Eckstrand was like many people coming of age in the second half of the 1950s. After graduating from law school in 1955, he went to work for the Chrysler Corporation in their Organizational department. Prior to that, he had never been a serious car enthusiast, but he began participating in a new sport called drag racing at a drag strip in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, a northern suburb of Detroit. So in 1957 he bought a new Plymouth Fury and became part of the growing Woodward Avenue/M59 'street crowd.' That was followed by another Plymouth Fury in 1958, one which had the latest 361ci Wedge engine (new for that year). Unafraid to ask fellow Chrysler employees for technical help, the young lawyer soon became the man to beat at the tracks in the region, and this car racked up an impressive win record in the area. Assisted by friends Jack Charipar and Ronnie Householder in the Plymouth Division, he also built and briefly raced a late-model B/Gas entry in 1959, a Fury with a 413ci engine under the hood. Although that particular experiment never yielded any major successes, at the NHRA Nationals held in Detroit that year Eckstrand won a class title in his parent's station wagon.

It was Eckstrand's own ability to work with people in upper management that contributed to the factory's direct involvement in the sport. During the late '50s and early '60s, while the manufacturer's self-imposed racing ban was still in force, Al's position in Chrysler's management, coupled with his drag racing efforts and enthusiasm, permitted him to be a prime conduit of information for the sales and engineer corporate chiefs. Among those convinced that racing could promote car sales were executives including B.J. Nichols (Vice-President, Corporate Sales) and E.C. Quinn (President, Chrysler/ Plymouth Division), both of whom supported Al in his racing efforts. Bert Bouwcamp (Assistant Chief Engineer, Chrysler Division) subsequently set Eckstrand up with a new Chrysler 300F that ran on the sands of Daytona for a promotional film in 1960 which today is a key part in the 1999 Chrysler 300M advertising campaign.

Eckstrand also won the Super/ Stock Automatic elimination's title in the Stock division at the '60 NHRA Nationals in Detroit. Financing for this program came directly from Nichols' personal expense account. In addition to his racing activities, Eckstrand was also involved in the dragstrips at both Onondaga and Stanton, Michigan, which he operated in partnership with noted car show innovator and racing promoter Robert E. George from 1959 to 1970.

After setting up his own law practice in 1960, Eckstrand was one of the first stock-class drivers for the factory-based Ramchargers team, and he took their Optional/ SS '61 Dodge to round wins at the '61 NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis. The year 1962 found Eckstrand running his own operation. With a 330 Dart business coupe named Res Ipsa Loquitur, meaning "It Speaks For Itself." The young lawyer from Detroit built a formidable match race reputation traveling around the South and visiting dealers in that region. Incidentally, during this travel period he met many of Chrysler's NASCAR campaigners. The annual trip to Indy over Labor Day, running in the S/SS division for the Ramchargers, resulted in a 12.72 time slip, the quickest class-winning run of the weekend that year. During the off-season of 1962-63, Eckstrand handled the legal side of developing the RMPC (Ramchargers Maximum Performance Corporation), which was creating aftermarket parts for drag racing. He became that corporation's first president.

"When I was practicing law, I was known as Elton Eckstrand," he recalls with a grin. "At the drag strip, I was Al. In some ways, it helped me know what kind of business was involved when somebody called on the phone!"