It’s not like “Stevie Fast” Jackson goes looking for controversy. Well, actually it is just like that. 

Or more accurately, he welcomes controversy when it inevitably comes around. And as he prepares to take on all comers next weekend (Mar. 22-24) at South Georgia Motorsports Park in Donald Long’s $101,000-to-win Sweet 16 drag radial race, the colorful and outspoken Georgian is ramping up the rhetoric.

“All these people are walking around thinking they can be relevant when they’re not and it’s good to call some folks out every once in a while and get some fans mad at me and get some fans happy with me. Controversy drives the sport, and it’s all fun; it’s good,” Jackson says. “Basically, if you think you’ve got a fast race car and want to lose some money, I’ll race you.

“You get these guys that kind of hobnob around like they’ve got a fast race car, they troll around in the swamp, racing people who, you know, don’t really have their program sorted out and they’re scared to come over and race where some of the really fast race cars are. So anything like that, anybody that’s loud and likes to talk a lot, I like that. And if you just got a fast hot rod, I want to run it, too. So I’m an equal opportunity crab gapper; there’s no discrimination when it comes to gapping somebody.”

It’s no empty promise, either. Since making his first trip down a drag strip in 1996, Jackson has earned the reputation of being a tough-as-nails competitor, a winner at every level of the sport he’s attempted, excelling on radials or slicks, eighth or quarter mile, and in late-night, unsanctioned grudge racing every bit as much as highly formalized NHRA Pro Modified competition he recently took place in with the NHRA Gatornationals. His most recent big win came just a month ago at Long’s Lights Out 9 event when he beat Keith Haney for the $50,000 winner’s share in the Radials vs. the World final.

But it’s not money that motivates him, Jackson insists. Instead, it’s the competition, the rivalry and the satisfaction of victory that keeps him coming back for more.

“I’m at the race track 40 to 45 weeks a year, so we’ve got to do stuff to make this fun. Not just for us, but for the fans; the fans love it. Controversy’s good for our sport; rivalry’s good for our sport. Every time I call somebody out, I get 3,000 hate mails about, you know, how I think I’m hot shit and all that, but it has nothing to do with that. You’ve got to create and spur some rivalry or why are we out here racing? Who cares that the car’s fast? I just want to crush the guy in the other lane. That’s why I race.”

Jackson remembers as a young boy watching Pro Mod legend Scotty Cannon compete in 1989 at Carolina Dragway and being blown away not only by the scale of Cannon’s race operation and how loud his OnSat ’41 Willys was, but also by how organized and focused Cannon and his team were at the track. Now, nearly three decades later, he continues to draw inspiration from Cannon’s win-at-all-costs example.

“You know, there’s never been one time I sat in the race car in a final round and thought about winning any money. I don’t do this for the money,” Jackson stresses once more as he heads toward a big-buck Sweet 16 event that seems tailor-made for this winner-take-all mentality. “You do good enough at it, you end up making some, but more than that I feel like that this is probably the premier radial tire race that we’ve ever had.”

With only days remaining before taking on the Sweet 16 challenge, Jackson realizes he’s making some bold statements, he knows he’s opening himself up to criticism, but also feels more than capable of backing up his call outs. Still, he acknowledges there can be only one winner, and no amount of talking can take the place of on-track performance.

“It’s kind of an invitational; you have to buy your way in. It’s expensive to enter, $2,000 to enter. So the cars that are going to be there, the people that own them feel like that they can win that race. When you get that, when you get 30 or 40 or however many people show up that are willing to spend $2,000 to enter a race, they feel like they’ve got hot rods. So when you get that kind of field of competitive cars, and you can crush those guys, that’s winning to me. Winning the money is fine—and it’s fun—but I want to be the best at what I do in the world, and to do that you have to compete against other people that feel like they’re the best in the world, too. That’s why I like it,” he says.

Win or lose, though, Jackson promises he’ll enjoy the experience. For him, going drag racing isn’t just something he likes to do; it’s something much more, something special, almost magical.

“As a kid, I always wanted to do this, and I’ve always worked hard towards it. I’ve never not put in the effort, but at the same time, it’s a fairy tale to me that I get to do this. I woke up this morning in the hotel room and opened my eyes at 6 a.m., and the first thought that ran through my head was, ‘I get to go race a car for a living today!’ And I don’t know how long I’ll get to do this; I don’t know how long sponsorship will continue; so I race every day like it’s the last day. I always drive with my hair on fire, and I always go up there whether it’s testing, qualifying or eliminations, and race like it’s a final round.”

For Jackson, the Scotty Cannon method is the only one he knows.