Roger Simon | 2023
Roger Simon | 2023
Our next inductee into the Pulling Hall of Fame was on track for achievement in one division only to suddenly steer---with the brakes, we'll add---into a second division. Like his professional occupations, his pulling career was diversified, and his name and his team still command respect every time Simon Sez so.
"When we come into a pull, we want people to be afraid of us."
Those words were uttered as Simon Sez Motorsports was announcing its presence to the truck-pulling universe. The corporate efficiency that Roger Simon brought to the motorsport came genetically. His family had started Simon's Trucking in the mid-1940s to serve agribusinesses in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Roger oversaw much of the growth from that original pair of rigs into an international carrier with over 100 trucks and a continental reach. Other Simon enterprises eventually included a cattle company, truck sales, a leasing company, a racetrack, and feed and grain concerns.
When the Simon conglomerate allowed, Roger got into a class that was rapidly expanding from its Southeastern roots. In '78 and '79, he stepped up from street stock Four Wheel Drive to the Street Modified division and promptly won 38 of 41 hooks. The 1980 square-headlight Chevrolet body style made it onto the first edition of "Simon Sez," with which Roger continued to hone his craft at the local level.
"The first years, we didn't hit it real hard," Simon told The Puller magazine in 1987. But satisfaction isn't in the Simon DNA.
"In '82, I purchased a Rodeck and we started kicking butt after that."
The kicking took place at a couple of NTPA events you've likely heard of: Tomah, Wisconsin, with the only full pull in the 5,800-lb. class, and Bowling Green, Ohio, in a squeaker at 6,200 lbs. What a way to make an entrance.
"We're not there to party," Simon remarked. "It's a business to us. When we're pulling, we probably work harder than we do at work."
1984 and 1985 provided more strong finishes in limited action, but Simon began to notice that his results were often entangled with those of another area puller. Former drag racing engine builder Steve Olson and his 1985 Chevy, "Showtyme," were becoming the same kind of threat to the NTPA regulars that Roger was.
"He was beating me and I was beating him," Simon explained. "I thought, 'Geez, if we put our knowledge together, we could really do something.'"
The new alliance, which put together 10 consecutive wins in Four Wheel Drive in 1984, took an unexpected direction when the "Stampede" Two Wheel Drive became available. With his new teammate as comfortable with blowers as with carburetors, Simon acquired the Rodeck-powered funny car. Though the rebranding to "Simon Sez" waited a year, the winning didn't: A "W" at the Nebraska State Fair and a third in Tomah were Roger's highlights of 1986, while Steve's steady hand with "Showtyme" yielded a win at the Ohio State Fair and a third at Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
Besides the fresh graphics, the Trans Am got some tweaks for 1987 and nabbed two early-season wins. The old faithfuls were even more modified: "Simon Sez" became an S10, while "Showtime" was now an Arias-propelled Silverado. More changes came to the "Simon Sez" Bowtie when a Chrysler Hemi was dropped between its rails, the first of its kind in Four Wheel Drive.
1989 brought more changes, as the maturing Two Wheel division became less about funny-car flash and more about traditional trucks and T-buckets. Simon led this trend by building a new "Simon Sez" that was skinned by a bright red Dodge Dakota body, was animated by a Keith Black Hemi, and reached 10th in the standings. This was followed in 1990 by a sharp climb to second behind Brent Nation's "Sundowner." Both accrued 651 points, but Nation earned the title in an impromptu, pre-tiebreaker pull-off.
With his embrace of the Two Wheel class in general and "Simon Sez Dodge" in particular, Roger parked its Four Wheel Drive trailermate---even as Olsen kept on pulling with "Showtyme"---and joined forces with the Jaskes, bringing the "Miller High Life" roadster under the Simon umbrella. But Brent's dad L.D.'s blue Ford topped "Simon Sez Dodge" by 34 points and the Gary Sellin-piloted "High Life" by 43 in '91. And then L.D. topped "Simon Sez" by 30 points and Olson's fourth-place effort in '92.
Despite the margin, Simon held the momentum after a win and a second at season-ending Inwood, Ontario. He would make no trips to victory lane in 1993, but consistent finishes got him past Greer Hamilton's four-win "Seducer" C-cab by a single marker for Roger's first Grand National championship. And teammate Olsen? Third. Simon Sez Motorsports had reached the top of the mountain.
It didn't last. With 1994 came the rise of Dave Deppe's "Bad Badger" van, which claimed the title over Simon by 17 points. 1995 belonged to Randy Petro's "Kathy's Komplaint," which edged Roger by one tally. And Modified veteran John Hileman owned 1996 with "Golden Thunder," hanging 42 points on "Simon Sez Dodge" and five wins on the field. In the interim, the team added an S10 Two-Wheeler, "Simom Sez Chevy," to its roster with Roger driving both.
Having finished as the runner-up in five of the previous six seasons, Simon took stock in remarks to The Puller in 1997, admitting that he aimed for top-five finishes and that it showed in the points races. But his chances at reclaiming championship glory after four long years seemed even dimmer after a broken supercharger belt and a cracked fuel line doomed his midseason trip to St. Hyacinthe, Quebec and dropped him 17 points behind Petro.
That dark moment called for another Simon to step forward, and it was 10-year-old R.J. who pleaded with his father not to bail out on the longshot campaign. As the magazine phrased it, "Roger's aggressive style, plus his son's constant 'Don't give up, Dad,' turned what could have been an also-ran into a winner. Upon such pivots, championship seasons turn." Indeed, three late wins precisely erased that deficit to "Kathy's Komplaint" and, in a twist from seven years earlier, clinched the tiebreaker over Petro, four wins to two.
In 1998, a new contender emerged in Shannon Leischner. Bill's son and the "Willy's Dirtslinger" repeatedly swapped the lead with Simon until a win and a second in Bowling Green settled matters. "Simon Sez Dodge" capped the year with stretch victories in Fort Recovery, Ohio and Essex Junction, Vermont and finally earned a title with some breathing room: 18 points.
Roger's championship chases with NTPA would give way to domination of the upstart American Tractor Pullers Association, with which he won four more championships. But having raised two sons in the sport, he couldn't stay away forever. His last national victory came in Dubuque in 2008 with "Simon Sez Chevy," and after having watched son Brandon claim Light Unlimited crowns in 2014, 2016, and 2017, he took a pair of fifths with "Chevy" in BG in 2019.
The pulling world lost Roger in July 2020. In addition to daughters Nicole and Melissa and sons R.J. and Brandon, he must be remembered for being unafraid of changing his mindset, his personnel, and his equipment in the unwavering pursuit of success. The boys have perpetuated the "Simon Sez: Go for It" philosophy in the form of 10 pulling vehicles across five Grand National divisions and a hometown event---the Farley Nationals---that earned rave reviews in its first season on the NTPA tour.
In a couple of those early magazine features, the bedrock Simon approach to pulling was already fully developed. "It costs time and money to go," Simon told The Puller. "So, when you leave home, you'd better feel like you're going to win.... Your fuel costs, your time, and your entry fee are the same whether you're going first class or second class."
Beyond even first class, for his showmanship, his perseverance, and his achievement of excellence, Roger Simon belongs in an even more exclusive class, one which he posthumously entered in 2023.