FROM SELLING COWS TO BUILDING PICKUP TRUCKS -- The Jerry Haas Story He went from selling a cow every time he blew up an engine in his dragster to owning a 10,000-sq. ft. race shop complete with 19 employees and orders pouring in for ...
FROM SELLING COWS TO BUILDING PICKUP TRUCKS -- The Jerry Haas Story He went from selling a cow every time he blew up an engine in his dragster to owning a 10,000-sq. ft. race shop complete with 19 employees and orders pouring in for Chevy S-10 Pro Stock Trucks. Sound like a success story? You bet. For the man who was born the day after Christmas in 1946, there is no better gift than finding your dream come true under the Christmas Tree.
Jerry Haas was born a hundred miles from Madison, Ill., home of Gateway International Raceway, in a small town called Salem, Mo. His dad owned a large farm, a perfect place for a fledgling racer to hone his skills. Excuse me? Yes, it's true. In a self-sufficient environment you learn to fend for yourself pretty quickly. That's how Jerry began his education in fabricating, inventing and developing things that weren't always readily available. That's where he learned the fine art of improvisation -- a talent that would serve him well later in his career.
"Being raised on a farm provided a great input in my life," he says. "When you broke something you couldn't run to the store to buy a new one or get it fixed, you had to take what was available and make it work."
Jerry moved from Salem to St. Louis in 1966, three years after he went off on his own with a gift of two Black Angus calves from his dad. "I raised these calves," he remembers, "and they had calves and it turned out to be a really good thing as time went on. I began racing a '62 Chevy 409 and I really didn't know too much about engines at the time. I didn't understand how to drive them and I'd wind the motor too tight and every time I blew one I'd sell a cow to pay for fixing it. This worked pretty well. I probably sold five or six cows."
After running out of cows, Jerry became a tool and die maker for a St. Louis company, a job he held for 18 years, which also helped him continue his drag racing career, competing in a Chevy II at the local dragstrip.
"I went to the race track one weekend in 1968 and I kept seeing this girl there and running into her. Well, she ended up being my wife." His union with Elaine has lasted 30 years, producing two daughters, Nicole and Michelle. "Elaine loves racing and my two daughters love racing, it couldn't be better," he says.
At the races, where Jerry drove mostly Chevy products, including a '56 Chevy, a '65 Chevelle, a '67 Nova and a '68 Camaro in NHRA and "Mountain Motor" Pro Stock racing, as well as his showcase '63 Split-Window Corvette later in NHRA's competition eliminator class, Jerry began to see a need for expert chassis building. "There weren't that many tubular race cars out there and I didn't like what other builders were doing. I wanted to do business with somebody like I would want them to do business with me, so I decided to build chassis. I didn't know for sure at the time if it would work, but I took the risk.
"I had to make a big decision to leave the tool and die company to try something on my own. But I knew racing was what I wanted to do. You have to stick your neck out and try it. The company understood and they gave me a leave of absence for six months. If it didn't work out I could return at any time."
Well, needless to say, it worked out. Jerry's reputation as an honest, serious racer in 1978 soon became apparent as he received his first order for a Pro Stock Pontiac from John Hipple. "John told somebody, and they told somebody, and next thing you know I'm building two more cars, for Tommy Johnson and Rich Thomas. They were my first three customers."
Jerry went on to build more Pro Stock cars, including a Chevy Camaro for himself. "We probably built four vehicles the first year. I only had two people working for me," he recalls. By 1987 he had six employees, and now his payroll includes 19. His 10,000-sq. ft. facility in Fenton, Mo., has the capability to build 25 vehicles a year. A separate bay for his Chevy S-10 Pro Stock Truck racer, maintained by crew chief Jeff Lawson, mechanics Jim Grey and Bob Shawcross, is also there.
Car Craft Magazine named Jerry Haas Race Cars Pro Chassis Builder of the Year for 11 consecutive years. So, it wasn't long before Chevrolet took notice of his expertise, both as a chassis builder and a driver, and asked him to consider building Chevy S-10 pickups for NHRA's proposed new category, Pro Stock Truck, and driving one as well. "I told them I didn't know for sure," Jerry says. "But after reading the statistics of how truck sales are huge right now, I thought this is probably the time of the century to do this. I love being a part of new innovations and to race for Chevrolet was a dream come true. So I said yes."
And the rest, you might say, is history. Jerry built two Chevy S-10s in 1997 for the NHRA Pro Stock Truck exhibition series, one for himself and one for engine builder/driver John Lingenfelter, who also provided the 358 cu. in.. small-block Vortec Chevy V8s to power these pickups. Competing against Dodges and Fords, the Chevy S-10s dominated in elapsed times and top speeds in these demonstration runs. The success of the S-10s was huge, and orders for these compact pickup race trucks started pouring in after NHRA announced that Pro Stock Truck would be a full 12-race series in 1998.
So far, Jerry Haas Race Cars has built 14 Chevy S-10s, with 14 more on order. "We try to produce a vehicle every two to three weeks," he says.
"From start to finish it takes probably nine weeks to build a truck." This series has taken off in a big way, keeping Jerry busy not only on the Pro Stock Truck circuit, but on promotional appearances with his Chevy S-10 and in helping his customers develop their trucks at the races. After seven races, he holds the national top speed record at 176.70 mph and takes pleasure in watching his trucks compete. "I want to win, of course," he says. "But I'm also real happy to see one of my trucks in the winner's circle." So far so good, as Larry Kopp, in a Chevy S-10 built by Jerry Haas, is a three-time winner, and John Lingenfelter and Tim Freeman each have won one title.
"This is going to be a dynamite series," he says. "When all the trucks are built, you'll see fields of nearly 40 trucks. There's going to be some great racing here."
From cows to pickup trucks, from a dream to reality, Jerry Haas is proof that if you seriously crave something in life, have the necessary talent to accomplish it, and are not averse to hard work, it can be yours.