10 or 12 inches. “The motorhome weighed thirty thousand pounds. The trailer weighed 10. Saved my life. The thing was heavy enough we just mowed trees down. Limbs coming right through the windshield and hitting me.”
“Shaun-Paul, he goes away sometimes with me. He has a stocker like me except it’s a lot slower. It has a smaller motor,” Thibeault explains. “My youngest son Ryan, he’ll probably step up sometime and get a stocker.”
“My first ever trip with him was down to Epping, New Hampshire when I was probably eight or nine years old,” says Shaun-Paul. “We always used to go up around here – Drag City in Sackville, over to the Island to Oyster Bed Bridge. As I got a little bit older he started taking me away to go to the national events. Montreal for the Grand Nationals, then we went to the summer nationals in Englishtown, New Jersey and a few other smaller races down in Pennsylvania. We’d go to the Dutch Classic and stuff. A lot of traveling around when I was young.”
The memories over 45 years have been good.
“I had just as much fun sleeping in the back of a pickup truck, probably more fun, than I have now,” Fred Thibeault says. “When you’re young you don’t care. I couldn’t sleep in the back of a pickup truck now. But I didn’t mind it. As long as I got to the racetrack I didn’t care where I slept. It didn’t matter. We slept in tents and everything else. We did everything it took to get there.”
Drag racing is the next thing to flying and despite the changes Thibeault plans to keep going.
“I’ll race until I can’t race, I guess,” he says. “I’ve had cancer, heart attack.”
He’s cancer free 10 years now and when he had the heart attack they fixed him up.
“They put a stent in me and I’ve been all right,” he says.
He’s been inducted into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame. But he didn’t go.
“I’m not that type of person. I just want to race,” he says.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Atlantic Canadian Stock/SuperStock Association has a full schedule of events this year:
2019 ACSSA Schedule
July 19 ACSSA Race 1 Miramichi, N.B. (NHRA National Open doubleheader)
July 20 ACSSA Race 2 Miramichi, N.B. (NHRA National Open doubleheader)
Aug. 25 ACSSA Race 3 Greenfield, N.S. (Bracket Bash Weekend, Sunday race)
Sept. 21 ACSSA Race 4 Greenfield, N.S. (Doubleheader)
Sept. 22 ACSSA Race 5 Greenfield, N.S. (Doubleheader)
Sept. 28 ACSSA Race 6 Miramichi, N.B. (Season Finale)
DID YOU KNOW?
There are five drag racing weekends at Greenfield Dragway near Liverpool this year:
2019 Events Schedule:
May 31-June 2 Bracket Car Kickoff 2019
June 28-30 Canada Day Showdown
Aug. 2-4 Big Rig Mix-up
Aug. 23-25 Big Bounty Bracket Bash
Sept. 20-22 Last Chance Finals