By Sherry Jackson
Growing up in Southern California, during the heydays of street cruising, Jerry Hutchcroft knew he wanted to race cars. He was inspired by legends like Eddie Sachs and A.J. Foyt, who ran the track at the 1962 Indianapolis 500.
Howeer, in the mid-1960s, hot rods and nitro funny cars became popular. He discovered drag racing and was hooked.
“When I was 16, I started racing my motorcycle and didn’t crash and die,” Hutchcroft jokes. “Once I got my driver’s license, drag racing and girls was pretty much all I thought about.”
Now, more than 50 years later, his career and hobby have been acknowledged with a recent induction into the Arizona Drag Racing Hall of Fame. Hutchcroft was honored along with 21 others this spring.
“Jerry was very deserving of his nomination. Not only for his contribution in creating the Arizona Drag Racing Hall of Fame, but also his continued efforts with the car culture,” says Bill Goosic, board member, Arizona Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
Hutchcroft and his wife, Donna, moved to Texas in 1988 after selling their lucrative printing brokerage in Huntington Beach, California, with the dream to pursue racing full-time.
“There weren’t many opportunities to race in California, but the sport was going strong in Texas,” he says.
The couple were getting ingrained in the Texas racing community and created the Drag Racing Bulletin, a free monthly newspaper dedicated to the sport of drag racing.
But Donna wasn’t happy living in Texas. After 18 months, in 1991, they relocated their family to Arizona. The state had a robust racing community and the couple says they felt they had found their niche. They continued publishing the newspaper, eventually changing the name to Roddin’ & Racin’. Today, the newspaper has a circulation of 15,000 per month with subscribers nationwide.
The couple also promoted several drag racing events in the 1990s, including the Front Engine Pro Nitro Drag Racing Series. The Pro Nitro series featured 250 MPH front engine top Fuel Dragsters, Nitro Fuel Altereds and a class called Blown Bad Boys, that ran on a mid-seven second index with speeds near 200 miles per hour. The Pro Nitro series held races in Arizona, California and Nevada.
In 1999, the Hutchrofts created the Arizona Drag Racing Hall of Fame and inducted the first 15 members in its first three years. In 2006, they created the “Roddin’ & Racin’” TV show that aired on a variety of channels, including ESPN2. The TV show ran for 10 years until the economy crashed and sponsors bailed.
Hutchcroft doesn’t race professionally, instead opting to compete in the sportsman class of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). While speed is still important, he says the kind of racing he does is more about elapsed time as opposed to the actual speed.
He admits he’s not a very good racer. He’s only won four races in his life, but he enjoys the sport, the social interaction and the competition. His one and only professional NHRA race was in Las Vegas many years ago.
“I had a ’63 Nova that was fast enough to qualify for those (NHRA) races. So, I went to Las Vegas and raced it about three times in a divisional points race. My only claim to fame with that car was one run was a perfect run, a 10.90 with a zero index, which made me the No. 1 qualifier. I actually won my first round, but that was the only round of racing I won at an NHRA competition and then my muffler fell off.”
Hutchcroft has been a member of Team Wild Horse Pass for about 25 years and this year also joined Team Tucson Dragway, racing in the Summit ET Racing Series. He estimates he participates in about 10 to 12 sportsman races a year, including the NHRA Summit Racing Series bracket finals in Las Vegas.
“So many people like racing from afar but going to the races and not participating is sort of boring for me. But going to the races and participating, even to this day, I love it.”
While he’s had plenty of different race cars over the years, Hutchcroft says he’ll race about anything, including a Ford Focus rental car once. His current race car is a 1984 Mazda RX7 with a V-8 engine that tops out about 110 MPH in 12.3 seconds.
“I’ve raced almost all of our vehicles at one time or another,” he says. “I’ll put blocks under the pedal, so I don’t do full throttle and risk ruining the car.”
Even with his lifelong passion for the sport, earlier this year Hutchcroft was contemplating quitting drag racing. He was frustrated due to the quick reaction times needed for the sport.
“In 50 years of racing, I’ve never figured out how to get off the starting line with the current systems with any kind of consistency.”
That’s when he came up with a ball bearing drop-type device, to help drag racers come off the starting line quicker. He’s passionate about the invention but doesn’t want to share too many details right now, only that he’s working with the NHRA on approval.
“It’s so amazing. It’s based on gravity and it’s deadly accurate.”
With a renewed focus for his drag racing passion, Hutchcroft is looking forward to the future.
“I’ve loved racing all my life,” he says. “But now at 68, what motivates me today is that I can still do it. Going to the racetrack. Its just fun to be out there with the guys, walking around, getting to know people.”