Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photos courtesy Killin’ Time Racing/Reese Brothers Racecars
He calls it “The F*ckening”–that feeling that, when things have been going so well for a long time, something is due to happen to screw it all up. And happen it did… at 200+ mph.
Coming off a championship-winning 2019 NHRA Pro Modified season with his Bahrain 1 Racing ’17 Chevy Camaro and back-to-back wins at some of the country’s most prestigious Radial vs. the World events (US Street Nationals and No Mercy 11, respectively) with his Killin’ Time Racing ’15 Chevy Camaro, Stevie “Fast” Jackson was the odds-on favorite to win the inaugural Drag Illustrated World Doorslammer Nationals at Florida’s Orlando Speed World Dragway in early March, but he had a different kind of “slammer” instead.
It wasn’t a premonition, but, as a driver, it’s Jackson’s job to know when things are going well, and when they’re not.
“One of my crew guys asked me how my head was while we were in the lanes,” shared Jackson of the ominous feeling he had on Sunday before the first eliminations round. “My head wasn’t in the game, and something wasn’t quite right.”
Admittedly, Jackson and his team had uncharacteristically struggled during qualifying, as the car kept coming loose in the shutdown area. They had tried a few different things to get the Camaro to cooperate, but couldn’t quite get a handle on it.
“We put a bigger ‘chute on it, but at 250+ mph, that pulls the whole car off the ground and it’s very unnerving, so we put a smaller ‘chute back on it,” noted Jackson of some of the changes that were made.
Unfortunately for him, Jackson’s first-round pairing against Michael Biehle ended not only with a loss, but also a wreck. As the two men crossed through the traps, Jackson’s car made a hard left turn, right into the retaining wall on his side of the track.
“One of the ‘chutes collected into the other, and only one blossomed,” explained Jackson, whose car was snatched sideways as a result. With a rapidly diminishing shutdown area and his car sliding, Jackson was careful to do what he could to avoid involving Biehle, cognizant that the man was somewhere in the lane next to him. “I could have gone into the traps, but, when faced with a self-preservation decision… you don’t always make the right one and I applied too much brake and went into the wall.”
The safety team at Ozzy and Maria Moya’s Orlando Speed World was ready to come to Jackson’s rescue within seconds, and thankfully, his safety equipment did its job and he was able to walk away from the wreck without injuries. When he wrecked at Charlotte in ’18, the 80G force knocked him out–this time, it was “only” a difference of 12G from the +3G lateral to the -8G impact, as much of the force was absorbed by the car sliding its front end across the wall.
Ironically, the day before the accident, Jackson hosted the track’s safety team in his pit area to go over some ideas, processes, and expectations from a driver’s perspective.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better response from them… they definitely weren’t expecting me to give them an on-track demonstration, too!” laughed Jackson.
With the start of the ’20 NHRA Pro Mod season literally the following weekend, though, Jackson still had to scramble to come up with a Plan B to still be able to race.
“I spent the entire off-season preparing to try and back up a title, and now my car is destroyed… so, this was mentally pretty crushing,” stated Jackson, who is definitely not a “woe is me”-type guy. His teammate, Jeffrey Barker, had recently unveiled a new nitrous-injected entry, and Jackson called in a big favor to take the reins of that instead. “It took a tremendous amount of man-power to convert our operation from blower racing to nitrous racing, and I spent a ridiculous amount of money, but we got to Gainesville and got through tech and were ready to race.”
And then, Jackson was hit with another epic obstacle–the COVID-19 Coronavirus forced NHRA officials to call off the Pro class portions of the race, and Jackson was told to pack everything up without ever having made a run. The virus also caused Donald Long to postpone his Sweet 16 race at South Georgia Motorsports Park, another of Jackson’s favorites that he had been looking forward to dominating with his supercharged “Shadow 2.0” yet again.
“The hits just keep on coming, and this smashed me to the ground again. It was really just the wrong time of year for this to happen, going into the start of the season. It’s overwhelming, yeah, but I’m surrounded by people who believe in our vision and we are not going down,” he said, full of his usual fire and determination. “I gave the guys a few days off, and they’re all in high spirits. I’m not sure when we’ll get back to racing, but we’re going to take this opportunity to be more prepared when the time does come.”
At first, Jackson and the Killin’ Time Racing crew suspected the Camaro would need to be front-halved in order to race again but it turned out to be better than expected. New lower frame rails in front of the motor plate, a new front end, and some other miscellaneous items were on the bill to repair the damage, so the guys hustled to get the car stripped down and sent to David Reese at Reese Brothers Racecars in Temple, Georgia.
With parts arriving practically instantaneously, Reese actually had the car ready for its new front end just three days after it arrived at his shop. “David [Reese] is the quickest in the business; his work ethic is unbelievable,” noted Jackson, who will also be focusing on making his Camaro more controllable in the shutdown area. “David told me while we were in Gainesville on Thursday that if I had a front end, I’d have been able to race it that weekend.”
Currently, Jackson is still waiting on the Camaro’s front to arrive but expects it to be in shortly, after which the car will go to paint. “We’ll be on track testing after that, trying to make sure the bugs are gone and all the bells and whistles are in place,” he confirmed of his plans to get the NHRA Pro Mod championship-winning Camaro back in action as quickly as possible so he can have a second shot at the title this season. “I’m not going down like that. If they want to beat me, they’re going to have to come and take it from me.”
The unexpected and unavoidable time off due to the pandemic, as much as it’s been a hindrance to Jackson getting back on track, has actually allowed him to take a step back and prepare for what’s to come. And, it’s given him time to organize a KTR bass fishing tournament… because, well, why not make good use of the recommended quarantine time?
“To all our fans, I haven’t been active on social media because I’ve been preparing for what’s ahead. I apologize, but don’t give up on us!” Jackson implored. “We’ll be back at [the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in] Charlotte with Jim Whiteley’s Corvette with me and Phil [Shuler] at the controls, my Camaro, and Jeffrey [Barker] with his nitrous car!”
One thing’s for sure: Jackson is a fighter. He plays best when he’s got to come from behind, and will definitely be back with a vengeance.