Editor’s note: This remembrance was provided by the family of racer Jerry Grant.
At 3:50 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 12, in Orange, Calif., we lost Jerry Grant.
It’s hard to talk about Jerry, who was born Jan. 23, 1935, in Seattle, without talking about racing; that’s what Jerry was, a racer. His wife of more than 55 years, Sandy, his daughters Yvonne and Tammy and five grandchildren were his life, but racing was who he was.
Jerry had a natural-born gift for driving a vehicle fast. If he had a fear gene, it was very small and Jerry probably broke it. He always denied it, but he did have a tendency to break things.
He was a big man, impossibly huge compared to the jockeys that occupy the computerized cockpits of today’s miniatures of the cars Jerry chauffeured around the steel- and hay bale-lined courses of his day. And he was one of those guys who could not only drive anything, he could drive them anywhere and he was always quick.
“Merry Christmas, this is Jerry Grant.” It didn’t matter what day of the year it was, that’s what you heard when Jerry Grant was on the phone. In retrospect, every day was Christmas for Jerry.
It’s said that you have to grow older, but you don’t have to grow up. Jerry Grant could have invented that phrase, for he maintained an almost childlike persona his entire life.
Jerry is credited with the first official 200-mph lap on a closed race track. Hearing him talk about what went through his mind on that run indicated no fear of harm or death, only fear that he wouldn’t go fast enough.
It became clear there was no such thing as “fast enough” in Jerry’s mind. He raced against, and for, some of the greatest names in the business: Dan Gurney, Carroll Shelby, Bobby Unser, Bob Bondurant, and many more. He drove the great cars of the era: Ferraris, Corvettes, Lotuses, Eagles, Cobras and Ford GTs. He drove all the great circuits of any era including Indianapolis, Daytona, Le Mans, Targa Florio and others.
When he finally hung up his helmet, he exchanged it for a Champion Spark Plug ball cap. Jerry brought the same winning dedication to that job as he had to every car he had ever driven.
As VP of Motorsports for Champion Spark Plugs, he oversaw the brand’s ascension to motorsports legend status. The Champion Spark Plug brand continues to enjoy the spoils of Jerry’s efforts many years after it turned away from motorsports.
Jerry started Motor Sports Unlimited and worked directly with Honda after leaving Champion. Later, with his efforts and his rolodex he was instrumental in the Prolong Lubricants brand development and shooting star effort.
The checkered flag has flown for the last time over the head of this gentle giant. A legacy from a bygone era lives on in the minds of those of us who had the privilege of spending time with him, and for those who felt the benefit of his random phone calls and that glorious greeting of “Merry Christmas, this is Jerry Grant.”
Godspeed to you, Jerry, and to God Himself-He’ll need it when you get suited up!
Jerry’s favorite charity was First Love Ministries USA.