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Resurrected to Race

By Emily Pogue


People often say that what you get out of a car is what you put into it. In the case of Cary Ellingson’s 1970 Ford Mustang coupe, that couldn’t be more accurate. Because as it turns out, what he put into it was his daughter.


As a high school sophomore in 1976, Cary had a dozen head of cattle that he was raising on his family farm. After making a good profit from the sale of those cattle, he purchased the gold 1970 Ford Mustang as its second owner and quickly discovered his love for street racing and speed.  And while Cary says he hasn’t always been a Mustang guy, this car certainly turned him into one. This, they say, is how a street rod is born.


However, after moving with his wife to Rapid City and starting a family, Cary’s Mustang saw some idle years as it sat immobile in front of the garage; unable to run and definitely unable to race. That all ended in 2003 with a determined 9-year-old and a TV movie.


Cary’s oldest daughter, Carly Jo, happened upon a Disney movie based on the lives of two sisters who competed and won over the male-dominated world of Junior Drag Racing. Inspired by the movie and determined to at least try, Carly Jo dove head first into racing and began her young career in the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League. As a 9-year-old racing in Juniors, she attended a “Counts Day at the Track” event and was approached by the members of the Counts of the Cobblestone Car Club who offered her a sponsorship. The club, which is the longest active car club in South Dakota, has continued to sponsor Carly Jo for each of the last 16 seasons and she recognizes their spirit of giving.


“They are an amazing group of guys,” says Carly Jo. “I love the work they do in the community; they are a huge asset.”


At the young age of 13, Carly Jo was behind a 50 hp engine doing a ? mile run at speeds of 85 mph and quickly creating a buzz with her skills. But youth does not last forever and eventually, she outgrew the Junior Racers. Now needing a more substantial car after graduating from the Junior Racing, the Ellingsons planned a racing resurrection and turned to the ‘70 Mustang coupe. But would they get this crumbling classic whipped into dragstrip shape?


First on the list, making the insides of a ‘70 Mustang match the capabilities needed to be a viable drag machine. After gutting nearly everything but the body, a Chris Alston full-tube chassis was designed and built by R&D Chassis and Fabrication, LLC of Rapid City. Carly Jo initially ran with a 514 big block Ford motor. These days, she’s running a 557 big block Ford.  Fuchs Performance and Machine out of Bowman, ND does all of the freshening for her races. With modifications including a Quick Fuel alcohol 1150 dominator carburetor, a C4 reverse pattern racing transmission, Oliver connecting rods, and 300cc oval port aluminum heads, Carly Jo has been able to create a showstopper with guts to match.  A gorgeous custom rear wing helps create necessary downforce while racing. Because the street rod has turned drag racer, there were also some safety mods made to ensure the driver remains in good condition.


To pay homage to the vintage look of the car and keep in line with its original color, Cary painted it a warm yellow gold. He also tackled the body work that needed to be done. Also providing support for Carly Jo’s racing dreams are her mother Jo, sister Stevie, and fiancé Joe.


With the seasons starting in mid-May and running to the beginning of October, weather in the Midwest can play a huge factor in weekend races as there are no indoor events.


“If I’m not racing, I don’t know what to do with myself,” laughs 24-year-old Carly Jo.


The reborn 1970 Ford Mustang made its debut just in time for the 2012 season and, with the exception of one pretty disastrous rollover, things have been going well for both the car and driver. Carly Jo’s personal best for ET is 9.11 seconds in the quarter mile at 149 mph.


While Cary Ellingson jokes that there is not much left of the original of car, the pride in his voice is apparent. What he has done is more than resurrect a car, he has given new life to old dreams. And while Carly Jo continues tearing up the dragstrip in her ‘70 Mustang, her sister is working on the rebirth of a ‘66.


In addition to the lengthy sponsorship from Counts of the Cobblestone Car Club, Carly Jo is also sponsored by Frontier Auto Glass, Larry Stauffacher, Casey Peterson LTD, Whipple Racing Products, R&D Chassis, Wykota Photography, and Just Get Dirty Racing Apparel.


With the reborn Mustang being a feature at Counts Car Show this year, there is a deep connection between the club and their unending support for Carly Jo’s passion. And while she encourages everyone to attend, she makes a special request to bring the kids.


“I think it’s great for the kids to get out and experience something new. Cars and motorsports are an excellent outlet for kids that I don’t think is utilized that often,” explains Carly Jo.



You can see the resurrected racer and other motives at the

20th Annual Counts Car Show

Friday, February 15                5PM-9PM

Saturday, February 16           9AM-9PM

Sunday, February 17              9AM-3PM


Rushmore Plaza Civic Center

Rapid City, South Dakota





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