Few cars or drivers have made...
Few cars or drivers have made as many runs together as Jim and his beautiful chopped coupe down the black line at Bonneville. The blue sky and white salt coupled with Jim’s blue and white Ford were made for one another. “I ran the coupe 50 or 60 times at well over 200 mph at Bonneville,” Jim says.
“I found out they were going to Indy in 1963. I asked Bill, ‘If I come back to the Speedway, do you think you can find me work?’ ‘We’ll see,’ he said.” (Jim was separated from Deloris who was killed in an auto wreck in 1965.) By that time, Jim had a Ford Sedan Delivery with “L.A. Roadsters Tow Car” plus Travis Automotive lettered on the side.
“I drove it back to Indy with a mattress in the back and my toolbox. I was walking back to the garage area one night with Dan and Bill when Bill handed me a tray of tools. I put the tools away in the garage and cleaned up the place. I ended up working in the garage while wearing my L.A. Roadsters jacket. The guard just assumed that I belonged there and never asked me for a badge. I worked on Gurney’s Lotus for a couple of weeks. Dan had crashed [in practice] and we had to take another tub and take all the parts off of it, plus the bladders for the fuel and switch them over. Gurney did not have any help from Colin Chapman (Lotus founder),” Jim adds. “We weren’t allowed to touch the engines; they came in a crate from Ford already dyno-tuned for 500 miles. The PR guy from Ford asked Dan, ‘Who’s that guy eating all our sandwiches and drinking all our Pepsis? Get rid of him.’”
After it sat for seven years...
After it sat for seven years in the El Monte High School auto shop, the powers to be wanted the “Pumpkin Seed” 86’d out of there. Jim saved the old racer from oblivion and returned it to its glory days. Jim’s one and only number on all his race cars has always been 86 because he likes the meaning of the word. Only those who’ve had the privilege to compete in Land Speed Racing can appreciate the feeling of intensity before a run, the concentration during the run, and the utter peacefulness that comes over one after completing a run at Bonneville. In Jim’s case, in the Pumpkin Seed.
While the PR guy needed a lesson in tact, it mattered not because Jim (who wasn’t paid nor did he expect any for his efforts) took part in getting the Lotus back on the track, plus hot rodder Dan finished the 500 miles in Seventh Place. “I went to Indy for the experience,” Jim says.
It was like old home month because the garage area was crawling with hot rodders from the L.A. area who Jim knew. He next knocked on Ermie Immerso’s garage door. Immerso was a card-carrying 200-miler at Bonneville in 1956 when he built and drove a belly tank to 213.190 screaming miles per hour.
“I’m looking for work. I’ll work for free, I just want the experience,” Jim told Immerso. He said, “I certainly need the help.” “I helped him for about a week; Paul Russo the driver never qualified the car. Ermie and I stayed friends until the day he died. Then I worked on an old Kurtis of Ozzy Olson from Denver Colorado. His driver was Don Freeland. The last day of qualifying Freeland blew the motor all over the track at 9 o’clock in the morning. They put it in the garage. We replaced one broken motor with one good motor but we were in line when the gun went off and qualifying was over. I watched the race and then I drove home.”
Jim’s brashness got him in a place many of us only dream about, Gasoline Alley, but his ability kept him there for a month. Not too shabby for a guy with a mattress in the back of his wheels for a hotel room. After returning from Indy, Jim opened up a shop, Travis Automotive, on Whittier Boulevard.
Jim outlined in the Bill Fowler story in the January issue of R&C the history of his severely chopped 1934 Ford three-window coupe before he acquired the Ford from Richard Stricker in 1970. “When I went into the Army in 1957, the coupe was sitting in front of Automotive Specialties. I fell in love with it and took a photo of it.
But it was always in the back of his mind. He called his friend Opperman about how the Ford did at Bonneville. “Opperman told me Jerry and Bill went to Bonneville (in 1957) with the blown Cadillac in the coupe and Stricker drove it. Stricker had it until 1970; it just sat in his garage.