Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins
One of auto racing’s most influential and storied personalities, Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins (December 22, 1930 – March 29, 2012) is recognized as the “Father of Pro Stock Drag Racing” and he was acknowledged by General Motors as the man who did the major development work on the small-block Chevrolet V-8 engine.
An early drag racer who over a six-year period in the late 1940s and early 1950s studied mechanical engineering at Cornell University whenever he had the money to do so, engine-builder Jenkins founded what was to be Jenkins Competition in Malvern, Pennsylvania, in 1955. And he first came to national attention in the early 1960s when he and his friend, partner and fellow EMPA Hall of Fame member Dave Strickler competed across the country with their legendary series of winning and record-setting “Old Reliable” Chevrolets in Super/Stock and Factory Experimental (FX) drag racing.
When Chevrolet decided it would no longer sponsor racers, Jenkins drove Hemi Plymouths in 1964 & 1965 before returning to race and develop the small-block Chevrolet V-8 in Junior Stock drag racing in 1966. His first “Grumpy’s Toy” was a 327-cubic-inch/350-horsepower A/Stock Chevy II that he fielded without factory support, but he did so well with the car that he was brought back into the factory fold from 1967 onward.
In 1967, Jenkins began racing big-block-powered Chevrolet Camaros. These “Toys” fostered the beginning of NHRA Pro Stock and Jenkins won the division’s first two events in 1970 with a 1968 Camaro powered by a 430-cubic-inch aluminum engine.
Then, in 1972, when the NHRA changed its Pro Stock rules to allow a small-block wedge engine in a lighter car, Jenkins built a Chevrolet Vega with the first purpose-built tube chassis and powered it with a small-block 331-cubic-inch engine. He then used “Grumpy’s Toy IX” to win five of the season’s first eight events and six of the eight national meets.
In all, Jenkins earned $250,000 in 1972 and matched NBA star Wilt Chamberlain as the professional athlete with the highest salary and that led to his being featured in TIME magazine. Between 1965 and 1975, Jenkins won a total of 13 NHRA drag races during a time in which national events were not as frequent as they are today. And in 1972 he recorded 250 straight runs without missing a gear shift with his 4-speed-equipped cars.
Jenkins-built engines have won thousands of victories and set national records in a variety of Stock and Competition classes and they have also been used to win five NHRA Pro Stock championships and three American Hot Rod Association (AHRA) championships. And during the early years of Pro Stock in the late 1960s and early 1970s he and Strickler held the popular Strickler-Jenkins Chevrolet High Performance Clinics at every meet.
Jenkins’ innovations include: drag racing's first kickout oil pans; Pro Stock strut-style front suspension; dry-sump oiling system; cool cans; electric water pump fan; gas-port pistons; and, slick-shift manual transmissions. And before he retired as a car owner in 1983, his “Toys” won numerous events, titles and match races with other drivers behind the steering wheel.
Named No. 8 in 2001 on the NHRA’s list of its “Top-50 Drivers Of All-Time,” Jenkins was also active in NASCAR and built the V-8 Donnie Allison used to win the pole for the 1975 NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500, the 90-degree V-6 Mike Swaim used to win the pole for the 1987 NASCAR Busch Series 300 at Daytona, plus V-6s for Ken Schrader and Chuck Bown.
In 2011, Jenkins wrote the foreword to and helped with the details of an exceptional written and photographic biography of his career entitled, “Grumpy’s Toys – The Authorized History of Grumpy Jenkins’ Cars.”