SHANNON JENKINS: THE GODFATHER OF NITROUS
He’d Rather Quit than Run Anything Else …
Shannon Jenkins is to the nitrous doorslammer what Big Daddy Don Garlits is to the Top Fuel dragster.
The former bracket racer from Tuscaloosa, Ala., admitted his initial involvement in the Pro Modified division came after he and then team owner Norman Estes believed the style of racing was neat.
What is neat is that 18 years after the fateful decision, Jenkins stands as the winningest driver of the class with victories in all major series ranging from IHRA to NHRA to ADRL. In his 18 years of racing and tuning fast nitrous doorslammers, Jenkins has watched the combination change dramatically.
“It’s like night and day,” said Jenkins, who last Saturday won his 33rd career national event at the ADRL U.S. Drags III in Richmond, Va. “We were so green in those days; of course everybody was from the engine builders, chassis builders to everybody. It’s just like any sport once people recognized it, ran it and made changes -- engineering of their own -- it advances. It’s no different than what you see in any other classes.”
Jenkins remembers all too well the crude nitrous engineering in his early days. Those were days when many of the early engine builders built the engines and basically left the nitrous plumbing to the customers.
Jenkins, who now uses Reher-Morrison Racing Engines, said it was a joint venture between he and former engine builder Gene Fulton which progressed the nitrous engines beyond the “you’re on your own” era.
“Everybody was learning,” he explained. “We used Gene [Fulton] for a lot of years; he’s a great engine builder. Gene would do all of his own nitrous plumbing and it was working together with he and I and some other people. He had advanced his program. He had still basically used a lot of the same components, like at Speedtech we designed and built all of our own components. We had known over the years what works and what doesn’t work. We had the capability to make it almost perfect when it would leave the shop. That’s a big advantage when it comes to nitrous racing.”
Six years ago, Jenkins along with engine lease customer and later partner Mike Castellana, created the Speedtech Nitrous brand. There was a large instability in the nitrous oxide manufacturer market at the time though Jenkins points out it had nothing to do with their decision to create the Speedtech brand.
“We didn’t really have problems with the other people it’s just we had always wanted to do our own stuff and we made a decision to do that and it was probably one of the best decisions we ever made,” said Jenkins. “Because there is nobody that can build a better nitrous product, what we put in is not only race tested, everybody knows how quick and fast it runs but it’s things that everybody can buy and three months from now we’re working on brand new stuff.”
Three years ago the American Drag Racing League decided a traditional Pro Modified format could no longer work in their organization and split the category into two classes, one for any power adders and another devoted to nitrous cars. Jenkins believes this decision has led to a rapid advancement of the combination.
“To a degree it has but most everybody was working on things already,” Jenkins pointed out. “The only thing it does it is you don’t have to worry about is someone in the class running a tenth quicker. You don’t have to worry about the blowers or the turbochargers, it’s a nitrous deal. That makes every nitrous racer work hard to be the one at the head of the pack.”
And for Jenkins, this kind of intramural competition has essentially made Pro Nitrous look a lot like NHRA Pro Stock.
“That’s exactly what it did because it’s equal and if a certain team or car is quicker or better than you, then you know you just have to work hard, do your homework and try to catch that guy,” Jenkins said. “That pretty well says it; everybody tries to catch the other guy.”
The Pro Nitrous division has made huge gains in the last season, dipping into the 3.80s in eighth-mile competition and knocking on the door of 200 miles per hour. To hear Jenkins talk, there’s more coming by the end of the season.
“We’re a lot like Pro Stock in that we are trying to make the best possible engine and keep it the most nitrous friendly,” Jenkins said. “Used to there was one good engine builder out there and now you’ve got three great ones. People like David Reher, the other guys as well, they’re constantly looking for little things that make a difference in our program or whoever they build engines for.
“They’re not done; there are 3.70 nitrous cars you can’t really get them hooked up. I’ve said before that when you get them on power they get really pissed off. There’s a 3.70 pass in probably 3 or 4 cars out here. It’s just a matter of getting that right combination. It’s so hard, man it’s so hard.”
Overcoming the high degree of difficulty is what has made Jenkins the champion he is today.