Bruce Jenner went to two Olympics in his track and field career – in 1972 in Munich Germany, and then in 1976 at the Montreal games. In 1976, he won the Gold medal for the decathlon, a grueling 10-activity track and field event. Post-Olympics, he became a celebrity in the United States, getting that Wheaties box I remember, receiving endorsements and appearing on television shows. In 1976, he was declared the Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press.
What was your first car?
Boy…Nobody ever bought me a car. I have a tragic story.
At what age did you learn how to drive?
My dad taught me how to drive in Tarrytown NY, in a grocery store parking lot. I was 15, turning 16. He had a little convertible Austin-Healy Sprite; you know, those little bug-eyed Sprites they have. It was red with white stripes. It was a four-speed. That was probably three months before I got my license. Of course, I snuck it out a few times when he wasn’t around. We lived in an apartment complex and I drove it around the apartment complex and never got caught. The day I got my license, my dad sold the car.
Ouch, that was bad timing.
Yes. When I got home from getting my license, all excited, my dad said, T sold the car today.’ I was devastated. Actually, about a month ago, I was driving past a used car lot and saw a little bug-eyed Austin- Healy Sprite. I wanted to go in and buy the thing, paint it red and fix it up, just so I would have it. That was a pretty tragic start to the car world for me. My dad would let me drive a Ford Falcon station wagon when I was good, only when I was good, so I never had a car when I was young.
When I was 18 and had about six months left in high school, this friend of ours had a 1954 Cadillac hearse in the backyard and he wanted to get rid of it. He says, ‘I’ll give it to you for $150.’ I snatched that baby right up. Now, I do have to admit, coming back from a party one time, I think we had 24 people back in the hearse. It was my record.
Yeah, 24 people back there. We still had the rollers in the floor!
We were coming back and we decided how many people can we get back in the hearse, and we got 24 in by the time I slammed the back door shut. Halfway home, somebody back there had to get out; they were going to get sick. I stopped and everybody came piling out right before this guy loses it. I rebuilt the motor – took the motor out and rebuilt it – all the gaskets. I rebuilt it myself.
How many miles do you think you put on it?
Not a lot. I didn’t have it that long because this friend of ours had a ’56 Ford Fairlane, which was the coolest. I would love to have that car today. It had new tires, and he was going to trade it in on some new car and they were only going to give him $275 on the trade-in. We were, like, that’s ridiculous, so he said he’d sell it to me for $275.1 bought it-two-tone salmon color with a blacktop, convertible. It was really a cool car. It’s a classic car; it would probably be worth $50,000 today if it was fully fixed up. I bought it for $275, had it for a cou- ple of years, until I went to college, and I sold it for $350.
There you go!
I was ready to go into the used car business.
Interesting story for you. This story made it on Paul Harvey. Here goes…l competitively water-skied that year- when I was 18 or 19-the year I had the Ford. I had driven it to Richmond, Virginia – from Connecticut to Richmond – to go to a water ski tournament I was competing in. My freshman year in college really didn’t go all that well. I had knee surgery from football (January 2,1969). I didn’t know if I was going to play sports anymore, didn’t know what I was going to do. I had missed a lot of school, so my grades sort of sucked. And I’m thinking, do I go back to school or not after the knee surgery.
So I’m in Richmond the summer of 1969.1 thought, since I had the knee surgery, well, you know, the draft, they had the draft back then. If you weren’t in college, they put a target on your chest and shipped you off to a lovely, tropical country – where a lot of my friends had gone – and I thought, well, because of the knee surgery, I probably won’t pass the physical. I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do this summer?’ This friend of mine that I was staying with – in his house in Richmond during the winters – went to Cyprus Gardens, Florida, and skied in a show. He called the guy and says, ‘I got Bruce and we’re going to come down.’ They offered me a job. So I’m sitting there that morning and I remember I’m driving this ’56 Ford and I’m heading to the freeway, and I have my water skis sticking out the back and I had the top down. What do I do? Do I go south and head for Cyprus Gardens and get out of school, water ski all winter and be in the show, you know? Sounds like fun when you’re 19, right? Or do I go north and work with my dad, then go back to college?
I’m driving this little ’56 Ford and I’m almost down to the entrance to the freeway and I just don’t know what to do. Which way do I go? I’d never run a decathlon at this point – I’d run track and played football and played other sports, but I’d never run a decathlon before. So, as I’m getting closer to the freeway, this car pulls up on my lefthand side. To go south, I’d either have to slow down or pick up speed because he was sort of blocking my way south. But the freeway going north was wide open, and this car was right there…l sat there like this and I was thinking, ‘You know what, let’s go north on the freeway.’
All because that car was sitting right there to your left?
Yep, all because that little car was sitting right there. It was like the final thing, you know? I decided it was the right thing to do, go back to college. Then, the next year, I ran my first decathlon, so.Jt’s kind of a good car story.
It was the right decision.
It was a great decision. As Paul Harvey said, ‘Now you know the rest of the story. He went north. He went back. He entered the decathlon!’
(LAUGHTER). So, what do you drive now?
A 2007 Escalade. I had a 2004 Escalade and I traded it in with 175,000 miles on it. I carpool and that car runs all day long. This car is a 2007 and it already has 60,000 miles on it, driving kids around! I did win a car last year; I won a Mercedes, playing golf. Of course, my wife got that. The only other thing I have is a Harley.
Harleys are nice.
Harleys are very nice.
It’s a 2007. It’s a very unique Harley. They only made five like the one that I have. It’s technically a V-Rod, but it’s an upgraded version that supposedly Porsche designed. A friend of mine is a real big car guy. I mean, he has warehouses full of cars, and Harley called him up and said they ‘have this bike, you wanna buy it?’ So he bought it. He took pictures of it, put it in his garage and it never moved for eight months. Then, one day, I came in and it was covered up, and I said, “What’s that?’ He lifted it up and I said, ‘Ooooh.’ I had a Harley, but I sold it a couple years ago and I’m kind of itching to get another one. With the gas prices the way they are, it’s kind of the smart thing to do, right?
Yeah, but to buy a Harley, you really do not need an excuse!
I looked at it and it had 12 miles on it. He’d never driven it. He says, Well, I haven’t driven it, but I got the bike and…’ I said, This is ridiculous. You have this beautiful bike and you’ve never driven it? Sell it to me, I’ll ride it.’ So he sold it to me.
What is your favorite road trip on your bike?
To the golf course to play golf. Yeah, how’s that? If I don’t have to carpool, I’ll just fire up the bike and go down to the club, and hit golf balls and come back.
Tell me more about your racing career. It sounds interesting.
I raced for what was known as IMSA – International Motor Sports Association. I raced in the GTO Class. (GOT PICTURES AND SHOWED THEM TO ME) This was my car. I raced that for Ford. I was a factory driver for Ford for 10 years. I was a factory driver for Ford Motor Company for about five of those years. I found this young kid – his name was Scott Pruitt – on a go-kart track, and Scott was, like, 13 times National Champion. He even won world championships in karting. We became good friends and I told him I wanted to help him get started. He was, like, 23 at the me, and I told Ford I wanted to get Pruitt in the car with. This was 1985. He drove 10 laps and put it on the pole. He’d never driven a car that big and that heavy. The two of us, in ’86, we teamed up for 7-11 in this car and we basically won everything. We won 24 hours in Daytona, Sebring, we won seven races that year. We just ate ’em up. Scott won Driver’s Champion and I was runner-up. We had a great year.
People do not understand just how much goes into racing and getting sponsorships.
You gotta go do the track all day long, then you have to do the media, then you have to do the Ford stuff. You have to entertain clients. The list just goes on and on and on.
You’re worn out before you even get behind the wheel.
That’s the only time you get any peace and quiet. You throw the helmet on and everything shuts down and you go, ‘Yeah, now I’ve paid for it. Let’s go and do it.’ That’s what I did for a living. I just kind of got wore out. Scott was moving on. He got an Indy car ride at that time. So I just slowly, gracefully, bowed out. Then, when I met Chris, I had a few races, raced a couple offshore boats and did some fun stuff. Just decided to get out of it. Picked up more kids.
If you have never pulled the trigger on that dream car of yours, what would it be?
I have that story. Nineteen seventy-six – the year I won the games – was the first year that Porsche came out with the Turbo Porsche. I was driving a $175 VW Bug. That’s what I did when I was training. I drove this ’63 Bug to the track and back. Six months before the games, I signed this deal with Adidas. I made no money for the games; I couldn’t make any money. I lived on, like, $10,000 a year. I had a $145-a- month apartment and I trained. That’s what I did. I trained and ate. But I always had a fascination for cars. I signed this deal with Adidas six months before the games to wear their shoes. They couldn’t sponsor me, but they could sponsor my track club, and kind of filter expenses through the track club. It just so happens, I’m the only member of my track club.
Wow, that sounds complicated.
Very complicated. I signed this deal and got $6,000. I thought I was rich. I’m thinking, I was making $70 a month in the insurance business – as a draw I took out of this insurance business my friend covered for me – just so I could live. Then, six months before the games, I have $6,000. I’m thinking, I get$170 a month and I only spend $400. So I bought this brand new 914 Porsche, green in color, the only new car I’d ever bought – for $5,600. My payments were $98 and I’m thinking, how am I going to pay that?
Yes, but the purr of the engine makes it worth it!
Yes, it’s the purr. So I got this little 914 Porsche. Well, low and behold, right after I buy this little 914 — my first new car ever – what does Porsche come out with? The first Turbo ever. I see this thing and I’m going, ‘Is that the coolest car ever.’ I go into the dealership and check it out and I’m thinking, man, look at this thing!
You were picturing yourself in it. Cruising down the freeway.
I’m thinking to myself, if I can pull the games off, I will get that car. If I can do it, I’ll find a job. Don’t know if I can find one, BUT, for 12 years of my life, I’m buying that car. Done deal. I cut the picture of the car out. I took the picture to Montreal. I was in a bunk bed on the top and I taped the picture of that car above my bed.
You used it like a focal point.
Yes, and three months later, it was sitting in my driveway.
I’m sure you opened it up. How fast did you get it?
I had it over 100, but I never really drove it that hard. I’m not a big, hard driver on the street. Too dangerous. I just go to the track and do it.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re driving down the road?
No. News. Never sports. Don’t really follow sports that much. I’m on the good Republican conservative side, so I listen to all but the bad guys – Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck and Marc Levin. >
On the drive to Bruces home, all I could think about was his face on the cover of the Wheaties cereal box that sat on my kitchen table when I was a little girl. He might even be the reason I started watching sports in the first place. We relaxed in his home office, and it was awesome to see his memorabilia and view all of the accomplishments he’s amassed throughout his celebrated career. It was also obvious that he is a big fan of remote-control helicopters. He has a unique collection and told us that he loves not only collecting, but flying them.
Who would’ve thought that, as a little girl looking at that Wheaties box so many years ago, I’d have such an amazing conversation with the guy on the cover. Enough said.