Being involved in NHRA Pro Stock racing since the late ’80s has been an incredible journey that I have often compared to living on a roller coaster. It has been a constant non-stop adventure filled with ups, downs, highs, lows, twists, turns, excitement, disappointment, thrills and spills. Throw in a few cases of nervous stomach and lots of adrenalin rush and there you have it.
I think I can honestly say that this past weekend at the SummitRacing.com Nationals in Las Vegas pretty much covered a lot of the above, especially the excitement and nervous stomach part of it. Standing on the starting line with our crew and watching AJ turn on the win light in the final was such an awesome feeling. Though we were sorry to have had to race our teammate Vincent, we were still so proud of him for driving his way to that final round. I always say any day you get to a final is a great day!
AJ, Roy and the entire Mopar team has been working so hard this year trying to make our Dodge Avenger the best that it can be, and it was so rewarding for everyone to get our first win of the season. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be part of a Pro Stock team that has so much potential. It sure makes Sundays a fun day when you end it with a winner’s circle celebration.
But speaking of that, I have to say that this past winner’s circle celebration was just a bit bittersweet for me. While we were all enjoying ourselves, getting our pictures taken and re-living the run over and over again, I couldn’t help but remember the last race that I had won and the memories of my last winner’s circle. It was the Pontiac Nationals in Columbus, OH, and not only was it my last win as a driver, but it was also the last Pro Stock win for my dear friend and, at the time my engine builder, Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins.
As all of you already know, Grump passed away last week and on that day we lost another great legend of our sport. I feel very blessed that my family and I had the awesome opportunity to work with Bill for three years, and I am so happy that we were able to share his final winner’s circle celebration with him.
Bill was never one to show a lot of emotion on the starting line, but that day I actually got a fist pump when the win light came on in our lane. Of course we all had to give Bill a hard time on that one. His only reply was his standard grunt, but we all saw the twinkle in his eyes and the smile around that old cigar. Hey, he even took off his white hat and wore a winner’s circle hat as he posed for pictures with Fred Simmonds and I. Wow, just thinking about that day and how happy Bill was just makes me smile.
A lot of things have changed since then but the memories of working with that great man will live on forever. Not only was he a genius when it came to a Pro Stock engine, he could tune carburetors with a piece of wire — don’t ask! — play a mean game of solitaire, captivate you with his endless stories of life and racing — some of which shouldn’t have been told (LOL) — smoke more cigars than I ever thought possible — the cheaper the cigar the better he liked them — and was very rarely seen without his red shirt and signature hat. I once asked him where he found those hats, but the only response I got was – you guessed it – a grunt.
He loved going to a good restaurant where he would always look for meatloaf. “Do you know how to judge the quality of a restaurant?” he would ask, “by their meatloaf!” There you have it! If meatloaf wasn’t on the menu then steak, rare (I mean a shade above raw) would have to suffice and if it were hamburger… it was raw too. He loved dark chocolate, so Toni and Melissa would always leave a bowl of candy by his computer. He never really acknowledged it was there, but there was never any left by the end of the weekend.
I have so many great memories of Bill and most of them always make me smile. He was a great man that not only had an influence on me but also on so many others in our sport.
Like I said, Pro Stock racing can sometimes be like a roller coaster ride, and losing Bill Jenkins is most definitely a low. However, I am really glad that I had the opportunity to ride along with Grump even it was for a very short time in his life. I am hoping that just maybe when AJ turned on that win light in Vegas and Bill saw me jump for joy he smiled just a little and gave us all a little fist pump. Thanks for the memories Bill and may you forever rest in peace my friend.