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Showing Grumpy Jenkins & Dave Strickler How to Speed Shift!

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Showing Grumpy Jenkins & Dave Strickler How to Speed Shift!

NHRA’s inaugural Supernationals in 1971 at Ontario Motor Speedway east of Los Angeles brought all the big name drag racers to town. As a cub reporter for Car Craft Magazine, a prominent drag racing publication, I was part of the circus surrounding the first drag race at OMS, which was built for round track racing.

One evening early into the 4-day race, my editor, Terry Cook, invited me to have dinner with him and two east coast buddies named Bill Jenkins and Dave Strickler. Would I? Woodeye? Are you kidding? What red blooded American boy brought up on burnouts and 4-speeds wouldn’t want to break bread with two of door car drag racing’s biggest heroes? Although they were the original “Dodge Boys” in 1965, Strickler and Jenkins had kicked ass with a pair of small-block Chevy Camaros running in Super Stock Eliminator. They’d graduated to big-blocks and were there at the beginning of NHRA Pro Stock in 1970.

After dinner and mucho cocktails, we took the long way back to the hotel. I was driving a magazine test car, a ’71 AMC Hornet SC360 with a sweet-shifting Borg-Warner 4-speed. Terry and I had just taken a trip to Mexico for an off-road race, and one night during the Tequila Nationals he’d asked me to show him how to power shift a 4-speed–how to change gears with the hammer down. We went out on some bumpy road and I demonstrated how to kick the clutch pedal, not push it.

Before ultra controlled suspensions, this was the standard launch style of Pro Stock racers.

Terry never really caught on, but that didn’t stop him from saying, “Hey Stevie, why don’t you show these guys how you can drive this thing?” What? Show off for these guys? Hey, these guys are gods. I’m stoked just being here. Why would I want to ruin that by flaunting my incompetence in front of Bill Jenkins and Dave Strickler?

Of course, all this was tough talk from the guy inside my head. What I said instead was something like, “Naw, T, whyn’t you show ’em what you learned in Mexico?” Cook tried, but he kept pushing the clutch pedal with his left foot, which went past the point of engagement causing the engine to over-rev. When the clutch engaged again,the passengers were rewarded with a sharp “clunk” from the rearend.

After setting everyone on their ears with his Pro Stock Vega, nearly every Chevy racer switched to the little Chevy. Even pal Dave Strickler ran a small-block Vega.

From the back seat Jenkins muttered, “Pull over.” He got behind the wheel, pulled away from the curb, and promptly missed second gear.

Then it was Strickler’s turn to say, “Pull over.” After testing the clutch pedal and adjusting the seat, Strick rolled away from the curb. What happened next was 4-speed poetry.

He matted the throttle and worked the shift handle like the master craftsman he was . I couldn’t see the clutch pedal, but the transmission changed gears as smoothly as an automatic, with barely a whisper of protest from the rear tires. Boy, what’ll the guys back at the car club hear about this!

Back at the hotel, Jenkins banged his head getting out of the Hornet’s rear seat. “Damn foreign cars,” said Mr. Chevrolet.

From the late Steve Collison, editor of Super Stock & Drag Illustrated Magazine

ATTENTION GRUMPY JENKINS FANS!!!

I have a large collection of Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins art print here: http://www.precision-illustration.com/Collection_Grumpy.html

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