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Yesterday's Heroes
Jan 20, 2008

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Gordon Jenner

By Bud De Boer

In 2000, Gordie Bonin, Gordon Jenner, and Ron Hodgson (L-R) were inducted as a team into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame.

It’s been over four decades since this native of northwest Canada first became involved in drag racing. During his quarter mile endeavors over the years, Gordon Jenner has not only been a driver, crew chief, and car owner, but also a track manager. You might say he’s done it all. One of the highlights of his career came in 2000 when he was inducted into Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame as part of a team along with Ron Hodgson and Gordie Bonin. It’s a fitting tribute to the trio from the land of the Maple Leaf. They joined such 1320 notables as Dale Armstrong, Frank Hawley, Graham Light, Bernie Fedderly, Gary Beck, and Ray Peets who had also been honored by the CMHF.

Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Jenner and his family moved to Calgary, Alberta in 1958. During the summer of that same year, he ventured in the family car to a blocked off section of highway near Calgary to participate in an event that would change his life... organized drag racing. But there’s a side story that goes along with this. He was only 15 at the time and his parents, being out of town for the weekend, knew nothing about him taking their vehicle and participating in the event. Entered in Stock Eliminator, he not only won class, but finished runner-up in the category finals. However, little did Gordon know that the person he raced in the finals also worked for his father. The next day at Sr. Jenner’s place of business, word got around about what his son had done the day before. His father was not happy about what had taken place, but eventually got over it when he learned how well his son did.

Though he ventured to nearby tracks over the next four years, either as a spectator or helping out on a crew, it wouldn’t be until 1962 that Jenner got a race car he could call his own. He found a ‘57 Chevy with no engine that had only 500 miles on it. It was not long before the car had a 301 C.I. motor on board. But there was one problem with the vehicle. Seems that it ran well at the drags but not so good on the street. Having to take a bus home from work as a result was not the way to go. Thus Gordon decided that his next car would be a fuel dragster or as he said, “That’s why you race... to be the fastest guy there.”

Gordon Jenner draws a crowd as he gets ready to take a ride in the first Royal Canadian at Calgary in 1967. Best run for the Woody car that year was 6.87 seconds at 207 MPH with Nick Kozak driving.

 His first entry into the top fuel wars came in the fall of 1966 when he partnered with Nick Kozak and purchased a Woody car from the San Diego team of Lechien & Drake. It was the first in a series of dragsters known as the Royal Canadian. A blown fuel burning 392 hemi was added and Gordon was ready for some quarter mile action. A trip to Southern California not only showed what the car could do in competition, but also gave the team a break from the cold winter weather. They raced at Lions and San Fernando with Kelly Brown driving. Satisfied with how they ran, the two headed home as the ‘67 season was about to begin in the northwest. Springtime saw them run at Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Deer Park, WA. But along the way, a towing accident took place in Alberta on a road between Red Deer and Sylvan Lake that completely destroyed the car. Jenner was the only one injured, and as a result spent the next six months on crutches.

Edition number two of the Royal Canadian makes its way through the pits at Edmonton during one of its many match races in '68 & '69. With Jenner at the helm, this full bodied Don Long dragster eventually notched a quickest time of 6.78 seconds at 218 MPH.

Moving on to 1968, Gordon’s next car featured a Don Long chassis purchased from Frank Pedregon. Prior to buying the car, Gordon spent the winter racing with Pedregon in southern California. The car was also named the Royal Canadian and did well on the northwest match race circuit during ’68 and ‘69. Gordon drove the car himself and really liked everything about it up to the eighth mile, but didn’t like the top end charge these cars are capable of. Come the end of 1969, Gordon decided to take a break from the rigors of life on the road and he made the Golden State his residence for a spell. During the week he sold speed equipment at Ansen Automotive and on the weekends he spent time taking in some of the best 1320 action around. But in 1970, Gordon once again got the urge to go racing, nitro style. This time he let someone else do the driving as he wanted to expand his horizons and become a crew chief.

The next edition of the Royal Canadian featured a new Don Long chassis as he partnered with friends Don Kohut and Mike Broome. Kohut did the driving while Jenner and Broome turned the wrenches. Once again Gordon was on the move, spending time at the shop during the week and match racing where he could on weekends. It was a good couple of years for the team, but soon it was time for a change. Although top fuelers had been a crowd pleaser since the early ‘60s, there was another drag racing vehicle fast becoming a fan favorite... Funny Cars! Gordon was ready for his next venture.

At Seattle Raceway in 1972, Jenner (L) and Gordie Bonin (R) listen intently as engine building legend Keith Black gives them a quick lesson in "Black Magic 101."

During the winter of ‘71/’72, Jenner and Ron Hodgson purchased a partially finished ‘72 Vega funny car from fellow Canadian Murry Dyma after Murry decided he couldn’t drive it following a licensing session at Orange County Raceway in southern California. The Vega had a blown 426 hemi for power and all the other necessary components to make it competitive in the AA/FC class. More than that, it now had a crew chief that could help it reach its full potential. Not wanting to waste any time and with the 1972 racing season fast approaching, Jenner placed a call to Gordie Bonin and offered him the ride. Once Bonin arrived from his home in the northwest and passed his competition license at Lions Drag Strip, the team was ready to go racing.

Gordie Bonin is all business as he wheels the Pacemaker Vega to another strong run at SIR. Team also won the Northwest Open and took runner-up at Indy in '72 while posting a best effort of 6.58 seconds at 228 MPH during their match race and open event schedule.

Known as the Pacemaker Vega, the car did well on the match race circuit, and also won the Northwest National Open in Seattle. The team then really made a name for itself by taking runner-up at Indy in ‘72. To call the team successful would be an understatement. You might say they had arrived.

In '73, Jenner built another Don Long chassised vehicle. Also called the Pacemaker Vega, Bonin drove it part of the season with Frank Kurshner taking over for the remainder. Best clocking for the Automatic Radio sponsored car was 6.29 seconds at 236 MPH.

In 1973, Jenner built another Don Long chassised car. Also called the Pacemaker Vega, it had Gordie Bonin at the helm part of the season and Frank Kurshner for the remainder. Not only did it do great match racing in the northwest and but also made a trip to Indy for the U. S. Nationals. However, unlike the previous year, it was unable to make the program due to driveline and motor breakage during qualifying. As the season drew to a close, Gord as he is known to his friends, was asked to take on a new challenge; that of General Manager at Raceway Park in Edmonton, Alberta. The first thing he did after saying OK to the position was to change the name of the facility to Edmonton International Raceway. 1974 was a good year for the track under his guidance.... lots of racing and big crowds.

1975 saw another change in Jenner’s life. He went to work at what he called “a real job” during the week. He became employed by the International Union of Elevator Constructors as a maintenance and repair specialist. Married and with a family to support, Gordon now had a steady income that provided those comforts needed in life. However, participation in the sport he had long been part of continued, but on weekends only. He stayed involved as crew chief on the UAP sponsored funny car driven by Bill Spevacek.

Driver Terry Capp boils the hides on the Capp-Jenner-Hodgson Royal Canadian prior to making a run during the NHRA Seafair Nationals in 1988. Car made some good journeys down the quarter mile. Top of the list was one in 5.27 seconds at 270 MPH.

Skip forward to 1988. Friend Jerry Verhuel had passed away and left Jenner with an Al Swindahl dragster that was running in test mode with a turbo setup on its engine. The turbo was soon replaced by a blower as well as other components needed to make it a competitive top fueler. Veteran shoe Terry Capp was brought on board to drive. In addition to Jenner and Capp, the team also included Ron Hodgson and Dale Adams. What a foursome it was. Not only did they win their class at the AHRA World Finals in Spokane, WA, but also journeyed to Indy where they qualified ninth at the U. S Nationals, only to loose in the second round of eliminations due to a giant wheel stand.

In early 1989, Gordie Bonin warms the motor of his new Ron Hodgson sponsored digger as Jenner (L) and Dale Adams(R) look on to make sure everything is OK.

 1989 was another good year for Jenner, as he once again put his crew chief skills to work with a new 300” Al Swindahl car that Dwayne Tetz brought to the table. It also teamed him with driver Gordie Bonin, with whom he enjoyed so much success during his early funny car days in the ‘70s. So it was now a team of five: Jenner, Tetz, Bonin, Hodgson, and Adams. This was one nickel package that nobody wanted to mess with come race day.

Bonin tries to rotate the starting line at Seattle as the car makes its debut during the track's 30th Anniversary race in '89. The team qualified at five NHRA events that year including Indy, where they made their best run of the season... 5.02 seconds at 278 MPH.

They ran five NHRA national events, qualifying at each. In fact, Jenner says, “In prorating our points for the entire year, we would have ended up in fifth place.” In addition, they also won AHRA World Finals, setting both ends of the track record in the process.

Since 2001, Jenner has been retired from his “real job” of 26 years to spend more time with wife Louanne and their two daughters. He’s become a “snow bird,” spending summers in Canada and winters in Arizona. But that’s not all... he even took up golf. However, being a drag racer at heart, the fire still burned to crew chief a team or build a new car .

In 2007 during the NHRA National Open at Mission Raceway, Terry Capp drove the Roland Leong tuned Bubble Up/Pacemaker nostalgia funny car to the quickest and fastest run in class history: 5.85 seconds at 249 MPH.

In August of 2006 just such an opportunity came his way when long time friend Ron Hodgson called and asked if he would like to re-pop the Bubble Up/Pacemaker funny car as a VRA legal nostalgia machine. Jenner jumped at the chance and spent the winter of 2006/2007 building it. Aside from its wicked power plant, it has a Victory chassis and a Donnie Reeves 1978 Firebird body. It’s tuned by Roland Leong and crewed by Jenner, Dan Brochu, Bob Papirnick, and Doug Syme. In 2007 during the NHRA National Open at Mission Raceway with Terry Capp driving, it became the quickest and fastest nostalgia funny car on the planet with times of 5.85 seconds at 249 MPH. Talk about setting the class on its ear!

From his early days in the sport, Gordon Jenner knew only one way to go drag racing -- ALL OUT. No matter what the vehicle was, he wanted it to cross the finish line first. 1320 feet may not seem like a lot to some, but to him it’s been a lifetime.

NOTE: Photos by Russ Griffith, Gerry Frechette, and from the Gordon Jenner collection.


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