Bert Jackson & Chris Johnson - Growing Together

By Jim Luikens

One of the most colorful Pro Stockers on the IHRA tour this year is the Lucky Draw Chevrolet Cavalier that is campaigned by the E-Love Racing Team of Richmond, Virginia. The driver is veteran wheel man Bert Jackson while Chris Johnson serves as the crew chief for the Enoch Love owned team. This is the story of Bert and Chris, who are following a five year plan that they hope leads to an IHRA world championship.

Bert Jackson’s association with Enoch goes back to 1988 when he began driving Enoch’s (first) green 1968 Camaro in Outlaw Pro Stock events using a 698 cubic inch Chevy engine and an automatic transmission. Prior to that time Bert had driven his own black 1968 Camaro in Quick Eight events, recording a best elapsed time of 5.20 seconds in the eighth-mile. When he began driving for Enoch his personal best elapsed times improved to 4.90 seconds in the eighth and 7.70 seconds in the quarter.

The Love team then built an even better (second) green 1968 Camaro that was assembled by Tony Magnum from Jerry Bickel components. Despite still using the automatic transmission Bert’s times fell again, this time to 4.58 in the eighth and 7.04 in the quarter. The Love Team still owns that particular Camaro and it is now driven by Henry Johnson in Outlaw events at tracks like Waynesboro. The car has recorded elapsed time bests of 4.50 and 6.66 with Henry behind the wheel.

Last year the Love Team moved up again, this time with a Pro Stock Cavalier that was built by Rick Jones. Hitting the track near the end of the season, they were able to participate in the last two IHRA events of the year at Budds Creek and Rockingham. These events served as a shake down for the 2004 season.

The team started 2004 strongly by recording impressive results in preseason testing at Bradenton, Florida and Darlington, South Carolina. They then lived up to their expectations by qualifying at the first 2004 event, the IHRA Texas Nationals. The jubilation of qualifying for their first event was short-lived when they hurt their good engine and were forced to install a back-up engine for race day. Paired against the eventual event winner, John Montecalvo, in the first round, Bert grabbed an early lead at the starting line but was unable to hold off the hard-charging Montecalvo at the finish.

At the only other IHRA national event contested so far this year, the Spring Nationals at Rockingham, the team ended up just out of the program as Bert’s 6.623 fell just short of the 6.601 P/S bump. In all, 31 Pro Stockers attempted to squeeze into a very tight 16 car field. Other non-qualifiers included past world champions Brian Gahm and Doug Kirk as well as such highly regarded drivers Jason Collins, Robert Patrick and John Konigshofer among others.

Even more unique than the team’s colorful paint scheme is the fact that it was applied by the team’s crew chief, Chris Jackson. Jackson, a master auto painter by profession, painted the car based on a layout that used a tattoo for its inspiration. Chuck B of Beltsville, Maryland was responsible for laying out the colorful scheme that Chris then painted over this past winter.

In addition to his painting background, Chris took a rather unusual route to his current position as the team’s crew chief. Although he has always loved fast cars, and even hates to get passed on the highway, his racing roots began in motorcycles with a Suzuki GSXR 1100 that he rode on the street for a total of just 12 weeks before he cut it up and turned it into a 8.20 second Top Gasser on the AMA Pro Star motorcycle circuit.

Desiring to go even quicker Chris built a Suzuki GS 1100 Pro Stock Bike and took it to Barney Squires of Fredericksburg, Virginia to have it painted. As luck would have it Barney was campaigning a Pro Modified Corvette. Eventually Barney needed some help on the ‘Vette and asked Chris if he would like to accompany him to an event at Bristol, Tennessee. It turned out to be a life-changing weekend for Chris who was blown away by what he experienced. So blown away in fact that he came home, sold his bike immediately and went to work as a painter's apprentice for Barney.

Under Barney’s tutelage his knowledge grew and grew. His newfound love of race cars, as opposed to race bikes, led him to become involved with such renowned racers as Jerry Haas, Rickie Smith and Roy Singleton. Learning as he went he eventually met Brian Gahm and is proud of the victories that the team recorded at Mid-Michigan and Budds Creek while he was involved with them.

Recognizing the success that he was achieving, Enoch approached Chris during mid-2003 about becoming the crew chief for his Pro Stock team. This led to the late season outings at Budds Creek and Rockingham that set the stage for this year.

Both Bert and Chris are unified about their goals for themselves and the team. They would like to win a race and finish in the top five in points this year as they work towards their long term goal of winning a world championship within five years.

The team has even gone so far as to develop a mission statement. In part it says that the team wants to compete with integrity, dignity and respect for their competitors and fans while working towards the team’s goals and never forgetting that the whole is the sum of many little things done well.

Family values and providing opportunities are also key ingredients to the team’s operating principles. Chris’ 19 year old son, Brandon, serves as the assistant crew chief under his father and the team also owns a Chevrolet Monte Carlo Pro Stocker that Bryon Durham drives in local events. Bryon, the son of long time capital area racer Malcolm Durham, is learning the ropes of professional competition by match racing the Monte Carlo.

The Love team has a lot to be proud of and it shouldn’t be long before their experience, dedication and sound operating fundamentals lead them to victory lane. A first win would be great anywhere but to achieve it at Richmond, their home track and the next stop on the 2004 tour, would be the ultimate.