Sheldon Gecker takes a moment to talk about his life as a traveling drag racer in this week’s Racer Spotlight with DragChamp.
SURPRISE, AZ – Being born with the initials SG, it is almost as if Sheldon Gecker was destined to compete in Super Gas. His natural talent behind the wheel would help carve his name among sportsman drag racing giants in over thirty years of tight competition.
Gecker’s accomplishments include two NHRA Super Gas World Championships (1987 and 1999), over 35 national event final rounds, and 29 wins within the two sanctioning bodies of NHRA and IHRA. He has earned six NHRA Division 5 titles and has staged up for more than 30 divisional final rounds; but you won’t hear him bragging about those impressive stats.
Instead, when you sit down with Sheldon Gecker, you’ll hear all about his passion for the sport of drag racing and how sad he is to see the local racetracks start to fade away. He will enthusiastically talk about the cross country traveling with his wife, Crystal, as they chased championships and illuminated countless win lights.
You will learn how the sport has evolved over the years but how the bond between drag racers and their families hasn’t changed a bit. Mostly you will listen to his stories, try to soak up just a fraction of his knowledge, and wish you were there 40 years ago to watch it all unfold live.
The Early Days
To get to the start of Sheldon Gecker’s racing career, you need to go back to 1972 at the Milwaukee service station he owned, when a friend bet that his Dodge Dart could outrun Sheldon’s Dodge R/T. Shortly after, he outgrew street racing and moved into Formula Stock with the AHRA where there were no indexes or breakouts.
He realized the bracket racers were making more money and so he shifted his focus into bracket racing around 1978. After about three years, Sheldon once again refocused and moved into the faster bracket categories with Super Gas, Super Comp, and eventually some Top Dragster racing.
His successful Super Gas career began with a vehicle built by Competition Research and Development specifically for the class, but victory didn’t come without dedication. Sheldon told us, “It all depends on how much time and thought you put into it, not necessarily money…you know just like any other sport.”
He realized he could become more competitive in class racing by paying attention to things like weather changes, throttle stop adjustments, and other factors that affected the consistency of the race cars. So, he looked for any information he could find and put his knowledge to the test on the track. Judging by his winning record, I’d say he figured it out.
The Big Go
Speaking of winning, Sheldon Gecker has won the NHRA U.S. Nationals two times in Super Gas and came close to a third win. Unfortunately, he considers that loss his most embarrassing moment in a race car when he left the starting line on a photographer’s flash instead of the tree.
He says, “I remember that distinctly…a lot of strange things happen at Indy for some reason. It’s just an odd race, probably because it encompasses so much time. You get there on a Tuesday and leave on a Tuesday, maybe you’re just delirious. But if you’ve never been, you need to go at least once, just to experience it.”
The Start of King Kong
A Mopar maniac at heart, Sheldon is most well-known for his iconic King Kong series of race cars. He told us at the time most class racers had their own names on the side of the car, but he wanted to go a different direction. They threw names in a hat, drew out King Kong, painted it on the side of the ‘68 Dodge, and the rest is history.
The same artist painted the King Kong name and artwork on all of Gecker’s door cars except a couple of the later ones. He said, “It was a cool looking ape, the guy was really good and detailed. The fans seemed to like it when they would come look at the car they were really looking at the artwork.”
What’s Gecker Up To Now?
Gecker’s racing had slowed down a bit due to the expenses and difficulty obtaining sponsorships, but in 2019, a disastrous shop fire destroyed their entire racing operation. Insurance only covered a small portion of the cost, but they did receive some help from the Drag Racers Benevolent Fund. “Craig Anderson is a really good guy and some of the best people I know come from Texas.”
Given the opportunity, the Gecker team wouldn’t shy away from getting back behind the wheel. Crystal chimes in that she earned Rookie of the Year in 2000 while Sheldon explains how they enjoyed competing and traveling together. You can still find Sheldon hanging out with his racing friends and watching the competition at various racetracks.
Sheldon would like to thank his wife, Crystal, as well as Fel-Pro, TCI and Hughes Performance. He also thanks Hoosier, K&N, Terry Sullivan, Raymond King, and Tom Yancer Race Cars.
Sheldon Gecker Q&A
- What’s the one race win or accomplishment that eluded you? Mile High Nationals
- What was your favorite race car? 87 Charger, S/G and S/C car
- Favorite track? San Air Montreal
- Tell us what you do for a living? Rebuild racing transmissions
- Who do you hate to see in the other lane and why? Ron Lemmon- tricky driver
- What was the hardest part of racing? The expense
- What are you saying to yourself just before staging the car? Don’t think
- What motivated you to continue racing and compete at a high level? Competition, “the rush,” and the people
- Favorite sports team? Packers
Jessica was born into a family of drag racers and fell in love with the sport at a young age. She began competing at 13 and has been hooked ever since! She even met her husband at the World Footbrake Challenge VII. Jessica works full time as an Ultrasound Technologist but spends almost every weekend chasing win lights at IHRA and NHRA bracket races.