Drag racing icon Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, a master of the internal combustion engine and a legend among the Chevrolet faithful, died March 29, NHRA announced on Thursday.
Jenkins, who was a regular at the old York US 30 Dragway, was 81.
He was voted No. 8 among NHRA Drag Racing's greatest racers in a 2001 experts' poll; despite scoring just 13 NHRA national event wins. But he earned his well-deserved spot in drag racing's top 10 because no other individual has contributed more to the advancement of normally aspirated engines for drag racing competition than the legendary 'Grump.'"
He was scheduled to sign autographs this weekend at the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing in York Springs. "Bill had the most character of anyone I ever knew," said his friend and former racer Jere Stahl, who was also slated to appear at the museum, as well.
Jenkins always took greater pride in his mechanical achievements than in his driving, however.
Among his reported innovations are drag racing's first dry-sump oiling system, the first kickout oil pans and Pro Stock strut-style front suspension, and gas port pistons, slick-shift manual transmissions, cool cans, and the electric water-pump fan.
According to the NHRA, after making the association's top 10 ranking, Jenkins briefly shed his gruff exterior in 2001 to say, "Since it seemed that the balloting was heavily weighted toward the more contemporary drivers and I haven't driven in 20 years, I was gratified to make it high on the list. Having so many of the people I've worked with show up at my [70th birthday] party in January meant a lot to me. I've always had a lot of personal satisfaction from the mechanical end of the sport."
Stahl believes Jenkins' coarse reputation was a bit overtstated. "He wasn't grumpy from a disposition standpoint," said Stahl in a phone call with CBS 21 News Sports Director Jason Bristol. "There were many times he chose to project that persona."
Jenkins earned many honors, including induction into the Don Garlits International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 1993; the Motorsports Hall of Fame in Novi, Mich., in 1996; and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2008.
He was one of the more prolific honorees in Car Craft Magazine All-star Drag Racing Team balloting since winning three individual titles at the inaugural banquet in 1967.
“Everyone at NHRA is saddened by the passing of Bill ‘Grumpy’ Jenkins, not only a pioneer in the sport, but also an iconic figure in NHRA Pro Stock racing,” said Tom Compton, president of NHRA in a statement. “He was there from the beginning, playing an integral role in the formation of Pro Stock and remained involved in NHRA for decades. His presence and trademark gruff exterior and cigar will be missed but never forgotten at the starting line at NHRA Full Throttle events.”