Date published: April 13, 2012
Because William Tyler Jenkins, more popularly known as "Grumpy," always was more fascinated with the mechanical aspects of drag racing than with driving, he recorded only 13 national event wins during his lengthy career. But with his many breakthrough advancements and colorful personality that made him a largerthan- life figure, he had as much of an impact on the sport as any other.
Jenkins earned his huge following because he raced stock-bodied cars with which fans could associate and because the bulk of his entries were Chevrolets, campaigned when the factory was not involved in racing, in a formal sense at least, which helped create his underdog image while competing against the Mopar and Ford factory teams. And when not working on performance-enhancing components, Jenkins was heavily involved with the growth of drag racing. Working with the likes of Buddy Martin and Don Nicholson, Jenkins helped develop the rules and format for the new Pro Stock class created in 1970.
In tribute, we offer reflections of Jenkins' competitors, associates, and close friends along with a photo essay celebrating one of the most successful and colorful careers in the history of the sport.
'First and foremost, Bill was a thinker. He looked at every aspect of the car, and if any part was not contributing to the overall performance, he considered it ballast. He would prioritize things with every project he started, beginning with the most advantageous areas, and worked his way down from there. He was very structured in his thinking." - Warren Johnson
'If it had not been for Bill Jenkins, our family wouldn't have been able to continue racing Pro Stock [after meeting Jenkins in the final at the 1972 Supernationals in his first Pro Stock race]. There weren't that many national events in the early and middle 1970s, but we would match race with Bill two to three times a week, and that funded our racing program. Bill Jenkins was Pro Stock. He and his 'Grumpy' image created all the interest in the class." - Bob Glidden
'Istill have great memories of our trip to England in 1964 with Wally [Parks], Jenkins, [Dave] Strickler, [Don] Garlits, [Tommy] Ivo, [and the rest of the members of the U.S. Drag Racing Team]. On the way over on the Queen Mary one day, Ronnie [Sox] and I were out on the top deck, and we heard the doors slam, and here came Bill. He had been down to the engine room, looking at the ship's engines. When Bill was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala., in 2008, he asked me to introduce him, and that was a great honor for me." - Buddy Martin
'First, he was my hero. I watched him match race before I became Miss Hurst. I was just so in love with him, his cars, and Chevrolet. I began spending a lot of time with Bill when we began working together in 1966 and became great friends. Among the highlights were working on the Camaro Indy 500 Pace Car program in 1969, seeing Donnie Allison's Jenkinspowered car grab the pole at the 1975 Daytona 500, and 'Grump' and I speaking together at one of the SAE conventions. Bill was a great driver, a great engineer, but most of all, he was my very dear friend." - Linda Vaughn
'Working with him was an education every day. And he was never 'grumpy' with me. We were like father and son, and you couldn't ask for a kinder, gentler, and more understanding person to work with. His depth of knowledge was amazing. He could tell you the cross-section velocity of a port, the pitch of a keel on a sailboat, and could give you directions to anywhere you wanted to go off the top of his head. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to have worked with him." - Larry Lombardo
'Bill was one of the first superstars in the sport that I ever met. Of course, at the time, I didn't know he was a star; he was just this guy with a really fast car. That was back in 1966 when he used to come to Atco and race. We would sit in the pits and talk, and he was always a delight. I remember watching him race that little Chevy Nova against Jere Stahl and the Hemi car at Indy ... it was so cool. Over the years, I had the opportunity to watch him become an icon in the sport, and I was very blessed to have known him. There are few people in the history of the sport that have done as much in it and for it as 'the Grump.' He was, truly, one of a kind, and I am thankful that I was able to call him a friend." - Bob Frey
'The true measure of a racer's life is not a recital of race wins, a catalog of technical innovations, or a collection of magazine covers - although Bill Jenkins excelled in all of these categories. Jenkins' enduring legacy is his disciplined, scientific approach to racing. From his early days as the wizard of Jr. Stock to his reign as the undisputed king of Pro Stock, Jenkins taught his followers by example how to analyze problems and develop outrageously ingenious solutions. 'How would Jenkins do it?' became the mantra for a generation of doorslammers. But 'Grumpy' was much more than a shrewd engineer; he was an irresistible force, a remarkable personality who relished life's pleasures. With a Wally in one arm and a trophy queen on the other, Bill Jenkins was every aspiring racer's hero." - Rick Voegelin
'When I think about Bill, I think about all he taught me - not only mechanically but also the financial and psychological aspects of racing. Sometimes I'd ask him a question, and I wouldn't get a response. But then two days later, he would give me a call and tell me everything I needed to know. His 'out-of-the-box' way of looking at things really made you think." - Victor Cagnazzi
'When I first started racing my four-cylinder Pontiac Fiero, Bill was running his V-6 engines with Bob Kaiser and Garley Daniels, and he followed a lot of what I did because the two types of engines shared a lot of the same balancing problem characteristics. When he got back into Pro Stock in the early 2000s, he first asked me to dyno one of his engines. I felt honored that he asked me for a favor." - Larry Morgan
'Bill Jenkins had more impact on Stock, Super Stock, and Pro Stock than any other single person. He was really an amazing guy when you put it all in perspective. When I first met him, he didn't drive, and he didn't perceive himself as a driver. But when he started to drive, he became a very good one. He really was an amazing guy when you put it all in perspective." - Jere Stahl
'I was just a nobody when I started driving in Pro Stock, but with a Bill Jenkins-built engine under the hood of my car, I was able to win my first national event in 2004. I learned a lot during those years with Bill, which were among the most enjoyable of my life." - Dave Connolly
'I loved the man deeply. Bill was a great inspiration to drag racers, and he was the godfather of Pro Stock. One thing he always taught me was, 'You know, the wheel is round. Leave it round. Don't try to reinvent the wheel.' We lost a real innovator, but he's up there watching over us now." - Jerry Haas