The best way to start a project vehicle is with a blank slate, something that hasn’t been tampered with too much, and won’t require a large amount of work to get going. Florida-based shop owner Joe Fladd didn’t have that luxury when he purchased his 1971 Ford F100 truck for a measly 200-bucks. Fladd has taken a truck many would run away from as a project and transformed it into stunning track machine with tons of boosted Ford power under the hood.
Before Joe opened his shop, Performance Automotive, in Dade City, Florida, he spent many years working at his father’s salvage yard. When he wasn’t taking care of tasks around the salvage yard, Joe would sit inside cars and envision the tree coming down at the drag strip as he drove his own ride. Joe also spent time working with his father as he built projects for the World of Wheels shows, so he was exposed to everything from top-shelf show cars to full-on drag racing machines.
Having a life that revolves around cars and mechanical work led Joe to the drag strip early in his life. At the age of eight, he started going to Twin City Drag Strip with his older brother, Curt. Joe would spend those Friday nights helping keep Curt’s 1966 Chevelle running, and that’s what really pushed him towards drag racing.
“I can remember going to the track on Friday nights and just being totally engrossed in wanting to do nothing but race. My brother, Curt, also took me to my first big race around that time, the Gatornationals, and I was floored by what I saw there. I was done at that point — hook, line, and sinker. All I thought about was racing,” Joe explains.
Joe’s experience in the salvage yard and turning wrenches would be called into service when he first took possession of his F100 truck in 1987. Joe was in need of some cheap transportation, and he found the truck parked next to a friend’s house in Wesley Chapel, Florida. The classic Ford was priced at just $200 and for good reason … it had experienced a bit of trauma at the hands of its current owner.
“The guy who owned the truck had done a brake job himself and took it down a dirt road at a high rate of speed to test them. He got into trouble when the truck locked up the front tires after he hit the brakes and rolled it into a telephone pole because the brakes weren’t adjusted right. The cab of the truck was smashed down on the passenger side, and the bed was torn up really bad, too,” Joe explains.
This truck really brought us all together during a difficult time. - Joe Fladd
Since Joe’s father did bodywork, he stepped up to help get the truck straightened out and looking good again. To assist with laying down the ultra-bright shade of yellow paint, Joe enlisted the help of his younger brother in the spray booth. Because Joe was the mechanical wizard of the bunch, he attacked the engine and other areas of the truck that needed revitalized during the build.
For Joe, the truck really turned into a total family project after he purchased it, and as it would turn out, they would all need it. “This truck really brought us all together during a difficult time. As we were restoring it, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and became very ill. We ended up losing her, and this truck project is what really kept me going during that very difficult time in my life,” Joe says.
After the truck was done, Joe drove it as a long bed pick-up for several years and enjoyed every second of it. Craving a change for the truck, Joe decided it was time to convert it to a short bed, so out came the cutting torches and the bed lost a few inches. To get the stance that he wanted, Joe decided to move the leaf springs under the framerails so he could put some bigger tires under it.
Making the truck faster really didn’t become a priority until he went the drag strip with some friends and learned just how slow it was.
“The night we all went to the track, I ended up getting outrun by a friend in his Chevelle, and I wasn’t too happy about that. After that night, I started throwing money at it to go faster, and I never really looked back. The direction of the truck was set at that point, and I was along for the ride,” Joe explains.
There was a brief time where Joe actually didn’t own the F100. In 1994, he decided to trade it for a 1968 tube chassis Nova — a decision that he would later come to regret. As luck would have it, the truck found a way back into his possession as he was out on a date that would change his life.
“I met my wife in 1996, and while we were on a date, we actually saw the truck sitting in a yard with a for sale sign on it. About a week later, we went back to ask about it, but it had just been sold. The gentleman that sold the truck was nice enough to provide us with the information of the person who purchased it, so we could talk to him,” Joe says.
After we talked with the guy, my wife ended up buying the truck back for me as a wedding present, and we’ve had it in our family ever since. - Joe Fladd
Joe and his soon-to-be wife made contact with the person who purchased the truck to see if they could take a look at it. Seeing it brought back many great memories for Joe, and he shared his story with the new owner. Joe really wanted the truck back, and the new owner acknowledged he knew where it belonged.
“After we talked with the guy, my wife ended up buying the truck back for me as a wedding present, and we’ve had it in our family ever since. I have driven it, my wife has driven it, and we put our son in it when he was 15. We have traveled to many states to race it in the Fun Ford Weekend Series, as well. We also used it as a daily driver for many years, and enjoy having it around,” Joe says.
Since getting the truck back, Joe has been steadily making changes to it over the years with the help of his good friend, Tobby Grant. The duo have taken the truck from your average street cruiser and car show participant, to a full-blown race machine that’s seen a few different combinations over the years.
“Tobby has helped me with building the truck’s frame and roll cage, and he also does all of my transmission work. Now that we’ve changed it over to a turbo and fuel injection combination, he’s helped with tuning it. We laugh because when we first got the truck running, I would be happy with high 11-second passes, then it became tens, and then nines. It’s just never-ending,” Joe explains.
Since Joe has owned the truck, it has seen a lot of bracket racing action in its different configurations. Joe has run in the truck class during the Fun Ford Weekends and at NMRA events. Locally, he runs both the 6.50 and 5.50 index classes at Bradenton Motorsports Park, where he finished second in the points last year. He’s even taken his F100 to both of Donald Long’s events at South Georgia Motorsports Park to get in on the racing action in any class he fits into.
After racing the truck for so many years, Joe’s priorities have changed a bit. The truck has always remained street legal, but due to the combinations he was running under the hood, actually driving it on the street never really worked out. In the near future, he’s ready to change all of that and enjoy his beloved truck even more.
“I really want to drive it on the street again because I’m tired of only getting to race it once or twice a month. When it was naturally-aspirated, it was just way too radical to drive on the street, but now with this turbo setup, it shouldn’t be a problem. It will be something I can drive and take to the track … a true dual-use vehicle,” Joe explains.
Being able to get his truck to its current level has taken many years and immense amounts of work and investment. But Joe is pleased with the friendships the truck has helped build for him and is thankful for all the help he’s received along this journey.
“My wife, Ranena, has supported me through everything, and I can’t thank her enough for that. Tobby Gant is another person who has really helped with the building of the truck, and he is the brains behind the tune-up. Levi Nelson did a great job with all the stainless work under the hood. JT at Madd Science Customs knocked it out of the park with the recent bodywork and paint. This was also possible with help from my son, Jake Mack, my father Gilbert Fladd, and brothers Curt Fladd and Tim Fladd.”
Joe Fladd’s F100 has been a part of his life for nearly 30 years and helped build deep bonds with both his family and friends, and his build is an example of what can happen when you look past the flaws of the project in front of you and concentrate on what you want it to become.