Jenkins' 'Grumpy' ways make for a winning way

Updated: January 20, 2006, 11:56 AM ET
By Bill Stephens | Special to ESPN.com

You've read his name countless times in drag racing magazines and tech articles in various engine-building periodicals. You've heard his name mentioned more on ESPN's telecasts of NHRA POWERade drag racing. But to a new generation of drag racing fans who are just now getting hooked on the world's fastest motorsport, Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins is still a shadowy figure.

The "Grump" is OK with that. He just wants to win.

William Tyler Jenkins first emerged on the drag racing radar screen in the late 1950's as stock-bodied categories were becoming more and more the domain of the major automobile manufacturers.

Jenkins was unsurpassed as an engine builder and race car engineer and when the Muscle Car Era of the 1960's took full flight, he had the mechanical skills and natural driving talent to make his string of Chevrolet-based cars formidable weapons of war -- giving Chevy plenty of performance topspin in America's showrooms.

From his shop in Berwyn, Pa., Jenkins caught the attention of many local racers thanks to his race-winning 1955 Chevy that eventually led to Super Stock standout Dave Strickler becoming a loyal engine customer. In a period when Ford and Chrysler were trading ferocious blows in the "Factory Racing Wars" of the 1960's, Jenkins was Chevrolet's best hope for giving GM a share of the bragging rights that frequently ramped up their sales figures.

He won his first NHRA national event as a driver in 1965, the Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. His legendary "Grumpy's Toy" 1966 Chevy II Nova, powered by a 327 cubic inch small-block engine, went on to achieve cult status that year as it outran many of the country's quickest and fastest Hemi-powered Mopars on regular occasion. A U.S. Nationals victory in 1967 further elevated Jenkins' status while his no-nonsense attitude and uncompromising devotion to his tasks earned him the nickname "Grumpy".

When the NHRA's Pro Stock category was born in 1970, Jenkins quickly made himself a marked man, winning the first two national events of the season -- only to see the vaunted team of Ronnie Sox and Buddy Martin dominate over the remainder of the campaign with their remarkable fleet of Hemi Mopars.

But between 1965 and 1972, Jenkins won 13 NHRA national events, all of them earned in one of his "Grumpy's Toy" Chevrolets, most equipped with a race-modified production four-speed transmission -- a far cry from the essentially foolproof clutchless setups of today.

Jenkins saw his driver, Larry Lombardo, win the 1976 NHRA Pro Stock Championship and it was during that period that Grumpy retired as a driver and amassed an impressive client list of professional and sportsman drag racers who found victory on the dragstrip thanks to his capable engines.

Last year, it was Jenkins' horsepower that gave Dave Connolly a title-contending Pro Stock Cobalt which won the 2005 Winternationals and briefly placed Connolly in the POWERade points lead.

This past week, two-time Pro Stock champion Jim Yates announced he had embarked on his 2006 testing program with Jenkins powerplants dropped into his 2005 Pontiac GTO. Yates is hoping to secure a primary sponsorship program for the upcoming season which will allow him to bring Jenkins in as the team's engine supplier. But regardless, Jenkins' worth as an engine builder and horsepower wizard has diminished little in the 40-plus years he has been plying his trade.

And so, in case you didn't know, that's "Grumpy" Jenkins.

Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.