DARDANELLE, Ark.- In the late 1980s, Rudy Toepke shook the racing world, a self-funded Top Fuel Drag Racer who turned a hobby into record-breaking runs.
He blazed a trail out of Dardanelle right to the National Hot Rod Association’s premiere events. Racing alongside the best, he and his team gave it their all at every race.
“If he was going to do something, he went wide open, was not half-throttle,” says his nephew Steve Troyke. “It was full bore, he was going to do it and win.”
In an NBC Sports interview Rudy made his goal clear..Saying “We’re not going to count it over until the finish line, We got the motor hopped up. We got it cut back against so we just cut it loose.”
At stunning speeds nearing 300 mph, he set records and thrilled crowds.
When all of the hotshots in drag racing seemed to come from other parts of the country, he put Arkansas on the map.
But how did a kid from Dardanelle go from a small town trucking owner to a hot rodder making headlines?
“I think he wanted to try something different, and he did,” says his Sister Linda Hudlow . “This is what I’m going to do.’ And when he saw he could do it, he’d quit that and did something else. He did just about anything he wanted to do.
He wanted to race. The rise of Toepke Racing is well-documented, from the early days at Centerville Race Track outside of Dardanelle, to his Top Fuel Dragster running 280 miles an hour on a national stage.
The more his desire to race grew, the bigger his trucking company got, one fueling the other.
“He had his trucking company for a while, had 50 trucks on,” recalls Steve. “To run his race team, it took 50 more just to keep it up.”
He achieved NHRA success, had a respectable amount of fame in the sport, enough money to last a lifetime. All of it was second to what was most important.
“I guess he spent every holiday with us, eat dinner, he really likes the family to be together,” says Linda.
By no account did his racing career fizzle. It just may have been time to shift gears.
“Rudy was kinda like my dad, once they accomplished something, they moved on to something else,” says Linda. “That was Rudy. When he got through with the trucks and racing, he went on.”
He passed the speed gene to his nephew, Steve, and the secrets to his success.
“He kept doing what Rudy wanted to do,” says Steve. “There wasn’t a time that went by he didn’t talk about drag racing. Most of it was the same old stuff he liked talking about, and I liked listening.”
While Rudy did a lot out in the open, what was most talked about, is what he did quietly.
“He cared deeply about people,” says Linda. “You hear about people who would give you the shirt off their back, that was Rudy. Everywhere Rudy went, he took care of everybody.” Adds good friend Mark Mobley
“Most people didn’t know it, except the ones he helped,” says Linda. “I didn’t even know it ’til after he passed and I saw what all he did. And I sure was proud of him, and I sure do miss him.”
Rudy passed away in 2014 at 68. Steve says in a blink of an eye, he went from 280 mph to God’s speed.
“He was a good man,” says Steve. “I wish he was back here today. He was good.”
“The day he died, the world became a worse place guaranteed,” says Mobley . “They don’t make them like him anymore.”
“He was a special person,” says Linda. “I don’t know of anybody that didn’t like him.”