One of the most consistent performers in the history of NASCAR’s Modified Series, Jerry Cook (July 31, 1945) of Rome, New York, shared a hometown with fellow EMPA Hall of Fame driver Richie Evans. Truely, this pair of exceptional racers clearly dominated the NASCAR National Modified Championship for 15 years as it seemed like when Cook didn’t win the title that Evans (who won nine championships – 1973 & 1978-1985) did.
Cook won the NASCAR National Modified title six times (1971-1971 & 1974-1977). But he was also second six times and third twice which meant that he finished in the Top-3 in NASCAR’s National Modified Championship from 1969 until he retired after the 1982 season.
A car owner before he was a driver, Cook built his first Modified when he was 13 years old and he had others drive for him. Then, in 1962, after one of his drivers wrecked two of his cars, Cook decided that if he had to fix his cars he might as well race them so he slipped behind the steering wheel of his No. 38 for the first time in 1963.
Cook raced on dirt and asphalt and did pretty well with his three-window coupe, but when tracks began to offer a bonus for late-model-bodied cars he started racing with Ford Falcon sheet metal to get the extra money. Cook was good enough on both surfaces to win the 1972 All-Star Racing League Championship and the 1973 Overall New York State Modified Championship – titles that were awarded to the best driver in a series of dirt and asphalt events.
One of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers, when Cook raced for NASCAR’s National Modified Championship it was during a time when a driver tried to run in as many races as he could in order to get the most possible points. With this kind of situation it was not unusual to find him racing at as many as 19 tracks during a 96-race season.
Of course, his rivalry with Evans also played into the picture as he and his friend used to try and out-fox each other when it came to where they were going to race, especially when a pair of tracks on the national schedule that were hundreds of miles apart might be offering championship point races on the same night.
After 1973, Cook concentrated on asphalt tracks and one that he seemed to really like was the quarter-mile layout inside Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, as it was here that he won three 200-lap events; two in 1977 and one in 1980.
He also spent some time on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway where he raced in NASCAR’s Late Model Sportsman and Modified events and his best effort there came in 1969 when he drove his No. 70 1961 Pontiac to fifth place in the Permatex 300.
In 1972, 1976 and 1981 Cook put a dirt-track setup under his car and competed on the one-mile oval at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse in the Super DIRT Week headliner – the richest and most prestigious race for dirt-track Modifieds. He felt that he had an edge there as the track always got as hard as asphalt and after qualifying second in 1972 he used a smart pit strategy to keep his tires fresh and came in second in the then-100-lap race to fellow EMPA Hall of Famer and dirt-track specialist Buzzie Reutimann.
Best remembered for his long association in the Pete Hollebrand-owned red No. 38 1937 Chevrolet coupes and Ford Pintos that he raced on the short tracks, Cook won a total of 342 short-track feature events and he finished in the top-10 in an amazing 85 percent of his races.
Jerry Cook retired as a driver after winning the 1982 Spencer (N.Y.) Speedway Modified Championship and then began working for NASCAR. In this capacity he was a Technical Coordinator, then developed the modern Modified Tour and now lives in Mooresville, N.C., and is a Competition Administrator in the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord.