Yes, Grumpy Jenkins passed away today after having been ill for some time. He had almost a mythic presence.
Jenkins earned the “Grumpy” moniker through his no-nonsense attitude at races, where his continual search for improved performance left little time for idle chatter with his racing colleagues (source – Motorsports Hall of Fame). Believe it or not, Grumpy was an Ivy League grad, getting an engineering degree from Cornell University in New York.
He started his racing career in the mid-’50s but it was the ’60s when he first became famous for his exploits on the drag strip. He moved up the ladder with successful winning cars in FX, Stock, Super Stock and then finally Pro Stock. He was a Chrysler man for many years before moving over to Chevy and perfecting the small block (source – The Chevrolet Racing Engine – written by Bill Jenkins).
Here’s a little factoid you may never have heard. Jenkins had a very successful year in 1972, earning more than a quarter of a million dollars – unheard of earnings for anyone of any sport in the day (source – Time Magazine).
Later in his career, though he hadn’t had a car of his own in three decades, his racing pursuits never dimmed building winning racing engine after winning racing engine from his shop, Jenkins Competition in Malvern, Pennsylvania (just west of Philadelphia).
In 2008 he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and is in many other Hall of Fame’s as well.
And anyone could spot Grumpy at the track with his signature cigar always planted in his mouth.
As one of Top 10 greatest drivers of all-time, the Grump may have not been the biggest man in the world physically but his persona and input to the world of drag racing will certainly view Bill Jenkins as one of the biggest men the sport will ever see. He will be sorely missed. RIP