1947 – 2023
By Kayla Zadel and Nate Van Wagnen
Melvin “ Jerry ” Bickel , the legendary race car builder from Troy , Missouri , passed away on April 5 , 2023 . He was 75 .
Born October 18 , 1947 , Bickel grew up in the Florissant area and found a love for drag racing . He began working at Troy Motors and then Marquiz Motors for several years . Bickel wanted something he could call his own , and he started Jerry Bickel Race Cars , which has provided some of the best chassis and products to many elite racers for more than 40 years .
Bickel was a predominant figure in the racing community , and a pioneering power in growing doorslammer drag racing . From notching countless wins and championships to setting world records , Bickel notably built Jim Yates ’ McDonald ’ s Pro Stock chassis . He was also Yates ’ crew chief during his championship years .
Bickel ’ s influence can be felt in Pro Stock , Pro Mod , Top Sportsman , Street Outlaws : No Prep Kings , and more . Even today , his name is on current PDRA Pro Nitrous champion Jim Halsey ’ s Camaros , as well as the cars of 2021 NHRA Pro Mod world champion Jose Gonzalez and 2022 PDRA Pro Boost world champion Todd Tutterow , among dozens of other record-setting and championship-winning race cars .
Many have shared their remembrances of the late race car builder . Multitime NHRA and IHRA world champion Rickie Smith wrote , “ This is tough . I met Jerry Bickel somewhere around 1984 and we became friends . We won four Pro Stock championships in a row ; the rest is history . Even though we are only a few years apart , Jerry was like a father figure to me .”
Halsey , who dedicated his win at the PDRA Mid-Atlantic Showdown to Bickel , started his illustrious Pro Modified career in a Bickel-built car . He ’ s gone on to win the last four PDRA Pro Nitrous championships in a Bickel car that started life as a Top Sportsman car .
“ I wasn ’ t really close with Jerry , but my first real Pro Mod car was the Castrol GTX car back in ‘ 92 or ‘ 93 . He built that . Tim [ McAmis ] was his shop foreman back then . Actually , Tim drove that car and I bought it from Jerry . We go way back .”
John Montecalvo , a multi-time world champion in different iterations of Mountain Motor Pro Stock , also had his first encounter with Bickel early on in his pro career .
“ I bought my very first new Pro Stock car from him and he has been my friend ever since ,” Montecalvo said . “ It didn ’ t matter if I bought a competitor ’ s car . He was always available with a smile . A few years back when I was struggling at the races he actually gave me a brand-new car to try – no payment or obligation to buy it . Just an all-around great guy with a tremendous talent – and a very large heart .”
Street Outlaws : No Prep Kings star Lizzy Musi also shared her memories of Bickel , who built several cars for her and her father , Pat , including the “ King Kong ” cars she raced in PDRA Pro Nitrous .
“ He believed in me when some didn ’ t ,” Musi said of Bickel . “ Always made safety my priority . In the beginning of my career , I had a stepping stone and was able to race a car he built for Dewayne Silance way back when I ran Top Sportsman . My success in racing started to take off . He always had top-notch cars rolling out of his building . My dad always ran his cars . I had the opportunity to drive one of my dad ’ s old Pro Mod cars built by Jerry . It was a pleasure to be able to race several of them in my career . Bickel was like my grandpa in the racing world .”
Keith Haney , founder of the Mid- West Drag Racing Series and a standout in its Pro Mod division , quickly formed a friendship with Bickel well before he debuted his Bickel-built “ Black Mamba ” nitrous-fed Camaro .
“ Jerry has supported the Mid-West Drag Racing Series from day one , even though I didn ’ t run a JBRC Pro Mod then ,” said Haney . “ He always wanted to give back and had more heart for the sport than almost anyone you will find .
“ Working with Jerry and Jerry Bickel Race Cars to build ‘ Black Mamba ’ was truly great ,” Haney added . “ He had many ideas and it was the lightest nitrous Pro Mod he had ever built .
“ Jerry and I spoke weekly ,” Haney continued . “ He called me Heath Haney and I called him Berry Jickel . He was full of kind words for Misty [ Haney ’ s wife ] and our family , always asking Misty about the farm and the animals . We will miss our friend and the talks .”
When Bickel wasn ’ t working in his shop or at a dragstrip , he loved scuba diving , flying helicopters , and boating .
Bickel was the beloved husband of Jennifer Bickel , son of the late Melvin and Birdie Bickel , father to Katherine Elizabeth ( Marty ) Randolph and Matthew Bickel , and a grandfather of two . Memorials may be made in Jerry ’ s name to PALS Animal Shelter . DI
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