by Bill ‘Badco’ Ott
It was late on a Sunday night in September of 1997 just as The NHRA Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals were winding down. The winner of the Top Alcohol dragster class was the then-unknown Ned Ott. I'd dropped by earlier during the event and introduced myself to Ned and also to inquire if possibly we were related (turned out we weren't). I also had the good fortune to meet Joe Nocentino and Franny Monahan, who were both involved with the dragster.
Bill 'Grumpy' Jenkins' shop - Jenkins Competition – was located over in Malvern, Pennsylvania, not far from the Maple Grove facility. He was not only a local hero but also had customers from all corners of the country. I heard that The Grump himself dropped by a few times during the race to trade notes and quips with the Ott - Nocentino - Monahan team. Think maybe I might get to meet him later?
After Ned and team took out all the big names on their way to the Top Alcohol Dragster win, I once again dropped by their pit area late that evening right in the middle of the celebrating. Among these joining in the jollification was The Grump himself. I made a point of introducing myself and shaking his hand. Eventually, he announced to everyone that he was heading for home and congratulated all one more time before leaving. I stopped him and asked if he'd be kind enough to sign my well-worn copy of Bob Post's book "High Performance" before he left. He said he'd be glad to, but I'd have to follow him over to another pit area first. We walked across the damp and halfway muddy acreage (a Maple Grove tradition) to one of the Comp Eliminator team’s pit area that the Grump was evidently working with. He stepped inside the trailer and emerged a few seconds later with a group of team uniforms all laundered, neatly placed on metal hangers and encased in plastic wrap. "You wouldn't mind carrying these to my car, would 'ya?" he asked. I shrugged my shoulders, nodded and thought "Hell, why not?"
So once again, off we trudged into the darkness. Only now, I'm carrying about five or six team uniforms with one arm and my book, a healthy collection of souvenirs and commemorative T-shirts, camera gear, and notebooks with the other. It finally dawned on me as he strolled along with his hands in his pockets puffing on a cigar that he'd duped me into carrying his laundry for him! Yeah, I can be a little slow at times and this was one of those times. We finally arrived at his car and he fiddled around with his keys for what seemed a small eternity. But that really wasn’t such a big deal, and it gave me an opportunity to catch my breath after carting all of this gear around. Finally he opened the trunk. I carefully laid the uniforms down, just so…smoothing them out perfectly under Bill’s watchful eye.
Now it’s time to get down to the real business at hand... scoring a genuine Bill Jenkins autograph! I had already book-marked page 245, figuring by now this would register as a plus for me... having had the foresight to 'be prepared' like a good Boy Scout. I was ready with the book, as well as a Sharpie I always carried for such occasions. He looked kind of bored as I handed him the open book and pen. As he started to scribble, for some reason I felt like I just had to say something to break the silence. "That's a pretty good book, ain't it Grump? You have read it, right?" I said, still half out of breath. He looked me square in the eye and said, "Yeah, I've read it...and it's not bad....if you like light reading." He then handed the book back to me, got in the car, and drove off into the darkness, leaving me wondering... light reading?
Hell... it took me a few days to read the whole damn thing end to end and by the time I was finished I'd already forgotten most of it. But I do know it's chock full of facts and interesting findings.
But then again, I didn't literally invent the Pro Stock class or dominate the big 500 cubic inch big block Chrysler Hemis with 331-inch small block Chebbie engines, introduce dry sump oiling systems in drag race door cars, develop the trick of oil pan vacuum, be the first to utilize a McPherson strut suspension in a drag car, win thirteen National Events (including the prestigious U.S. Nationals), win five NHRA Pro Stock World Championships, three American Hot Rod Association World Championships, or graduate from Cornell University with a degree in mechanical engineering!
Yeah...I guess after all of that, “High Performance” might just be considered light reading. But that's an academic question for brighter minds than mine to address. And yes, I believe it was.
I still smile and shake my head every time I think of that conversation in the parking lot in the cool, dark dampness. And I still wonder...was he making a mockery of my choice of educational material? An attempt at being polite? Or was it just 'The Grump' living up to his well-earned reputation? Think I'll go with the latter. Or maybe the former? Or, maybe all three?
Thanks for the memories and R.I.P. Grump. You were one of a kind and indeed a worthy beneficiary of the term ‘legend’…..
More Old B.S. Later
©2012 Bill ‘Badco’ Ott
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Nostalgia Drag World - by Bill Ott; photo courtesy of Bill Ott