Jim had a nothing-special ’34 Ford Flathead V-8 given to him that he put in the Model A bone-stock roadster “just to get it running till I got a paintjob on it. It’s always been one color for the last 55 years, Goldenrod Yellow. I probably had probably two or three different Flatheads in that roadster over the years.” Jim still has that Model A roadster.


“In 1956, I heard Bill and Jerry were going to go to Bonneville. I asked if I could go along. ‘You can but you buy one tank of gas, chip in on the motel, and you’ll have to sleep on the floor.’”

Jim and Bob Opperman were riding in Kay Kimes’ Buick (Kimes later designed the body and chassis of the “Lead Wedge”, an electric Land Speed record holder that went 139 mph with Jerry Kugel driving) following Eisert’s pickup. Kimes had a belly tank with Ed Johnson’s Nailhead Buick in it with six Stromberg carburetors: “Eisert was driving his ’40 Ford pulling a single-axle trailer with the belly tank on it … he had a healthy Flathead in it. We’re out there in the middle of nowhere … it’s midnight; just north of Ely, Nevada, we’re doing 55. There’s a set of headlights coming up pretty fast. The guy was about to pass us on this two-lane road, he turned out to be Tom Beatty with his ’40 Ford pickup with a Caddy in it, towing his tank. (Beatty would set a “C” Lakester record of 211.88 at Bonneville that week.) Jerry put his foot in it and wouldn’t let Tom over. Those two guys were drag racing down the two-lane a couple of miles before Beatty passed us.”

In The Army Now

One of Jim’s shop teachers in the Army Reserve encouraged his students to join. Jim did and while on his two-week summer training (he had graduated from high school by then) he’d upset one of the officers enough that Jim was told he was to report for the draft. Knowing that he had to act fast, Jim enlisted before the draft notice came through and it worked. He was ultimately sent to West Point, New York. Mind you, Jim wasn’t at West Point as a cadet, he was an Army enlisted man who repaired radio equipment, public address systems, and telephones for two years until his discharge.

Jim and Deloris were married two weeks before Jim went into the service. Deloris went back to Highland Falls New York just outside of West Point to join Jim for a brief visit before returning home to give birth to their second son, Wage.

Never one to lay around the barracks on weekends, Jim made good use of his time at West Point, and it wasn’t spit and polish. Jim and fellow soldier Orv Schultz had a shop doing engine conversions putting Chevy engines in Flathead Fords (on the side naturally) doing a little street racing, plus racing at the drags at York, Pennsylvania, on a Saturday night, and also at Newberg, New York.

“A guy at the shop wanted to trade me his 1948 F-100 Ford pickup with a Flathead in it for my ’50 Plymouth. I found out that the Texaco Testing Laboratories was selling some reconditioned ’54 Olds engines for $100. So I bought one with a Hydro and put it in that pickup. We started racing it at the dragstrips. I went to York, Pennsylvania, and cleaned everybody’s plow with the automatic.”


Automotive Specialties is where Jim learned there was an Indy—the Indianapolis 500. “When I went down to Bill and Jerry’s the day of the race, you couldn’t say a word because they were listening to the race on the radio.”

Out of the service, Jim was initially working at a 76 gas station and hanging out at Automotive Specialties. Bill Fowler had left Jerry Eisert and went to work for Frank Arciero Racing then ultimately for Dan Gurney in a small shop in Costa Mesa in 1962.