Jim later spent six months in a military hospital because of malnutrition. He was discharged in January 1946. Home from the hospital, Jim bought a '35 Dodge coupe for his basic transportation.
Get A Rod
First, Jim had to get a job, then a rod. Besides his paper route, Jim took his first and only job working for someone else when he was hired on as a mechanic for Dick Jones. It also happened that Jones was a member of a racing club.
In the meantime, Jim's younger brother, Earl, had a friend, Bud Moon, who owned a '31 Ford roadster. Earl told Jim about it and Jim bought what would become his first and only hot rod race car as well.
Forget the plate. Jim's race car, (yes, race car) complete with sponsor was never register
Jim peeled off $125 for the roadster in 1947. It had a stock head on a B-block engine, a cheap upgrade since the B engines produced 50 hp versus 40 hp for the Model A's, which gave him a leg up on the competition.
Jim had his friend, Jack McGrath (dry lake competitor, future Indy 500 competitor, and crack machinist) stroke the Model B crank. "Jack had a shop right next to the fire department in Highland Park on Figueroa and he was taking these cranks and stroking them and drilling them for full oil pressure."
With Bell Auto Parts only 12 miles from Highland Park, Jim was a frequent patron. "I got the Cragar head from Ronnie Ward. I only paid Ronnie $5 for it. I bought a lot of parts for my Cragar at Bell." Jim never registered his roadster. This was a hot rod, not a street rod, even though it had a license plate when Jim purchased it.
Jim joined the Blow-By's Racing Club that was aptly named because they blew by a lot of the competition at the lakes and later in life (later changed their name to the Rev's). Russetta Timing Association was formed so its members could run coupes at their sanctioned events since SCTA only recognized roadsters early on, yet the members of the Blow-By's ran roadsters. Go figure.
This behind-the-scenes photo was taken by Jim of his and other four-cylinder race cars lin
Blow-By's member Larry "Chop Sticks" Shinoda would later become the lead designer of the '63 Corvette. Plus he led the design team of the Mustangs from 1970-73. Shinoda coined the name "Boss" for the 302.
Jim's employer Dick Jones was no ordinary garage owner. Jones later became the performance supervisor and head of R&D for Champion Spark Plugs in Long Beach.
Ronnie Ward worked for Frank Kurtis (Kurtis Kraft) and later for A.J. Watson, both winning Champ Car builders. According to Bowden, Ronnie also built his own Sprint Cars called Ron's Racers. (Sadly, they have all died.)
In 1947 Jim opened Occidental Garage (close to Occidental College) in L.A., doing what he loved, working on cars and the roadster. He specialized in tune-ups, brakes, and engine balancing.
Jim was in good company. Other mechanically gifted hot rod racers opened general auto repair garages in the L.A. area as well. Dick Burley, Jerry Kugel, Ak Miller, and Don Zabel concluded, there was no better way to make a living and still work on the race cars than in their own general repair garages.
SCTA and NHRA began requiring rollbars early on. Jim's roadster sported a rollbar for his
"I went twice with Jim to El Mirage," Florence continues. "But I got so shook up when this girl Joan Selsing, who built her car-she did all the work on her '36 Ford coupe herself-had a boyfriend driving it for her. He drove it the day we were up at El Mirage and he was killed. I never went back after that. I asked Jim to quit racing.
"Jim said he was going to take the roadster out one more time to sell it. He came back with a club trophy instead," Florence laughs. Jim's trophy was from the Rev's for 7/24/49. Best Four-Cylinder "R" 106.49 mph.
While that tragedy rattled Florence enough to put her foot down, Jim put his foot down a few more times, too-on the go-pedal. After getting the trophy, Jim took the For Sale sign off the car and paid one last visit to El Mirage. "The car went 106.88," Jim recalls.
Jim's Class Z roadster (second from the top and the only non-dragster in the group) on the
"My roadster sat in my mother's back yard for seven years. My brother Earl said, 'Let's ta