There is an old adage that suggests one should never bet on a drag race, but anyone inclined to do so would be wise to put their money on Jimmy DeFrank, at least when it comes to the ability to post a top-10 finish.
Since making his debut in the Super Stock class as a teenager in 1995, the California-based DeFrank has scored 20 top-10 finishes in his 23 seasons, including five NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series national championships and a pair of runner-up finishes and three more third-place showings.
DeFrank is essentially the In-N-Out Burger of Sportsman racers. Translation: He does only one thing [NHRA class racing], but he does it as well or better than anyone else. DeFrank does not bracket race. He has never driven a dragster or any other sort of open-cockpit car. He has no desire to race a Pro Stock car or compete in any other Professional class. Other than a brief stint in Comp, he has spent his entire career racing in Super Stock and Stock, and that’s just fine with him.
“I see [the top 10] as a nice goal every year,” said DeFrank. “It’s very special to me. In Super Stock, it’s hard to have a goal. It’s hard to say I’m going to be a world champ but a top-10 finish is still special and maybe a bit more realistic. Personally, it makes me feel good. I don’t always think about it at the beginning of the year, but when it’s feasible, we go for it. When you think about the top 10, it’s about being one of the 10 best in the entire country.”
DeFrank’s first season was 1995, and he announced his arrival with a victory at the season-ending NHRA Finals in Pomona. That win allowed DeFrank to finish as the 10th-ranked driver in the Super Stock class. He has had a near-permanent parking spot there ever since. In 1996, DeFrank finished tied for sixth place and a year later, he won the first of his five championships.
More success followed, including a second title in 1999 followed by a pair of third-place finishes.
DeFrank’s long record of success begs the question: What happened in the three years that he did not finish in the top 10? In 2002, DeFrank finished No. 11, so it’s fair to say he enjoyed a successful season. Ironically, he finished just five points out of the No. 10 spot, which went to his younger brother, Tony.
In 2004, DeFrank did not adhere to his usual schedule and finished 25th, not bad considering there are several hundred active competitors in the Super Stock class. DeFrank also missed the top 10 in 2010, when he took time off to devote to the family business, California Car Cover.
“I remember all of them,” DeFrank said. “In 1995, that was my first year of racing, so a top-10 finish was more of a dream than a goal. At the end of the year we had to win Pomona to make the top10, and we did it. I had 541 points, and we knocked out my good friend, Lincoln Morehead. He still reminds me of that.
“In 2002, everything that could go wrong did go wrong and that was also the story in 2004. Things just didn’t go our way. That was about the time I graduated college and started to focus on work. In 2010, we just didn’t go to many points meets. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out the way you want it to. Sometimes you do your best and you think you’re going to have a great season and all the pieces don’t fall your way. You make a few mistakes or lose a few close races and the next thing you know, you’re not in the top 10, or anywhere close to it.”
DeFrank isn’t a kid anymore. In fact, he’s going to celebrate his 40th birthday in March, but in many ways, he’s still in the prime of his career and there is no reason for him to stop, or even slow down, anytime soon.
“The bottom line is that I still enjoy it, and my dad [Jim Sr.] still enjoys it probably more than I do,” said DeFrank. “It’s never been easy, but now it’s harder than ever. It used to be that you could make a mistake or two and get away with it. Now, not so much. Everyone is so good, and the equipment is so good that you need to be almost perfect to have any sort of success.”
For DeFrank, the key to a successful season is usually a quick start. Like many racers, if he can have success early in the season, it makes it easier to pursue a title later on in the dog days of summer. To that end, DeFrank has done some of his best work at the season-opening event in Pomona. He has won the season-opener five times, including his championship seasons in 1999 and 2016.
DeFrank has also enjoyed success at the early season event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he has three wins, including a memorable Super Stock and Stock double in 2012.
Starting the season with a win or at least a final-round appearance makes it far more likely that DeFrank will mount a challenge for the championship. He’ll travel great distances if necessary but generally prefers to stay closer to his home in Southern California.
“Our business, California Car Cover, is doing very well, and it’s important that we take care of business first,” said DeFrank. “When we need to, we can rearrange our schedule to go wherever we have to. We’ve been to places like Nobile [Oklahoma] Belle Rose [Louisiana], Houston, and of course, the U.S. Nationals. It all depends on how we’re doing. Most of the time, we look at see where we are after the first few races and then decide what to do after that.”
So, what does DeFrank have planned for 2018?
“I’ll be racing the same Cobalt in Super Stock, so that hasn’t changed,” said DeFrank. “I don’t think we’ll have the same schedule, though. We’re going to add a few more national events and maybe a few less divisional races. We’ll go to Pomona, Phoenix, and Vegas and see what happens after that. I wish I had a bit more self-control. I’m such a dreamer and sometimes I get weak. I think we have a chance [for a top-10 finish] even when it looks bad. The bottom line is that it’s still very rewarding and you get perks like a Silver Card and free fuel, so I’m sure we’ll be chasing it again.”