On May 11, 2023, the world of drag racing lost a man of impact and a dear friend. John Jodauga, a renowned artist and associate editor for NHRA’s National Dragster, passed away at the age of 77 following a brief illness. Most everyone in the NHRA community knew and loved Jodauga, but he was known most prominently in the Pro Stock pits, where his own heart took residence when the class was developed.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #183, the Sportsman Special Issue, in July/August of 2023.]
The Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins press kit covers that Jodauga created were the stuff of legends (literally), and his iconic “Grumpy’s Toy” cover featured art based on photos Jodauga himself took of the Pro Stock great on his hands and knees staging a toy car. Jodauga’s creative spirit shined brightly in all that he touched, and his larger pieces froze some of the masters of drag racing in time forevermore: images of Don Prudhomme, Don Nicholson, Bob Glidden, Raymond Beadle, and many others came to life beneath Jodauga’s paint brushes. After retirement, he relied on his art as part of his livelihood, and drivers across all categories sought his pieces. Jodauga took great pride in delivering each finished painting in person to drivers such as Courtney Force, Steve Kent, Robert Hight, and more.
Covering racing was not enough for Jodauga; he also signed up for Roy Hill’s Pro Stock school and for a time fielded a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro in Super Stock and Econo Altered.
Jodauga joined National Dragster as an art director and staff writer in 1969, and he worked on-and-off-and-on again with the publication that he lovingly referred to as “the paper” until he left this earth. He retired from the editorial staff in 2013 and was celebrated by the Pro Stock competitors on stage at the NHRA Finals that year. In a presentation organized by Jodauga’s longtime colleague and friend Jerry Foss, Jodauga was gifted with a hood scoop, provided by V. Gaines, that was signed by every Pro Stock racer in the pits. They all joined him on stage during pre-race ceremonies, and Jodauga left the Pomona dragstrip that day knowing that his devoted work had been appreciated.
The mutual and genuine respect between Jodauga and the drivers he covered as a writer and illustrator carried over into the relationships he built with the staff he worked alongside for more than four decades. Jodauga was easy-going and humorous, and he greatly enjoyed a captive audience. Those who spent any length of time with him came to find that he was an avid Los Angeles Dodgers fan who had attended fantasy camp in the early 1980s and got to learn the ropes from legendary players and coaches.
Jodauga’s stories of the early days covering drag racing are mostly tales that could not and should not be repeated far and wide, but the ears that received those gems were privileged and delighted. He will be greatly missed.