Stevie “Fast” Jackson misses drag racing.
That shouldn’t come as a shocker and he’s joined by thousands of others who can’t wait to go back down the track after enduring the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis.
The good news is there are some upcoming options for the reigning NHRA Pro Mod world champion, including the COVID-8 shootout. That will be in Radial vs. the World, and radial racing will have to be enough for Jackson for the time being, as he won’t have a chance to defend his NHRA Pro Mod title until August.
NHRA made that unfortunate announcement on Monday, but Jackson is steadfast in his belief we need high-speed Pro Mod racing back as soon as possible – if for nothing else so team owners and drivers don’t get used to the alternative.
“Anything that’s fun is dangerous and costs a lot of money, so we don’t need Pro Mod race team owner A to sell his race operation and go bass fishing, or go on the golf tour,” Jackson said. “Once you do that, you cannot race at this level, I don’t think, and definitely not be successful. At the end of the day, drag racing will survive, but it’s going to be different for the rest of this year. We’re going to all have to adapt and be creative.”
In an exclusive interview with Drag Illustrated, Jackson talked about how his team has spent time trying to become more efficient, why it was important not to furlough or lay off any of his staff, and why he feels it’s critical to return to racing as soon as possible.
You can listen to a portion of the audio interview by clicking above.
(NOTE: This interview was done before the NHRA announced all June and July races were postponed).
DRAG ILLUSTRATED: It’s not an ideal time for anyone, certainly. But after the crash you’ve had a lot of things to work on. Do you feel like you’ve made the most of this time?
STEVIE JACKSON: Nobody wants to go through this. I would rather us not have to go through this and have no race car than to be where we’re at, and it’s definitely testing our resolve. We are using our time wisely to get our NHRA car repaired and get ready for competition. At the end of the day, we’re a race team and we’re supposed to be on the track. Going through the spring and not being on a racetrack is like an eerie silence.
DRAG ILLUSTRATED: Have you been pretty pleased with the process of getting the car back?
JACKSON: We took it to Reece Brothers Race Cars in Georgia, and they got it repaired. We got it back from paint and picked the car up (about two weeks ago) and it is spotless. It looks like a brand new car. They did a killer job, from the paint and body work to the work they did on the front part of the chassis that was damaged, it’s really nice. I pretty much had to rewire everything from the firewall forward, and stuff like that I do it myself. I’m very pleased and I can’t wait to get behind the wheel of that thing.
Photo by Courtney Enders
DRAG ILLUSTRATED: This down time gives you time to tinker and explore making changes. Do you feel like that will pay off once we do get back to racing?
JACKSON: We won’t know until we get back on the racetrack. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve done to that effect in the off-season. We were geared up and ready to race. This additional downtime, yes, I’m exploring ways to be more efficient. The majority of our time has been making the racing operation itself more streamlined and more efficient.
It’s going to be harder to race this year than ever before. If and when we do get to race, all the races are going to be really stacked close together. We’ve been trying to foresee problems we’re going to have when we get going and making sure we have enough engines and enough parts so we’re ready to go.
We’ve been kind of stir crazy. We took the Shadow out and made a couple test laps, for no other reason to go out and put my guys through the rhythm of running the car. It was the first time I was in the seat since the crash and I felt like I needed some seat time.
DRAG ILLUSTRATED: When you talk about making the race operation more efficient, what factors into that and what changes do you make?
JACKSON: Everything from the time we start loading in the shop to the time we’re unloaded at the shop, I’ve looked at it. I’ve spent a lot of time on different things. I didn’t furlough my guys, I didn’t cut their pay, I didn’t send them home during this and we’re going to continue to do that, but in order to do that you’ve got to find stuff to do.
So we sat down and made a spreadsheet with everything that’s a pain in the ass about drag racing. One example is, the biggest pain in the ass of setting the pits up at the track is the awning. It is labor-intensive, it takes about 30 minutes, it’s heavy. What I’ve tried to do in this off time is everything that makes my guys tired and doesn’t make that race car faster, I’ve tried to make it easier.
I built an awning rack that mounts to the wall that pulls the entire awning on a cart on wheels at one time. This is something I never would have done had we not had this. We put all new lighting in the trailer, made new service carts for all the toolboxes. It’s not really one major thing, it’s a bunch of little stuff to ensure when we hit the ground running, we’re ready to go. If I can keep my guys healthy and not worn out, the race car will end up in the winner’s circle more. That is my theory.
DRAG ILLUSTRATED: You mentioned not having your guys go on furlough or having to lay them off during this time. How important was that to you?
JACKSON: It’s my No. 1 priority and it’s the No. 1 thing I will not bend on. Everybody says our team is like family. Well, times like this shows you how much your actions stand behind your words. I can’t jump up and down and say this team is my family, and then two weeks into this deal tell them they’re fired. I’m not going to do it.
I told them as soon as this started I’m going to pay them their salary until I go broke and then we’ll all quit racing together. It’s a huge financial undertaking for me with zero dollars coming in right now, but you cannot replace the talent that I have. A lot of teams that have let people go are going to find out that the thing that made these race cars run is people.
Yeah, they need money and parts and a good driver, but the people that take them apart and put them together, that’s what makes cars win. Being fast helps you to win, but having the right people in the right spots, and knowing they have your back when times are down, that’s what enables you to win.
DRAG ILLUSTRATED: Why do you feel it’s important to get back to racing as soon as possible?
JACKSON: I think that during these times, if (NHRA) cares about the long-term success of the sport, they have to get cars on the racetrack with little to no regard of revenue. I know that’s easy for me to say that not owning an organization that races cars, but if we do not get cars on the track soon, there’s not going to be a lot of racecars capable of competing by the time we run.
There’s a lot of people financially struggling right now and if ever there was a time to sell a racing team, now is the time to do it. And once people do that, they don’t come back.
DRAG ILLUSTRATED: Ending this on a bright note, you’ve done a great job taking fans behind the curtain on your YouTube page, especially during these times. Has that been enjoyable to show your team having fun and doing some different things?
JACKSON: We always try to have fun. I try to keep it very light-hearted. We spend so much time around each other that if you don’t have fun, you’ll hate each other pretty fast. That said, chopping down that tree was zero fun. I would have been better off to buy my damn lunch. In my feeble Stevie Fast mind, I really thought I was going to hit it about three times and it was going to fall.
It took me an hour and fifteen minutes to chop that thing down, and I’m in good shape. But the YouTube channel, from our feedback, I have very much enjoyed and our fans have very much enjoyed seeing the personal side of our life and our interaction with each other. Everybody focuses so much on the race car, it’s nice to demonstrate how much of a family we are.
Photos by Chris Sears