While Bob Motz began driving jet engine-powered dragsters and Funny Cars nearly 50 years ago, he’s most known for the Kenworth truck he climbed into nearly 30 years ago, and for good reason.
The behemoth beast powered by a General Electric J79 jet engine leaves a path of flames and fury as it flies down tracks across the country at well over 200 mph, but now, after flabbergasting fan after fan, he’s preparing for what is to be his final performance. It will be part of the 39th Annual Kelly Services Night Under Fire, Aug. 13, 2016 at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, and the spectacle nearing sell-out status also will feature Funny Car drivers John Force, Robert Hight, Del Worsham, Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon, Bob Bode, Jr., Dale Creasy, Jr. and Jack Wyatt; Sarah Edwards and her Queen of Diamonds II jet engine-powered dragster, Rich Hanna and his Gojo jet engine-powered Firebird Funny Car, Ken Hall and his Xlerator jet engine-powered Firebird Funny Car, Scotty Heat and his 50 Cal jet engine-powered dragster and Jim Brewer and his Peacemaker wheelstander. All of the action will be capped off by fireworks shot from multiple locations over the park.
Motz and his wife, Sandra, live in Wadsworth, Ohio and have three children, Scott, Nicole and Melanie, plus several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and when he’s not spending time with them or cruising in his highly combustible capsule, he can be found working on classic cars and motorcycles. He recently talked with us about how he got into driving jet engine-powered vehicles, and how he has had many highlights, as well as some lowlights, along the way.
You went from simply hanging out with people who had jet engine-powered vehicles to having your own highly recognizable jet engine-powered vehicles.
Working on cars for other people and being around people who had jet vehicles was a hook, and made me want to try it. I started driving jet vehicles in 1968, including Funny Cars and dragsters, first for other people, and then I got my own Funny Car and my own dragster, and then I started driving my own truck in 1979.
What was involved with building the truck?
My son, Scott, and I built the chassis and all of the suspension pieces and the steering with guidance from some very good people, and then we put a stock Kenworth truck body on it. We got a General Electric J79 jet engine, the kind they used to use in F-4 Phantom fighter planes, and we learned how to put the engine together from pieces, and we have stayed with that type of engine all these years. We’re taking about engines that are worth millions of dollars, and sometimes you get one that lasts a year, and sometimes you get one that lasts a month. We made a parachute system that nobody had ever made before, and it took about a year and a half to build the truck and work the bugs out of it. It was challenging, but we wanted to do something nobody had done with the big vehicles, and as a result, we were the first jet engine-powered truck to come onto the scene, and the next one came out about five years later. For the first truck, we bought a whole truck to get the body, but after that, we’ve bought the bodies from wrecking yards.
How has your exhibition evolved through the years?
We made a lot of test runs at a few tracks way back then to make sure that everything would work the way it was supposed to. Heck, we must have made a hundred test runs before we went out before a crowd. We were limited to 150 mph at the time because of the rules, and then we started going faster. We ran a few races at first, and then more and more each year after that, and pretty soon, we were running at 35 events a year. We’ve run with all of the sanctioning bodies, including AHRA, IHRA and NHRA, and we’re covered a lot of states in those years, and we’ve even been to Montreal. What we had was different and what we had was something that nobody had done before. People seemed to like our exhibitions, and we were pretty proud of that. I liked going fast, so it was all very exciting.
When did you make your debut at Summit Motorsports Park?
We started running at what was Norwalk Raceway Park and is now Summit Motorsports Park in the early ’80s, and we have always enjoyed it because there has always been a lot of people there. We always have a good following wherever we go, but we have the biggest following at Summit Motorsports Park. The Baders have done good for me, and I think I’ve done good for them.
What highlights do you hold close to your heart from your years of driving your truck?
I have always enjoyed going fast and putting on a show. On top of that, I’ve met a lot of good people, and the number of times that we’ve been rebooked at tracks means we’re doing something good, not only for the tracks, but for ourselves, and that means something to me. Everybody tells me I should hear the crowd, and even though I can’t because I’m in the truck and I have to focus and not make mistakes, knowing that they’re happy makes me happy. The highlights outnumber the lowlights, but we did have that fire in 2007. I was severely burned and I’m lucky to be here, but even with that, I didn’t want to stop. It takes a lot of hours and a lot of time away from family, but I enjoy doing this, and nobody understands that better than a race car driver.
Your last performance is to be during the 39th Annual Kelly Services Night Under Fire on Aug. 13 at Summit Motorsports Park.
Everyone has had me retiring for the last ten years, and we’ve managed to keep going, but this is to be my retirement. I just don’t like for it to be set in stone because I truly love what I do.
You’re an entertainer through and through, Bob, and we appreciate you, even though you have been known to burn down the sign a time or two at the head of our staging lanes at Summit Motorsports Park.
Yes, we’ve burned it down a couple of times, and there are a lot of people who who want to know if we’ll burn it down again this year. It’s funny because through the years, the most common question fans have asked me in the pit area at Summit Motorsports Park is whether I’ll burn that sign down. We like that we’ve given them something to remember us by.
Interview by Mary Lendzion, Summit Motorsports Park