Growing up, many of us have quintessential movies that defined our youth. For a lot of old heads, it was the original Star Wars Trilogy. For youngsters today, it is the Marvel Comics Universe Avengers movies. But for a very specific group of fanatics who fell in love with car culture in the late ’90s and early 2000s, especially back when import drag racing was king, it was the original The Fast and the Furious trilogy. This was definitely the case for Chicago Bears defensive tackle John Jenkins. Long before he ever picked up a football in high school, John became obsessed with fast cars and the lifestyle surrounding them.
As a kid growing up in snowy Connecticut, he sat in a theater marveling at the bright Miami landscape, blue exhaust shooting from tailpipes, and the roaring cacophony of engine noise and spooling turbos featured in the second and often-overlooked chapter of the iconic movie series, 2 Fast 2 Furious. The way other adults live out their childhood dreams by traveling to San Diego Comic Con dressed in Jedi costumes brandishing light sabers, John decided, as soon as he realized his NFL dreams, to move to South Beach and buy the legendary car known by many import performance lovers simply as Godzilla. We got to talk to John about how he built up his 1995 R33 Nissan Skyline to be a match for any of the next-level cars he has seen on screen.
Anyone that talks to you can tell right away that you are a true performance car enthusiast. What first inspired that?
What inspired my love of cars was 2 Fast 2 Furious with Paul Walker. When I saw that movie, from that point on, I wanted to move down to South Florida and I wanted a Skyline. I got into the whole culture behind it. You’d be surprised, the people you meet in the car scene. A lot of people in the scene don’t even know that I’m an NFL player. All they know is I got at GT-R.
You must have been just a kid when 2 Fast 2 Furious came out. What was it like when you first got that glimpse into car culture?
I was in middle school when 2 Fast 2 Furious first came out. I remember watching it like it was yesterday. Paul Walker pulling up to the scene after Ludacris called him out for the drag race. I remember him just getting in the car and taking off! Just to see that culture and to see them race. The cars, the beach, (laughs) the women! I was in middle school! I just thought to myself, “I wanna live in a place where I can see that all the time!” It gave me a sense of motivation and direction of what I wanted to do when I got older.
There are so many sick cars in that movie, from classic American muscle cars like the Camaro and Charger to import legends like the Supra Twin Turbo. What made you choose the Skyline GT-R out of all those others as the one you wanted to own in real life?
Other than seeing it in the movie, there was this game on Playstation 2 called Tokyo Xtreme Racer. My buddy was a big Honda guy. He loved the Acura NSX. So, I went a different route. I started using the (Skyline GT-R) R33. When I got older and other games came out like Gran Turismo, I’d always pick a Skyline. I just fell in love with it.
When did you get your GT-R?
It was my first car EVER. I waited until I got drafted to the NFL. My agent was asking what kind of car I was gonna get. He thought I’d get a Range Rover or a Camaro. You know, the typical. I told him I wanted a GT-R, but the old one. The one from Japan. A 1995 R33.
What are your favorite mods that you have done with your GT-R?
My favorite mods? (Laughs) There’s a lot! Well first, there’s the single turbo. Man, it’s just perfect. I’d say about 3,500 to 4,000 (rpms) is when it starts spooling. And when it kicks in? Oh my goodness! It’s highly aggressive. That’s probably the best thing I did was go to a single-turbo setup.
What else do you love about it?
Another thing with the car is my Haltech ECU Flex Fuel system. I can go from E85 to pump gas easily. The goal is to get to mid 7s (700+ horsepower) to the wheel. I don’t want to do too much because I still want the car reliable. Then I got the Tomei motor with Tomei cams and stroker. It’s all Tomei power. As far as the interior, I got it done at E3 Upholstery in suede and modernized kind of like an R35. I moved the (sound) system inside the (cabin) from the trunk so I could put my fuel cell in there.
What kind of reactions do you get when you drive a right-hand drive JDM masterpiece on the streets?
Being in South Florida, it is one of the Meccas in the U.S. as far as the appreciation for cars. When I drive this car, kids and even people who don’t even know about cars, I get crazy attention from them wherever I go. They see that right-hand drive and they know the car is special. And people that do know their cars, they know I put a lot of time and effort into it and they know I did the car up right. My buddy, Marco at Billet Design Motorsports, he taught me everything I needed to know for my whole setup. He taught me every part I should put on and why I should put it on.
Does driving a right-hand drive cause any issues?
The hardest part about driving a right-hand drive car is getting used to the stick. First gear is all the way in the top left corner and 2nd is in the bottom left corner. Once you get used to that, you can drive it.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when building the GT-R the way you wanted?
The biggest challenge I had, strangely, was the windshield. It was the hardest thing by far I had to deal with. Dealerships couldn’t do it. I had to order one from NISMO Japan and when they shipped it over, it cracked. I ordered another one, and it cracked again! I finally had to overnight a windshield from England.
Can you talk about your daily driver, the 2014 Jeep Rubicon?
When I got drafted to New Orleans, I found out there’s potholes everywhere, so I needed another car next to the Skyline, so I got the Jeep. I told my pops and I told my mom I wasn’t going to do anything to it. It’s just to get back and forth to work. But I was driving to work one day and these two ladies pull up next to me on 35” tires and a 4” lift. And I was on stock suspension. One of them turns to me and says, “Baby, you gotta put some meat on them wheels!” So that’s when “Project Rubicon” came about.
So what did you do to the Jeep to make sure you never got called out like that again?
Let’s see, I got Rockstar 22s on 40” Toyos. 6” to 8” adjustable lift. Mopar cold-air intake. Haven’t done too much to the motor. Yet (Laughs). E3 Upholstery did the whole interior. T-top fiberglass sunroof. JL Audio system with the 9” Alpine screen. And I got a Transformers Autobot sticker on the side haha! I get a lot of love in the Jeep now.
Now that you have hooked up your cars just the way you want, what’s next?
With the Rubicon, I’m thinking about putting in a ProCharger or maybe even put a Hellcat motor in it. Maybe take it off-roading. For the Skyline, I can’t drive it fast the way I want to on the streets. I’m itching to track it. After this summer, I’m definitely going to have the numbers I want. I can’t wait to track it and get some quarter mile times.