By Drew Hardin
Photo: Pat Brollier, Petersen Publishing Company Archives
Gaspar “Gas” Ronda, best known for drag racing a series of Mustangs during the early evolution of the Funny Car, passed away at the age of 91 in October. He didn’t start drag racing in Fords; in the 1950s, while living in Northern California and working as a dance instructor, he raced Hudsons, Buicks and Corvettes. (Yes, dance instructor. Ronda had polio as a child, and he discovered dance as a way to strengthen his legs.)
In the early 1960s Ronda switched—for good—to Fords, first with a Y-block-powered Starliner and later a tri-power Galaxie. He was among the first handful of racers to get a 427-powered Fairlane Thunderbolt in 1964, which he repainted in poppy red and drove to the NHRA Stock class championship that year. The red color would remain a trademark of Ronda’s racing Fords. Another Ronda trademark: dressing well.
A holdover from his days as a ballroom dancer and instructor, Ronda was always one of the best dressed among his racing peers, a trait that continued even late in his life when he would return to his roots to make appearances at recent Hot Rod Reunions and at the NHRA Motorsports Museum.
Petersen Publishing Company’s Pat Brollier photographed Ronda in late January 1966 with his newest ride—a tube-frame, fuel-injected Mustang. Not two months later, at the U.S. Fuel & Gas Championships in Bakersfield, Hot Rod magazine’s Eric Dahlquist reported that “Gas baby did the job on everyone in his altered-wheelbase ultra-Funny Car (get that?) Mustang, but good. Try 8.96, 157 for openers, on no rosin.”
Except for a short break to help Ford launch the new Cobra Jet Mustangs at the 1968 Winternationals, Ronda drove a succession of Funny Mustangs in the late 1960s. His highlight reel included being named the AHRA Driver of the Year in 1967 and winning the 1969 Orange County Raceway Manufacturer’s Championships in a Mustang Mach 1 built by the Logghe Bros.
That would be his last race win; a fiery engine explosion in January 1970 brought Ronda’s driving career to a close. But he would then move into a third career as a successful Southern California restaurateur.
Ronda earned an NHRA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993 and was named to the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2016.