Sometimes what you don’t know cannot hurt you.
For Steve “Fast” Jackson, the fast-talking and fast-driving 2019 NHRA Pro Modified champion, he knew how to drive a car, but a sponsor, now that was a different story.
“I started out, just local racing at Carolina Dragway. I’d be there every Thursday night and Saturday or Sunday, as the gates opened, and just like we all did, just racing all the time,” Jackson told Don O’Neal on the Racers in Rental Cars podcast. “When I got into the tool business, that was mainly driven to try to earn more money to buy more parts. I think I started that thing when I was 26 or so, 25. You think I eat, sleep, and breathe it now? Now you should see me back then. CLICK HERE FOR FULL RACERS IN RENTAL CARS PODCAST
“I would borrow, anybody… I couldn’t afford a truck and trailer. This was before I told them. I would borrow whoever’s truck or trailer would let me use it on a Thursday night. That’s how I went to the track. The tool business was good. Racing ended up taking over the tool business. I miss the tool business, and I love it. I was really talented at it.”
Jackson figured as good as he was at marketing tools, he ought to be at marketing himself. He sold the business and attempted racing for a living.
“I decided I’m going to race cars for a living, that’s when the fast, big money grudge racing and having to go after Corporate America, in a different way, started,” Jackson explained. “When I started that deal, I had no deal, guarantee, or promise that I was ever going to make a living. I had no idea if I ever would. I’m fortunate to be able to have some people that believe in me.”
One of those believers in Jackson was Phil Shuler, a longtime nitro tuner with solid ties within the industry. The two met when Jackson was racing the defunct ORSCA Series.
“I was beat up with wanting to go Top Fuel racing,” Jackson admitted. “I was trying to talk to anybody that would talk to me about, how do I meet people in Top Fuel? I’m at Jackson, South Carolina, at an ORSCA race. It was 2008. Me and Phil Shuler had already been talking back and forth via text message and phone calls here and there. It was very casual. He would keep up with my orange car, my ProCharger car. Then when I found out he was working on fuel cars, I’d kind of keep up with the fuel car. We just kind of started texting back and forth.”
Another Jackson associate, Jeff Miles, former owner of Carolina Dragway, reached out to Shuler with a profound request, “Hey, get this kid a deal. At least get him an interview.”
Shuler arranged for a meeting for Jackson with Don Schumacher.
“Don said, ‘Come on up, let’s talk about it,” so I did, very eye-opening experience,” Jackson recalled. “I flew there. I’ll never forget, I didn’t have anything to wear to a professional race shop. I ended going to Walmart and buying some black pants and a black polo. I got me some black Skechers. I was like, ‘All right, I’m an NHRA Top Fuel guy.”
“We get on this airplane. I get off in Indy and drive to the shop. I walk in there. I almost turned around and left. I was like, ‘I am way out of my league.”
“It’s all good, Don. He explained to me how many millions of dollars I had to have.”
At this point, Jackson knew he needed a game plan.
“I was lucky to have enough money in my pocket to get home, flew back to Georgia with my tail between my legs. I’m not wealthy. I don’t have money. I don’t have a benefactor. I don’t have anybody around me that’s wealthy. The only way that I know to do it is to kick the s*** out of everybody.”
Thus, the legend of Stevie Fast began headed mainstream.
“I started doing that, and Phil Shuler started paying a lot more attention,” Jackson said. “We were dominant in small tire racing in the late 2000s. That, coupled with my, I guess, fearlessness in the car led him to send me a message one day and asked me if I was going to Orangeburg. It was just a normal shoot out. I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll be there. I’ll be racing my car.”
“I ended up winning the race or something. He had a Frankenstang there, with a five-inch bore space, two-carbureted, big tire grudge car.”
Shuler made his way to Jackson, where he asked if the aspiring driver could fit in his car.
“I was like, ‘I’m sure I can,” Jackson recalled. “I get in there, and I could reach the pedals.
“[Phil] said, “Well, let’s go make a lap.” I went out there and not that time, but the next time I burned the car to the ground. It shuts off after the burnout. I’m patting the gas. I turn the nitrous on and floor it and boom! And burn the thing to the ground.
“I’ve been driving with Phil for no real time at all.’ I looked at him, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t have any money. I’m sorry.”
Shuler reassured a not very reassured Jackson, “Don’t worry about it. It happens. We’ll get it fixed.”
Shuler lived up to his word and got the car fixed.
“He called me when it was done, and I started driving that thing,” Jackson said. “When you get somebody who doesn’t fire you when you burn the car to the ground the first week, that’s a pretty good relationship.”
The heated moment would forever weld the two colorful personalities together.
“We outran everybody in our class,” Jackson said. “We had the fastest of its kind in the world. We ran for some big money, drag races that ended up kind of paving the way to stuff later. You never know who’s watching. You don’t ever know who’s paying attention.”
The greatest marketing weapon, Jackson learned, was just to be yourself.
“That’s why you always need to tell the truth and be yourself,” Jackson said. “Because you don’t want to give somebody the wrong impression of you, at the wrong time, when the right impression of you is who you really are. I made a career of being outspoken and telling you what I think. But you got to have a stick to be able to back it up.”
These days Jackson’s stick (not schtick) is his fearless attitude, fearless of what his mouth might say in the heat of the battle.
“When you find the right fit, you get leniency, of the fact that they say, “I always want you to be you. I always want you to say what’s on your mind. Do not be as polished robot, like everybody talks about; everybody’s tired of listening to,” Jackson said.
“Half the companies that approach me say, “Hey, we like you. We like Stevie Fast. But you got to change this whole trash-talking attitude thing. We’ve got to clean you up. We can’t put you on TV like you are.”
“I’m like, “Well, you need to find somebody that you can put on TV because I’m not changing.”
“Drag racing will show your truest character. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to hide it. Drag racing is going to show the world who you are.”
And after clinching the 2019 NHRA Pro Modified championship and the Duck X Productions No Mercy 10 title, Jackson proved to the doorslammer world truly who he is.