WHEN THE GREEN FLAG DROPS, STEVIE FAST IS THE COLE TRICKLE OF PRO MODIFIED
If anything, Stevie "Fast" Jackson has learned to expect the unexpected. And this attribute might be the one aspect which has kept the two-time NHRA Pro Modified champion sane amid a crazy 2020 drag racing season.
Jackson captured his second NHRA Pro Modified championship, coming from behind to win a title that appeared to be nothing more than a shootout.
"I told [crew chief] Billy [Stocklin], "Next year we're going to have this deal wrapped up in eight races," Jackson said. "We ain't going to do all this crazy running toward a championship, winning by four thousandths."
The 2020 title defense campaign had all the makings of a dominant season. Pre-season testing had yielded positive results, and Jackson, in his Drag Radial car, had already won the Lights Out 11 event at South Georgia Motorsports Park outside of Valdosta, Ga. Then it all came crashing down, literally.
Jackson crashed his Pro Modified car at the Drag Illustrated World Doorslammer Nationals.
"When we piled that thing up in Orlando, that was a far larger setback than what everybody anticipated," Jackson said. "It took us three or four races to get that thing back ironed out, get the balance back right, get it working, get it going straight. Then I crashed it again. It was kind of a tumultuous beginning. I felt like we were digging out of a hole the whole season."
Jackson trashed his car, and then the Pandemic shut down the sport a week later.
"I had plans to run a nitrous car that Jeffrey Barker drives in Gainesville," Jackson said. "When we left Gainesville, we thrashed like mad and had that thing done in 10 or 11 days. And then I stared at it for five months."
Jackson didn't have idle hands as he and his team labored to get the original car ready for battle, grabbing a test session here and there when local health regulations permitted it.
"There was nowhere to race, and nothing was open, so it took a while for us to get ready to take it out and test it," Jackson explained. "Once we did, it ran pretty quick, but it took us a little time. Anytime you change something in the chassis, there's work to be done to iron it out."
However, there was plenty of time to do the ironing when the whole sport is shut down.
"We prepared for the race season," Jackson said. "I took all of that free time that we had, what we would call free time and I kind of reinvented my team. I reinvented my process. I built and refined things to make us more efficient at the racetrack. I figured out how to cut costs. I did a bunch of the work that we do on a week to week basis; I did blocks of it. We made parts. We stocked parts. We never had any idle time.
"We made sure that we did everything because I told the guys when they cut us loose and we start racing, it's going to be the hardest stretch of racing that we've ever had. We'll never have stacked this many events in a row like this. And it was like that. Once we got going, between the Pro Mod stuff and the radial stuff, we didn't stop. My guys, I think they were on the road; I don't think they came home for the last seven weeks of the season. It's tough to race like that if you're not prepared.
"I prepared for the worst. I always hope for the best and prepare for the worst, so we kind of prepared for the worst, and it helped us in the stretch."
In a sense, Jackson prepared to be like the fictional Days of Thunder character Cole Trickle when he was behind on the caution lap at the final Daytona 500. When the green flag for the season dropped, he could be at full speed.
"I can quote every line from Days of Thunder that there ever was," Jackson said. "When I was a kid, I bet I watched Days of Thunder 200 times. I've always raced like that. When we get behind, like when you saw us lose the points lead, well, I really don't like playing from ahead, I like coming from behind. But when I feel like I'm on the ropes, you'll see my guys and you'll see Billy Stocklin and myself dig. It's like old Cole. He said, 'You're going to be at max speed when the green flag drops."
To talk to Jackson, he might be an equal mix of Trickle and Pro Modified icon Scotty Cannon. "Just like Scotty, I'm never scared of anything, I've got one of everything, and it doesn't matter how much stuff you got in the trailer, the trash-talking, I'm going to tell you what I'm going to do to you. Then I'm going to show you what I'm going to do to you, and then I'm going to tell you about what just happened," Jackson said. "When he came into Funny Car and exploded that scene, he had already proved that he was the baddest dude that there was in Pro Mod at the time.
"When Scotty came into fuel racing, it was a very calm scene over there, and he came in and blew it up, and I try to make sure anywhere that I go, I try to make as many waves as I can with the tools that I have to make waves. If we had more waves and less smooth water it would be better for the whole sport."
A tsunami was brewing when Jackson first announced intentions to run NHRA Pro Modified back in 2017.
"I told them I'm coming, and I told them if you look at my first interview with NHRA before the first race, I told them it may take me a little bit to get there, but you're going to know I'm here right away," Jackson said. "I normally try to have a big stick. When I say something, I normally try to be able to back it up."
Jackson won his first NHRA national event in Topeka, Kan., just two months after making his debut in the series.
"Everybody thinks I talk a lot of trash, but I don't talk a lot of trash about anything that I don't really do," Jackson said. "That's very, very Scotty Cannon-esque."
Jackson prides himself in work ethic, a trait he believes vaulted Cannon to six championships despite secretly being lesser funded than many of his counterparts. The downtime enabled Jackson to regroup because, in other words, he had no other choice.
"I think that our sport is so competitive, I think that if you're not immersed in what you do, and if you treat it like a hobby, you'll wreck, you'll run like you're a hobby racer," Jackson said. "I try never to show up and run as I do it for a hobby. I try to race the car like this is my livelihood, and this is my life because it is. I've always treated it like that, even before it was my livelihood. I was taught very early by my dad to always dress for the job you want.
"I approach downtime and race time pretty much the same. I was at the shop bolting on a cylinder head at 6:00 AM this morning. So I don't do off time very well."
And this determination is very Stevie Fast-esque.