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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Grumpy Debuts his Famous Vega

By Flyin' Phil Elliott

Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins' original Vega had these unique headers that exited the sides. Photo courtesy of the Flyin' Phil Archives
Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins' original Vega had unique headers that
exited the sides, but that didn't last for long!
Scan courtesy of the Flyin' Phil Archives

This cutaway reminds me of a could-be-long story.

The winter of '71/'72, I was helping good friend Butch Thuney convert his too-small garage from a race shop that would support his B, C, D, E/G '55 Chevy into one that would support a brand new hemi-powered '72 Cuda Pro Stocker. Oh, we had to build the car too... from a real live "body-in-white."

So, that whole story is for another time BUT we didn't get done in time for Pomona so went without it. I went in my other capacity of writer/photog with another great friend Rich Carlson, and we drug Butch along. Much of the southbound trip was spent in talk/theory on Pro Stock.

All we had was the previous two years of NHRA PS to use in our mix and we could not, would not believe that Jenkins' small block Vega would perform with big blocks and hemis. How?! We even decided that he might get it to ET but not run enuf mph to stay consistent.

In those days, many racers got to SoCal early and tested at Irwindale, Lions, and OCIR. We did the same. It was at Irwindale on Tuesday nite (we were fresh off the road and hadn't even gone to the motel yet!) where da Grump rolled in (also fresh off the road from PA) with the still-new Vega on the ramp truck. This was the stuff dreams were made of!

There it was with its stoopid headers sticking through the sides of the fenders and Butch and I picked it apart (of course). I looked underneath and was shocked to see all the round tubing -- nearly an early FC chassis from what I could see! Neither of us could see how this thing would even pass tech for Pro Stock, and Butch sorta mockingly bet me it would be classified B or C/A for the Winternats.

What absolutely floored us was that after one aborted attempt when shift and clutch linkage needed adjusting (this thing was FRESH from SRD!), the little car scooted to something like a 9.87/143. After that, it went back on the truck and according to Jenkins was driven to the already forming tech line across from the fairgrounds.

The next morning, we were there before 9am to find hundreds of others but no Jenkins. We LOOKED! EVERY where! Finally, I approached our northwest (Div. VI NHRA) tech man, Jerry Valentine, explained what we'd seen the night before, and asked. Oh, he'd been there with that pile of s**t (not an exact quote) and Jerry had bounced him! In fairly loud tones (you gotta know Jerry), he explained to Butch and I how this and that was wrong, and if Sox & Martin had built it, it woulda been right, and those headers, and on and on. When I pried as to where Jenkins had gone, Valentine offered something like he didn't know, really didn't care, and furthermore... You get the idea.

Where he'd gone was to Hooker Headers and the boys there whipped up a set of more proper (and legal) beside-the-engine headers, the car whistled through tech, ran 9.6/145, won the race, and the rest is history.

Butch and I were quieter on the way home and I always believed that he wished there was a half-done Vega in the garage. After all, he already had a couple high-horsepower small blocks.



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