Jesse “Rocket” Hockett

Eulogy from Kevin Whitworth
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Kevin Whitworth. I’m honored that the Hockett family has given me the opportunity to speak to you about Jesse’s life. I’m humbled and amazed as I look out at all of you: family, in-laws, outlaws, and friends and I realize that, while we all knew Jesse in different roles, we were blessed to have known a truly extraordinary young husband, son, brother, cousin, nephew, uncle, friend, football player, and, yes, race car driver.
First, let me set a little background as to why they asked me. As Jack has said many times, the reason Jessie raced was all my fault. I’ve known Jesse since he was just a small boy. I didn’t spend a lot of time every day with him necessarily, like a schoolmate, but I did start working with his dad Jack roughly 27 years ago. At the time, I had just started racing Sprint cars and Jack, Connie, Jessie , Jack’s sister Kathy, “ the Rowden gang,” and Jack’s closest friend Grover Hall all started coming to watch the sprint cars in Sedalia and the other local tracks. For whatever reason, they took a liking to me, which has been a blessing for me ever since. The first benefit of having the Hocketts like you is they were great for t-shirt sales! (Have you looked at the size of this family in victory lane pictures?)
The second benefit for me personally was this family always made me feel like I was one of them. From Jack being like a big brother and Kathy being like a big sister, whom I’m sure would have fought anyone in the stands that was badmouthing me, to Jesse, who was like the little brother who looked up to me and wanted to be like me. For awhile, I didn’t really have a tow vehicle and Jack told Connie he needed a new pickup, but, honestly I think it was for me to use because I sometimes put more miles on it than they did? So when I talk about how Jesse was, I’m really showing you this reflection of all the people that loved him.
As time passed, Jesse’s love for the sport drove Jack and Grover to start building 4 cylinder winged sprint cars to race for themselves. To start out Grover, Jack, Robbie, Jesse, and Tim Rowden (Kathy’s husband) even built a sprint car in there somewhere that they all drove. So now Connie transitioned very quickly from spectator to watching the whole darn family going around in circles. I didn’t get to see them race much because I was always somewhere else racing myself, but I always got the weekly report from Jack on Monday morning at work as to how everyone had done ( Waterloo did pay us for just a little bench racing each week) and every week he would say, “I wish you can see Jesse race; he drives just like you”. I’ll come back to this a little later.
Jesse was proving to everyone around him that he WAS special and one by one the clan parked their cars and the energy started to focus on him. They all still came and watched races as much as they could.
All this “training” we’ll call it that this family put themselves through is why so many of you have come from so far away to honor Jesse. What I want you to know is that without any one member of his family, you may have not been able to enjoy that little boy, ornery grin of his because there was a little bit of all of them in Jesse.
Jesse was also very fortunate to have his cousin Daniel McMillian as his crew chief at the beginning of his career. Those two just knew what each other needed, mostly without words. I think people that didn’t know Jesse well wondered if, after losing Daniel ,he would be able to maintain the success they had achieved together. Don’t let what I’m about to say diminish in any way what Daniel contributed to Jesse, but I’m not sure it didn’t make him better. He could grab anyone, throw them in the truck with him, run of of fuel on the way to the track, leave the wing at home, and still figure out a way by the end of the night to stand in victory lane? After all that, he would take the time to greet every fan like he knew them forever, from a Dick Vermeil to a little boy or girl who just wanted to crawl around on his car, Jesse
loved people; you could see it in his eyes.
As everyone knows, it takes a lot of people working together to make anyone successful in the world of Sprint car racing, no matter how much talent a driver has. And before I name a few of those people please forgive me if I forget someone.
First, as I ended my career ,one of my two closest friends in the world and best helpers, Dave Korte, was left with nothing to do on Friday and Saturday nights and Jesse was fortunate to latch on to him. He has been through so much with Jesse and If you would like to hear some of the funniest stories about being on the road with the boys, I recommend you corner Dave sometime when you have an hour or so.
You will laugh till you cry.
There are people like Grover Hall ,Bob Douglas, Larry McCown, and Ernie Walker, who, like they did for me, would see a need that was keeping you from doing the important stuff on the racecar and, without saying a word, just show up with materials and devote their time to fix the problem, asking for nothing in return.
And also all the boys that have given up their lives at home to travel with Jesse at different times for little or no money just for the satisfaction of being a part of something special.
And last but not least the folks who Jesse had to meet :
Like every other talented driver at every other track, you need someone who has the money and who believes in you enough to spend it. For Jesse, this was lettering on the side of the car: VKCC.
Written by: Tyler Rowden
VKCC….who or what is that you ask? That was a common question Jesse would face when being interviewed. Most of us assumed that VKCC was an acronym for something….well, it’s not.
VKCC has multiple meanings. Most importantly, it means FAMILY….always there for you through thick and thin. It also means LOYALTY, TRUST, PASSION and LOVE….it means when you’re expected to do something, you go above and beyond those expectations. Think about that….exceeding expectations set upon you. Jesse Hockett couldn’t have done that any better, and VKCC certainly did as well. But VKCC does have a literal translation.
Tom and Asta VanKeirsbilck: VanKeirsbilck, there’s the V and your K. They own a Contracting Company, there’s the C and C. Add motorsports and that is VKCC Motorsports. But there wasn’t a VKCC Motorsports prior to “The Rocket.” And Tom and Asta never really had any idea of owning a racing team. Tom, however, did love his racing and being around the tracks with close friends and family.
In the summer of 1998, in Sedalia, MO, there were 2 classes of sprint cars: the fuel-injected 360’s and the 2-barrel 360’s. The fuel-injected class didn’t have enough cars to have a full field so they were asking the 2-barrel guys if they wanted to jump in to fill the field. The driver of the car that Tom was with that night had a few beers and wasn’t able to get in the car, so they were looking for a driver. Jack was asked if he would drive the car. Jack told him that they ought to put his son, 15-yrs old at the time, in the car. After Jack convinced them that Jesse could do it, the hunt was on for some gear…Jesse didn’t have any of his stuff at the track, as he was a spectator that night. They found some shoes, a little too big but that didn’t matter, a suit that was also a little big, a helmet, etc, and strapped him in.
Jesse got out there in hot laps in the 2-barrel car, against the fuel-injected 360’s, and was on the gas….going around some of the best 360 fuel-injected racers out there. Come feature time, Jesse was up for the battle, as he would be for any battle before or after that. At one point, Jesse was in the top 5, then slipped back a few positions but maintained a top 10 finish in a 2-barrel car, on a half mile track with the
fuel-injected 360’s.
After that, Tom said “Damn, that boy’s got some talent!”. Someone informed him that there were some financial problems with being able to run consistently. The following spring, Jack received a call from Tom asking to have Jesse run a car for him, and from there on it was like a match made in heaven and a
dream come true.
Both Jack and Jesse loved sprint car racing and, with the help of VKCC, Jesse’s dream became a reality . One thing that Jack heard over and over from fans was, “Man, Jesse sure is one lucky guy!” Jack would always say, and still does….”Luck is when Jesse met Stubb and Asta that summer evening in Sedalia, MO, after that….Jesse EARNED every bit of it.”
VKCC Motorsports helped make Jesse Hockett, and Jesse Hockett helped make VKCC Motorsports. We may never see another VKCC Motorsports car on the track again and we will miss that, but we will miss Jesse far more.
Every time I would see Jesse, he would still make me feel like I was the greatest sprint car driver ever. Finally, one night at Lucas Oil Speedway, I had to set him straight: he had passed my abilities with his God given talent long ago and the only reason he thought I was so good was because I got out of the sport before he had a chance to whip me like he has done so many other racers. So no, Jack, Jesse didn’t drive just like me, but I’m honored that I might have driven a little bit like him.
There is one more thing I would like to address before closing and because it is last has nothing to do with how important it was to Jesse; quite the opposite is true. Jesse had two women in his life that he loved with all his heart: his mom Connie and his wife Tina. When he was with either, you could see this light in his eyes that could only be compared to when he would climb out of that race car. I ask you to look at the photos and see what I’m talking about. I have had more than one talk with his mom Connie about how I could have lost my life in Sedalia years ago and even though the way we lost Jesse he was doing the thing he loved.
I need to close with this story: just yesterday, Dave Korte and I were sitting in our lawn chairs outside, watching the people file into the funeral home. Dave spotted this little boy, kind of stocky with sunglasses and flipflops on his feet ,scuffing them on the concrete. Dave said standing with his mom., “There is a little Jesse Hockett right there.” Dave said. We laughed for a moment and after five minutes or so, he moved away from his mother’s side and wandered over and positioned himself about 10 feet directly in front of us. He reached up and moved his sunglasses to the top of his head, stared us straight in the eyes, and said in a soft voice as though he wanted us to strain to really listen, “Jesse is in heaven.” Dave thought he knew what he said, but wasn’t sure so he asked the little boy what he had said. And the little boy replied “Jesse is in heaven” and I said “That is right; he is”. And he looked us straight in the eyes once again and said “You’re his teammates” and we said, “Why, yes we are.”
I believe God is a good God, and I believe the day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus as our savior. This day, standing here before you, it is hard to understand this plan because I don’t have His wisdom and all we can feel at this moment is our loss, but I do believe God loves Jesse Hockett even more than we do and the little boy he sent to deliver the message was right
“Jesse is in heaven today.”
Thank you