- Published on Thursday, 27 June 2013 20:55
At NHRA Nationals in July, will we witness a Scratcher-Scratcher showdown?
NORWALK, Ohio – When Bill Jackson tips up his ball cap and starts to tell a story about his family adventures at Summit Motorsports Park, pull up a chair and get ready for a good one.
Racing since 1959, Bill Jackson, Mansfield, Ohio, witnessed every milestone at the award-winning race track in Norwalk, Ohio.
“We raced there opening day in 1963,” Bill Jackson said. “Way before (Bill Bader Sr.) bought it. He took over in 1974. You wouldn't believe what he's done to the place.”
Probably as startling as the brick and mortar improvements at the dragstrip, Bill Jackson and his wife, Mary Ann, mashed gas through each era of mechanical evolution in drag racing in their more than 50 years of taking the tree.
“Her dad really got both of us started in racing,” Bill Jackson said. “When I was in high school I started working on cars. He was racing. I would slip out and go with him.
“My first run down a dragstrip was in 1959 in a 1959 Chevy with a 348 four-speed,” Bill Jackson said, recalling the track as Pacemakers in Mount Vernon, Ohio. “I was 20 years old when I started. In 1962 I bought a 1962 Corvette and started racing that. It's been a pleasing career, but racing isn't easy.”
Mary Ann's legacy intertwined with both parents and a speed-loving brother.
“My dad was born in St. Louis and raised in Germany,” Mary Ann Jackson said. “My dad was good with cars, very good. He died in 2001 at 90 years old. My mom passed away (in 2010). She was 98. She loved racing. She helped any way she could. She was all for it.”
While admiring the racer-tuner in the heart of her father, Mary Ann met Bill through a friendship with his sister in law.
“My husband Bill raced with my dad before I ever knew him,” Mary Ann Jackson said. “Bill's mom worked second shift. He went racing with my dad and he got home before she got home from work.”
In 1963 at Hyde Park in Newark, Ohio, Mary Ann Jackson mashed the gas in her maiden race.
“I love cars. And back when I started cars sounded different than they do today,” Mary Ann Jackson said. “I guess I was drawn to the engines, and the sound not so much. My dad got us both hooked.”
Mary Ann and Bill signed up for racing memberships in the National Hot Rod Association 49 years ago.
In 1964, her first full season, Mary Ann raced a 1958 Pontiac, “Black Magic,” and won D-Stock Automatic at the Nationals that year.
Coveted professional racing gigs in the 1960s included driving for an auto manufacturer. Mary Ann lined up as one of the first female drivers to receive a full factory Chrysler ride in a 1965 factory Hemi Dodge Coronet, “Go Hummer,” originally driven by her father.
She said the name arose from a line in a hot rod magazine article: “Do you want a six cylinder, or a go hummer of an eight?”
Then a Mobile Cross Country Economy Run checked gas mileage of vehicles by running every make and model together from California to the East Coast. Mary Ann drove a 1968 Dodge Dart for Chrysler.
“I raced against great racers like “Grumpy” Bill Jenkins and old factory-backed racers,” Mary Ann Jackson said. “It was tough racing against them, because you didn't have all the automatics. It was more the driver and what you could do with your car than it is now.”
Automotive fame motored Mary Ann to an appearance on a popular television game show, “To Tell the Truth,” matched against other celebrities.
Meanwhile, Bill Jackson and his buddies visited a dig site of a giant earth mover.
“They said, 'That's a big scratcher,'” Mary Ann Jackson said. “So that's what Bill put on his car. He had that name when we got started so he kept it.”
Bill Jackson switched to roadsters in 1965. By 1967 Bill set an NHRA record in a B-Altered. And in 1968 he won the B-Street Roadster class at NHRA Nationals.
Bill and Mary Ann Jackson married in 1969.
“After we got married, he had a roadster and I had a Nova,” Mary Ann Jackson said. “We had two Novas, then we had matching Corvettes.”
In 1971 at a National race in York, Pennsylvania, Mary Ann scribed her name in racing history in a 1969 Nova, “Scratcher Too.”
“I was the first woman to win an American Hot Rod Association national race,” Mary Ann Jackson said. “I was excited, very, very excited. It was really a big deal for me.”
Even the guys at the track seemed happy for her.
“It was because I didn't want any favors,” Mary Ann Jackson said. “I was just a drag racer who happened to be a girl. Back then there weren't very many.”
Keeping a keen family focus and determination, the Jacksons enjoyed success at the track.
“Through the '70s we really did a lot of winning,” Bill Jackson said. “We were so determined we thought every time you go, you need to win.”
Both of them set records in the NHRA and the International Hot Rod Association.
Then Mary Ann won runner-up in Super Gas at the 1991 NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, Bill Jackson said.
“She got a very special card from a well-known racer,” Bill Jackson said. “He underlined, 'Only your true friends will be happy for you.'”
The Jacksons decided to be true as a couple.
“Mary Ann and I are part of what each other is dong,” Bill Jackson said. “When she's in the lanes racing, I'm up there. Or she's right there with me.
“Behind the scenes, you have to be determined. All these years, for Mary Ann and I, when one of us is down, the other one is there to pick you up.”
The Jacksons remember the good times, such as the day Bill and Mary Ann both won classes at the IHRA Nationals; in 2004, when Mary Ann won the IHRA Motor City Nationals; also, in 2005 when Bill won the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Super Gas.
After mashing gas for five decades, Mary Ann Jackson's original reasons remain.
“I like to win,” Mary Ann Jackson said. “I love when I start my dragster up. I love the racing. I'm still excited about it.”
On or off the track, Bill Jackson thrills to the challenges of the mental side of the sport.
“When you get in a race car to go out to run, you need to concentrate,” Bill Jackson said. “You try to have the least distractions you can. In the old days we had to work on the cars and make things for the cars. You had to be creative.”
Professionally Bill Jackson worked for 30 years as a machinist and tool and die maker for General Motors; and for 45 years Bill built engines in his shop.
Bill and Mary Ann packed up six children along with the Scratchers and headed to the races several times a week.
After a Sunday Winner's Circle, the Jacksons turned toward home and daily life.
“I would crawl in the sleeper,” Bill Jackson said. “She would drive like heck so I could go to work the next day.”
While many people find it easy to stick together through the good times, the Jacksons simplified the formula for handling the tough stuff.
“We just stuck together, worked things out,” Mary Ann Jackson said. “We never went racing until all of our bills were paid. We had to work hard. It's a lot of work and a lot of love. You have to have a lot of love to get through the hard times.
“Probably one of my greatest accomplishments is I'm (five) years out after breast cancer surgery,” Mary Ann Jackson said. “Hopefully we can make it (six) years. It's pretty scary.”
“My husband keeps me going now,” Mary Ann Jackson said. “He was really good when I was going through radiation therapy. He would drag me there every day when I didn't want to get burned up any more, or I probably wouldn't have made it through it.”
From that perspective, Mary Ann Jackson chooses her loved ones as the most important thing in life.
“Just for my family to be healthy and happy,” Mary Ann Jackson said, “not necessarily rich.”
The Jackson clan includes 18 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. With work and racing schedules, Mary Ann predicts the outcome of their few family gatherings.
“Chaos,” Mary Ann Jackson said. “But it's fun. We always have fun when we get together. Then we have a house full.”
And the memories flow.
“When we had the kids, we used to travel all over the country: Florida, Canada, Tulsa, Texas, California, North Carolina, We've been everywhere,” Bill Jackson said.
Nitro Joe Jackson, 52, Loudonville, Ohio, the youngest of the six children, said he wouldn't trade those growing up years for the world.
“In the '60s and '70s we raced almost every weekend,” Nitro Joe Jackson said. “Most of the time he would take us out of school on a Thursday. All summer we would be gone.
“We used to have to ride in the race car on the car hauler,” Nitro Joe Jackson said. “Back then they had '68 Novas. We rode in Mom's car. It had a front seat and a back seat in it. It was quite the experience.
“I was in the car hauler,” Nitro Joe Jackson said, adding a one-ton truck pulled the hauler. “None of us wanted to ride in the truck. We had more fun in the race car. If the car started rocking, he would beep the horn. He said, 'If I have to beep the horn twice, somebody is in trouble.'
“In the '70s, Interstates weren't what they are now,” Nitro Joe Jackson said. “We did a lot of travel on two-lane roads.
“I've been to every U.S. National since 1964. I can remember racing back to 1966,” Nitro Joe Jackson said. “When we got to a national meet, they would tell us when to be back, and we would be gone the whole day.”
This summer, two of the boys pit with their parents and race their own hot rods. Ron Foss lines up in Super Gas in a 1982 Camaro, and Rob Foss storms Super Street in a Chevy S-10 pickup, Nitro Joe Jackson said.
Even Nitro Joe formerly attacked the track in a “Scratcher Jr.” roadster and dragster in Super Gas and Super Comp, he said.
Usually to prepare for an event, Mary Ann stirs up her favorite race track food at home.
“I make a really good angel food cake,” Mary Ann Jackson said. “I make everything ahead of time. That way all we have to do is microwave it – meatloaf, spaghetti, chili, sloppy Joes, lunch meat. My stove in my motorhome has only been on once.”
When the track stills, Mary Ann's time fills with pleasantries.
“If it's raining, I read,” Mary Ann Jackson said, adding she totes a collection of books. “But the people...We enjoy the people. We have made a ton of friends all over the United States. They're really good friends that you're glad to see whenever you're around them. Good people. Racing people pretty much stick together, too.”
“We've seen a lot of people come and go,” Bill Jackson said. “I tell you, you have to be tough to stay at it.
“We're probably two of NHRA's oldest active racers,” Bill Jackson said. “Me being (74), I don't even think about that. Age is only what you feel. These guys 45 to 50, I'll run them on foot if that's the way they want to go at it!”
“We're really 'old, old' for doing this sport,” Mary Ann Jackson said. “If we were playiing golf, no one would notice. We still work. We have our machine shop. I try to help him as much as I can. We wash our own rig. I mow four acres. I should exercise, which I don't.”
Bill and Mary Ann Jackson reaped an unexpected reward of the hard work, honored as Grande Marshalls of the 2012 B'laster Cavalcade of Stars presented by Budweiser at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio.
“We didn't have a clue,” Bill Jackson said. “When they told me that, I was startled. I didn't know what to say. I didn't realize it was such a big deal. Then when Billy (Bader Jr.) had us up on the starting line, he made us relive some of the things we had gone through. He did a good job getting it across, you know. It was a lot more rewarding than I thought it would be. Something nice about that: You could tell your friends were happy for you.”
At the 2013 Mickey Mart Rewards Cavalcade of Stars presented by Budweiser, part of the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, May 17-19, 2013 at Summit Motorsports Park, Bill and Mary Ann Jackson raced a pair of red “Scratcher” dragsters in the NHRA Super Comp class. With Mary Ann and a host of family and friends to cheer at the starting line, Bill won runner-up in a third Scratcher, a 1979 Monza, in Super Gas.
The Jacksons hope to mount another Scratcher attack at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, part of the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series July 4-7, 2013 at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. For tickets and information click on: All our favorites!
“We used to race two to three times a week, now we're doing it two to three times a month,” Bill Jackson said. “I can't picture myself sitting on a porch. I can't stand Florida for more than a week or so. We go to Florida. We always go back to drag racing.”
Bill Jackson calls racing for money a waste, adding they line up in equipment much older than other folks' rides.
“You know how you get a million dollars drag racing?” Bill Jackson asked. “You start with two million. If you're in this for money, you're in the wrong business. You have to do it for fun.
“Drag racing, it can be very heart breaking for eight or nine seconds,” Bill Jackson said. “But other times it can be very rewarding. When it's your day drag racing, it seems like everything goes right. Then you wonder why it doesn't happen more often. It seemed easy. But it's not easy.
“We've had a good time, you know,” Bill Jackson said. “And we're still having fun.”