Fast Talk: A few minutes with Super Pro champion Jeff Cornick
Like so many Rocky Mountain Raceways regulars, Jeff Cornick, 35, learned about racing from a very early age. His father, Rick, raced and worked at the old Bonneville Raceway and young Jeff soon found an extended family around the drag strip. Although he forged some lasting friendships in those days, Jeff didn’t actually climb behind the wheel of a racer until 2010. Since then he has seen plenty of success, highlighted of course, in 2015 when he won the Super Pro championship in his familiar-looking dragster, Red Baron. Jeff recently had a conversation with RMR Marketing Communications Director Jim Burton.
When did you start drag racing at Rocky Mountain Raceways; and when did you begin competing in Super Pro?
We started the Super Pro deal in 2013. I started racing out there in the middle of 2010. Dad and I got into a Nova. It was IHRA and we were running Pro and No-Box then. In 2011 we actually finished third place in Pro and last year we were IHRA. We got this dragster for 2012, which we ran it in Pro and then I converted the car and went Super Pro racing in 2013. The only reason I remember all those dates is because my dad passed away in February 2013 and he never got the chance to see it run in Super Pro. That helps me put my timeline together.
Was your dad involved pretty heavily on the racing side?
Back in the 70s he was a many-time Stock Eliminator champion at the old Bonneville Raceway and in the early 90s, when the Eames family was running Bonneville, he worked as a tech guy out there and I actually – back when I was 12-13 years old – I worked in the old ET shack writing out time slips by hand and whatnot. We were away from the sport towards the end of Bonneville. My dad hadn’t been to a race until 2008 or 2009, when I took him to Vegas to the national event as kind of a surprise and got him hooked back into (racing). We had always done street rods and hot rods but that had kind of started to get old, so I think he was looking for something else to do.
You and RMR General Manager Mike Eames have been good friends for many years, that probably goes back to when you were in your early teens, right?
Oh even before that because we knew each other from the street rod world. I’ve been around the Eames family since I was 5 or 6 years old. I’m 35 now, so it’s been at least 30 years. Back then I was the little kid trying to keep up and trying to hang around. The older kids, they’d tease me and stuff, but we had a good time with it. My friends have always been older, but that’s what I was always around. I was around car show people and racing people. To me, that helped my growth; I just knew how to be around adults.
What was it like to work around the track and the drag strip, and working around cars?
To me it was great because I’ve always seen the car community – whether it be hot rods or racing – as a big extended family. Everywhere you turned you had somebody there to help you, guide you and answer questions. It always felt like even if I wasn’t around my dad I always felt like I had extra dads and brothers around. As an only child, it was a big extension of a family that I didn’t really have. My parents got divorced when I was 8 years old, but being around racing it always felt like wherever I turned I always had somebody I could go to. My dad was my best friend, no ifs, ands or buts about it. We did everything together, and that was great too. We were able to share all those experiences together. I just hope that with my little boy (Ricky), if he decides to be around cars and stuff, we can do the same thing.
How old is your little boy?
He’s 4, he’ll be 5 this year. Then begins the discussion of how early is too early to put him in a junior dragster. I had to restrain myself from buying him one for Christmas. I’ve always said that he’s going to have to come to me and say, “Dad, I want to do this.” I’m not going to buy a car and force him into it. If he sees them and he decides that’s what he wants to do, then we’ll go racing. If not, there’s going to be no pressure at all, I’d rather he play baseball and football and soccer and everything else. I know too many kids that have been, in my mind, forced to be out there racing, and a lot of them would rather be doing other things.
What did it mean for you to win the championship in Super Pro?
It was the culmination of a lot of hard work, a lot of long nights. It felt like it was kind of one of the last things I could give my dad, even though he wasn’t around to enjoy it. There’s still one thing, I still need a Wally. With the double Heritage race and if I can get the money together and try the March Meet again, one way or another we’re gonna get one of those damn things. When we got racing, dad’s thing was, “We race as long as it’s fun. When it stops being fun, we stop doing it.” (In 2015) it was fun all the way through, and obviously the success did that, but I had a great time. At the ET finals in Boise, we got to know some of the drivers we didn’t know as well and we kind of came together as a team. The year was just a really fun year, even if I hadn’t won the championship I felt like I had a lot of fun.