Newly re-licensed Pro Stock driver Jerry Eckman wasn’t in Brainerd during the NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals. However, this didn’t stop him from scoring another major victory in his unofficial Road to Dignity tour.
Pro Stock driver Steve Kent made a call Sunday morning to the former U.S. Nationals champion with a request.
“You want to go test next week with Rodger and the team?” Kent asked his new test driver.
Eckman wasted little time in responding with a resounding, “Sure … why not?
Kent continued, “Why don’t you swing by St. Louis at Jerry Haas’ chassis shop, so they can pour a seat for your beady little a**. When you get all of that done, and if you don’t crash my car, I would like for you to drive for me at Indy.”
There was a silence on the other end of the phone.
“Oh my gosh,” Eckman finally responded, his voice cracking.
Eckman was overcome with emotion with Kent’s offer to run Indy, his first driving experience at the NHRA’s premiere drag race since 1996.
He spent 15 years under suspension from an unsafe practices act. But, in June of this year, the NHRA pardoned the balance of his fine and returned him to good standing.
This is just another positive chapter lately for Eckman following his completion of licensing procedures last week in St. Louis. Eckman ran a 6.68 and 6.69 at 205 miles per hour.
“I have had a lot of fans contact me through Facebook and friends have called to welcome me back,” Eckman revealed.
Had Eckman worked with Rodger Brogdon and Kent this weekend, he’d likely have heard from fellow racers in the pits who raced during the era when the suspension was handed down.
“We’ve all done things we are not proud of,” said John Nobile, who has since retired and now tunes for his son Vincent. “It’s been a long time and he paid his dues. Back then, people did things for the obvious reasons. I think it’s great that he’s made his way back. I have nothing against him. I’m glad he remained true to wanting to come back and never gave up.”
There are those veterans, Warren Johnson and Larry Morgan, who are glad to see him return and believe he paid much too high of a price for his transgression.
“He obviously paid a heavy penalty for what they did,” said Johnson. “Obviously there should have been other people who won championships that should have been penalized significantly.”
“I think it’s great he never gave up hope on driving,” added Morgan. “There are absolutely some who did far worse than he did. I thought it was very good of Graham Light and the NHRA to give him another chance.”
And for Johnson, he’s certain Eckman will do just fine.
“Just like riding a bicycle,” Johnson added.
Brogdon, who along with Kent has been actively involved in bringing back Eckman, draws a considerable measure of gratification in the return.
“Watching him get his license again was one of the greatest days of my life,” Brogdon admitted. “I cannot adequately convey the excitement I witnessed from him. It’s nothing short of a kid on Christmas morning. His eyes were big and he was talking non-stop. It was just as gratifying for me and Steve, as it was for him.”
They haven’t seen anything yet, adds Eckman.
“You know I had just about gave up on driving again, and when I got my license, I kind of thought how neat it would be – I kind of dismissed the idea,” said Eckman. “Then I got the license … and I thought, well maybe … just one step at a time.”
Fortunately for Eckman, his next step will be into drag racing’s big stage in Indy.
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