Sat, 19 Oct 2013, 10:36 AM
A Family That Races Together
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2013 Auto Imagery, Inc.
Jeff Sexton celebrates Sportsnationals win.
When Wally Parks founded the National Hot Rod Association he did so to give people a safe place to
race, but little did he know at the time that it would also be giving families a place to race
together. Over the years there have been many families who have participated in the sport, and as
time goes by there are more and more who are learning that a family that races together stays
together. On a personal note I know that in the last few years that I announced I was noticing more
and more that there were familiar names coming up, names that I recognized from my early days in
the sport. I realized that these were either old guys (like me) who were still racing or it was the
emergence of not only a second but a third generation of racers. As it turned out it was both, that
is, the people who were racing years ago were still racing today and now they were being joined by
their sons and daughters. If there is one thing we know for sure it is the fact that the sport will
continue to grow because families really enjoy it. They like the competition, the challenge and the
camaraderie that they get from participating in this great sport. At the recent Sportsnationals in
Columbus this phenomenon was seen again when father and son, Jeff and B.J. Sexton both made it to
the final round. Jeff won the Top Sportsman class while his son, B.J. was runner-up in Top
Jeff Sexton has been racing for a long time, and I don't say that to make him sound old, just
experienced. "I started racing in 1976," he said. "A neighbor of mine was going to the races one
day and I asked if I could tag along. Once I got to the track I was hooked. I loved everything
about it." From his humble beginnings with a 1971 Camaro that he raced in the bracket classes, Jeff
moved up the ladder to quicker and faster cars and he eventually landed in the Super Stock ranks
where he had a great deal of success. "Like a lot of guys I went through several cars and classes
until I finally settled in with one I liked."
Sexton celebrates 1987 Indy win.
Among his early cars was a 1971 Camaro, a 1972 Vega, a 1981 Zeeker Camaro and a car that used to
run in Pro Stock. "I bought an old Don Hardy Pro Stock car and started running that in the bracket
classes. But after a while I saw that wasn't going to work, after all a full-bodied car in Super
Comp isn't the best combination so I decided to make it a Super Stocker." And what a Super Stock
car it was. Jeff put in a six-cylinder engine and the combination fit neatly into the SS/AX class.
"We did well with that car," he said in a major understatement. He won the 1987 U.S. Nationals and
the 2000 national event in Chicago along with several divisional races and set the record in the
class. "My competitors used to say that they liked me but hated the car, after all, it was a Pro
Stock car running in Super Stock."
After having a great deal of success in Super Stock Jeff decided to switch to the new Top Sportsman
class a few years ago. "I don't know what it is but it seems like every ten years I get the urge to
try something new," he said. "I liked the idea of going fast and this new class looked like a lot
of fun." It was, but it was also a lot of work. "I found out in a hurry that everyone in this class
has a car that can win and a driver that is very good." Jeff found out just how good they were when
he came up on the short side of some very close races. "I would have a "20" light and run two over
my dial and the other guy would have a "10" light and run one over. It was tough but I enjoyed the
Sexton defeated Jerry Albert in the final.
While Jeff was honing his skills in his new class his son, B.J. (Brian Jeffrey) was also racing.
"He started in Jr. Dragsters when he was eight years old and developed his skills in that class. He
had a Super Gas car and then ran a Super Comp car, but for some strange reason he wanted to go
faster." Gee, I wonder where he got that idea? Like his father, B.J. started out modestly but
quickly stepped up in class. "He won a couple of point's races in Super Comp but that still wasn't
fast enough so he moved to the Top Dragster class. He has an old car with a lot of old parts," Jeff
said. "He is in college going for his master's degree so he doesn't have a lot of time or money, so
my wife, Sharon, and I help out when we can. It's great to have him racing with us, I'll tell you
that." When Jeff says that his son's car has some "old parts" he isn't kidding. "The intake
manifold on the car is from a car that the late John Lingenfelter ran in 1981. Now that's old, but
As the day wore on at the recent Sportsnationals in Columbus it got harder and harder for B.J. to
help his father. "In the early rounds he was there for me, but as the day went on and he started
going rounds all we really did was pass each other in the pits. I'd wish him good luck and he'd do
the same to me." Ironically B.J. almost had all day to help his father. "B.J. and his wife, Lori,
had just put a blower on the car and he was still getting used to it and he ended up being about
the fourth or fifth alternate, but when some of the qualified cars didn't show for first round B.J.
got in and he made the best of the situation." As both members of the Sexton family kept going
rounds Jeff kept thinking about the one that got away. "I made
it to the finals in Norwalk last year but fouled out in the final round. I was determined not to
let that happen this time." He almost went too far with that mind-set. "I was green, really green,"
he said. "I was lucky that (final round opponent) Jerry (Albert) had more problems than I did, but
I guess these things kind of even out over the course of your career." When he said that things
"even out" Jeff might have been thinking about that 1997 final round in Topeka when he fouled out,
or so he was told, after a malfunction on the starting line. "Yeah, I'll always remember that but
this makes everything ok." So does the fact that his son was there to see him win while he almost
won himself. "When I won Indy in '87 he was three years old and when I won Chicago he wasn't there,
so this was about as good as it gets."
With another national event win in his pocket, a son who is racing with him and doing well on and
off the track, and an automotive repair shop that is flourishing things seem pretty good in the
Sexton household. "I'll go into the winter with the
Jeff and Sharon Sexton
thrill of winning that race still fresh on my mind so things couldn't be better." And the fact that
he gets to race with his son, and almost shared the winner's circle with him, just proves that drag
racing continues to be a big part of the Sexton's family life and it will be in the future, just it
like will be in a lot of homes across the country.
"I want to thank my wife, Sharon, who is my crew chief and best friend. I also want to thank
Performance Clinic for their help with the engines and Rick Levally for his friendship and
fabrication skills and Ronnie Smith for all of his help."
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