After a record crowd witnessed a Lawman grudge match between two members of the Marine Cor
In 1969, an even newer organization and program was formulated-the Lawman Performance Team-and it would be Eckstrand's most important challenge to date. With assistance from Ford Motor Company, Eckstrand toured Europe's U.S.-armed forces bases with a group of new Ford Mustangs. The following year, plans were made to tour the South Pacific rim with eight new '70 Mustangs, two of which were equipped with 1200hp supercharged Boss 429 engines. At this time, the Vietnam conflict was in full swing, and to make this latest program happen required major assistance from the Department of Defense, Department of Transportation, and branches of the military. Nonetheless, Eckstrand did what many considered impossible: he got through the "red tape" and did untold amounts of good for U.S. servicemen worldwide. Among the locations visited were Japan, Okinawa, Guam, Hawaii, and Southeast Asian military theaters. One car was even driven on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Coral Sea. This program not only continued in 1971, sponsored by both Ford and Goodyear Tires, but was supported in part by NHRA founder Wally Parks, several well-known drag racers, and aftermarket manufacturers.
"You know, those men had a hard time of it," he remembers. "When they got back here after serving their country, people were yelling at them and spitting on them. Most of them didn't want to be there anyway, and it was hard for anyone to make sense of it all. So in addition to the driving skills, I felt the program helped them see that there was something worthwhile, something beyond the horrible situation they were facing. That appearance of hope became more important to me as the program continued."
By May of 1972, the fifth and final military tour began, this time focusing primarily on those bases that were hosting returning servicemen. As always, the focus was on demonstrating safe vehicle handling and driving, with Al hosting driving seminars and film showings. Ford supported this effort again, using the new 302 Maverick and Pinto models.
As a result, Eckstrand received meritorious awards from the United States Marine Corp, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Transportation, and many other state and governmental authorities for having made these significant contributions to the good-driving needs of over a quarter-million returning U.S. servicemen.
After moving to Europe semi-permanently in 1976, Elton Eckstrand turned to yet another pursuit, historic preservation, and was subsequently given major recognition for the building restoration work he was involved in. After working on Thorpe Castle House in Northamptonshire, England, he purchased and renovated Penkill Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland, where he lived for the next 18 years. Because of his work in restoring this castle and preserving its priceless pre-Raphaelite artwork, he was awarded accolades by Scotland's Director of Historic Monuments. His interest in cars never waned, however, and he often worked closely with the Britain's Mopar Musclecar Association and its president, Tony Oksien. Indeed, Al's residence was frequently a venue for various British car club gatherings.
Today, Al "The Lawman" Eckstrand has returned to the United States, and resides in Florida. Though the "glory days" of his career as a drag racer are over, he still has fond memories of that time period.
"Those were great years," he says in conclusion regarding his racing career. "Drag racing was a young sport, and I was able to see a lot of the world and its peoples as a result. It was a wonderful time."