Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that “Crazy” Jake Crimmins received his nickname by doing, well, something crazy.
Back in the late 1960s, shortly after leaving the U.S. Navy, Crimmins was racing his B/Altered car and when he arrived at the track one day, he realized that he forgot one key piece of his racing uniform – his shoes.“You had to wear a firesuit and back then they were those crazy looking silver firesuits,” said Crimmins, who had installed a blown Chevy motor that season. “Back then you wore work boots or something, not special shoes or anything like that.
“One day I forgot my work boots and all I had on were sandals. The announcer in the tower said ‘man that guy is crazy.’ He could see down from the tower into the car and he could see my feet. Every time he announced it from there, he called me ‘Crazy.’
“It was a crazy time back then.”
Crimmins will be back at Maple Grove Raceway on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 2-3, to take part in the Geezers Reunion at The Grove as part of the Auto-Plus Cavalcade of Funny Cars.
The nitro-powered Crazzzy Jake will be part of 16 nostalgia Funny Cars, including the Jungle Jim, Brand X Poverty Stricken and the Blue Max.
Funny Car qualifying will be Friday night with the big show on Saturday.
Crimmins, 66, is certainly qualified to be part of the nostalgia realm of drag racing. A 48-year racing veteran, he made his first competitive pass in 1964 and was around to help open Old Bridge Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. a year later.
“I was one of the few people to race at Englishtown on opening day,” Crimmins said. “I spent a little time in the Navy. I built my first altered on the ship I was on and sent it home. After I got out of the Navy, I ran an AA/Altered for a couple years, then I got involved with a close friend of mine in the injected nitro circuit.”
Going into the 1970s, Crimmins moved into Funny Cars and joined the East Coast Fuel circuit, which raced from Florida to Canada. He moved around with different partners, including the legendary “Jungle” Jim Liberman.
One of his most memorable moments at The Grove came in 1976 when he was driving for Liberman.
“The best of times for me at Maple Grove was when I was driving Jungle’s car,” Crimmins said. “I won in ‘76, which was very humbling because I won Funny Car Driver of the Year (at Maple Grove). Back then there were six or seven shows that Maple Grove had that included Funny Cars; there was a show every month. That year Jungle and I won four of the races. Jungle won two or three. We set the track record here three or four times. It was an amazing year in which we could do no wrong. You don’t get many opportunities like that.”
It was also quite a recovery from a painful injury that ended his ’75 season early.
“The year before, we raced in Epping in Jungle’s car,” Crimmins said, “and the transmission broke at 1,000 feet and I hurt my leg real bad. I crushed my ankle and was on crutches for six months after being in the hospital for two weeks.”
His first chance to drive again came at Maple Grove in 1976.
“I started that year making a run in Jungle’s car early in the day for Saturday night and set the track record,” Crimmins said, “which was amazing. Jungle wanted to see me run and make sure I could still drive, and he loved watching his cars run. I set the record on that run, we burned through four pistons, we fixed it.
“Jungle ended up winning the race that night and ended up going faster than I did.”
Those years were very busy for Crimmins, who held down a full-time job during the week. In those days, many racers would spend the summers leaving work on Friday, go straight to the track scheduled for that weekend for three days of racing and return home Monday morning, just in time for work.
After nearly two decades of that life, Crimmins stepped back a bit.
“I went into semi-retirement with the job, marriage and kids and all that,” Crimmins said. “I had quite a ‘little’ hiatus, but I’ve always been involved in racing, just at different levels.”
Crimmins spent time working on his business – a small firetruck manufacturer – and watched his children get into racing.
“I took a little hiatus with a business I bought from my employer, and raised a couple children,” he said. “My kids raced, too. My son raced for almost 12 years, quarter-midgets, half-midgets, slingshots, legends cars and a few other things. After my son retired at 16, I decided to go back drag racing again.”
Crimmins returned in Sportsman classes and then bought an Altered Alcohol Car from S&W Race Cars.
“It was nice to get back to drag racing again,” Crimmins said. “Racing the car was a real racing deal as opposed to the other stuff. I raced that for five years and then I changed over to the nostalgia nitro thing in 2007. Since then I’ve been primarily racing the nostalgia car.”
He’s been a regular at Maple Grove’s Geezer events ever since.
Now that he’s back in the cockpit, he goes to match races and helps out Doug Foley with his driving school.
A goal is to reach a 50th season, and help Englishtown celebrate its 50th year in 2015.
“I’ll be going for a while yet,” he said. “I’d like to make it racing for 50 years.”