JEFF BROOKS IS DOING MORE THAN TURNING HEADS WITH HIS SIGNATURE CAR
Every winter NHRA Top Sportsman racer Jeff Brooks goes through the same motions in preparation for the upcoming season. He and his team go through all their racing equipment, replace what’s needed, and freshen the motor, rear end, and transmission. It’s the same thing he has done for 26 years.
“I tell everybody that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again, and we do exactly that,” said Brooks. “We always keep everything up to par and try to keep everything fresh and new.”
Another element that has also remained the same for more than 20 year is the type of car he races: a Henry J.
“It's been our signature ever since I've been drag racing,” he said.
Following His Father’s Footsteps
Brooks’ love affair with the Henry J began in the 1960s when his father James raced a B/Gasser. When Jeff decided to build his first race car in 1991, he opted for the same type of car, and he has been racing a Henry J ever since.
“When we built this Top Sportsman car, we basically had a custom mold made for a Henry J,” he said. “We have the only mold, the only body. Only one has been made, and it’s not for sale.”
Brooks has since dedicated all of his efforts to turning the Henry J into a race car that is capable of not only being competitive but also winning a championship.
“It features a carbon-fiber body by Terry Hall with a Dan Page chassis. This thing is state-of-the-art and has the best of the best parts in it,” he said. “It's not your ‘bought a street car and built it for the racetrack.’ This thing is a full-fledged professional race car.
"I talked to a bunch of chassis guys, and they would tell me, ‘Bring a body.' I'd say, ‘I don’t have a body,’ and they said, ‘That's a problem.’ ”
Brooks stuck with the idea of racing a Henry J, which led to a 23-year partnership with longtime sponsor Kaeser Compressors.
“The first race that they were onboard with us was the 1995 Virginia Nationals, and we got featured on Inside NHRA with Bob Frey on TV, and the only reason we got featured was because we were running a Henry J,” said Brooks. “Their president told me one time, ‘Jeff, if you run a Cobalt or Camaro, you have to win. You run a Henry J, you still get noticed.’ "
Brooks installed BigStuff3 fuel injection into the Henry J about five years ago, and ever since then the performance of the car has noticeably improved, culminating in a career season in 2017.
“Last year was a phenomenal year for us. We won the Division 1 championship and the Summernationals,” said Brooks, who is a bit surprised to have carried that winning momentum into this season. “Usually in drag racing when you have a great year, you get humbled the next year, so right now I'm pinching myself because I haven't gotten my next-year humble yet. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
Thanks to wins at the Division 2 race at Galot Motorsports Park and the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn., Brooks currently sits No. 1 in Division 1 points and No. 2 in the nation, but he is quick to point out that it’s too soon to begin celebrating.
“We still have a long season ahead of us, especially when the West Coast guys start coming onboard,” he said. “It's going to take a couple of more wins -- two to three wins -- to win the championship. That's a tall task because there are a lot of good cars, a lot of good racers out there.
“But I think my chances are just as good as anyone else’s. I've got the best equipment and the best sponsor, so the driver just has to do his job. Sometimes the driver messes up, but the other elements work really well for us.”
Brooks is also impressed by the numbers that he and fellow racers are able to produce with their current racing combinations.
“This sport is so competitive. To run that fast and be within a thousandth or two-thousandths of a dial is just unbelievable,” he said. “I can’t believe what we're doing in this sport at these speeds. Who would have thought you could do that with the equipment now?”
The Four Js
Fittingly, Brooks races his Henry J under the JEB Four Racing umbrella, a team comprised of his father James and brothers Jamie and John. Jamie serves as Jeff’s crew chief with the help of patriarch James, and John assists whenever possible.
“John has young kids, so most of the time Jamie and Dad help me,” said Jeff. “Dad has had some heart troubles and hasn't been able to go to all of the races, but for 26 years, he has been at all of them but three.”
One event that James didn’t miss was the national event in Bristol earlier this year, which Jeff won and resulted in a moment that both will always remember.
“When you win your first national, it's an amazing feat – I won in Englishtown after four runner-ups -- but winning in Bristol on Father's Day is probably the most special moment I've had in my racing career,” said Jeff. “I got to present the Wally to my dad; that was pretty cool.”
Jeff will continue to make a run at this year’s Top Sportsman national title with the help of the JEB Four Racing crew and the support of Kaeser Compressors, Sonny Leonard, Royal Purple, and Bernard Weaver, who does his transmission and has been an instrumental part of his racing career.
“He actually built my first car and helped us get started in racing,” said Jeff, who is also grateful for what Hall and Page have helped him accomplish. “To see what they put together from basically a concept and to be able to perform at this level with the car, they did phenomenal. Those guys are unbelievable talent.”