Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins isn’t one for small talk, he prefers to let his actions do the speaking for him. Throughout his career, those actions have sent a clear message, Bill Jenkins can build a winning drag car and he can drive it too.
Excelling as a driver and mechanical innovator has led Jenkins to induction at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. He is joined in the Class of 2008 by Art Arfons, Robert “Red” Byron, Everett “Cotton” Owens, Frank Kurtis and Ralph Seagraves. The group will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame on April 24.
Jenkins’ prowess as a driver put him on top at 13 National Hot Rod Association events during his career, winning the NHRA’s first two Pro Stock events, the Winternationals and Gatornationals. In the days when drag racers used manually shifted, four-speed transmissions, Jenkins recorded 250 passes in 1972 without missing a shift.
And, while he’s listed by the NHRA as No. 8 on its list of 50 greatest drivers of the first 50 years, it’s his genius as an engine builder and chassis designer that earned him the “Father of Pro Stocks” moniker.
Hailing from Malvern, Pennsylvania, 77-year-old Jenkins’ innovations set standards for power, durability and reliability that endure to this day. His engines have won eight NHRA championships.
He’s hesitant to choose one career highlight as a defining moment and believes being selected as an International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee is a culmination of his career achievements.
“It is the result of choosing behind-the-scenes people and recognizing their efforts in the success of this business,” said Jenkins.
Known for being a no-nonsense kind of guy around the racetrack and the shop, Jenkins received the nickname “Grumpy” from an employee in 1962.
“Frank Hurley started calling me that after hearing my Monday-morning phone response to some customers with questions,” said Jenkins, who in classic fashion has shortened his alias to “Grump.” “I had little time for stupidity, then or now, and about three years later, I started using it promotionally with 17 ‘Grumpy’s Toys,'” as his cars became known.
Jenkins’ foray into racing shares a common, humble beginning with many racers before him – and since. “My racing career actually started as a tune-up service in the late 1940s and early 1950s with street, road racing and drag racing,” said Jenkins, who studied mechanical engineering at Cornell University.
His education served him well. He developed the dry-sump oiling system and kick-out oil pans that remain in use by racers, and he pioneered use of McPherson strut front suspensions. That kind of work caught the eye of racers outside of the NHRA.
“In 1974 and 1975, I worked mostly with NASCAR’s Chevrolet and DiGard Racing, developing the little block to replace the big block,” Jenkins said. “Donnie Allison won the pole at the 1975 Daytona 500 with my stuff.”
Other oval-track endeavors by Jenkins include work with six-cylinder engines, as well as work with ARCA RE/MAX superspeedway ace Bobby Gerhart in 1990 and 1991.
No one can debate, though, that his legend is borne of the drag strip.
Jenkins recorded the Pro Stock Division’s first 9-second run at the 1970 Winternationals, when he defeated Ronnie Sox and Buddy Martin’s legendary Plymouth Barracuda for NHRA’s first Pro Stock event title. He thrived on the “Giant Killer” approach in 1972 when he won six of eight National Events with a 331 cubic-inch, small block Pro Stock Chevrolet Vega.
While induction to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame would send some racers into retirement or prompt lots of talk about the old days, Jenkins said there’s still too much work to do.
“For 2008, we are continuing Pro Stock development for one customer and looking for another, plus some Sportsman engine work,” said Jenkins, who can sum up his credo in very few words: “If it’s worth doing, do it right.”
Graham Light, senior vice president of racing operations for NHRA, is pleased that Jenkins is being recognized for his contributions and everlasting impact on the sport.
“Grumpy is a pioneer of Pro Stock racing and has been one of the sport’s most innovative and successful engine builders during the last five decades,” Light said. “His presence in the Hall of Fame is fitting and well deserved.”