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Remembering Jim Jackson

25 Jan 2011
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

You may have read in the NHRA.com Notebook last week about the passing of Jim Jackson, who was partners with Simon Menzies on some Top Alcohol Funny Cars and a nitro Funny Car in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Menzies is a great friend of the Insider column who has provided us with lots of good information, so I thought I'd devote this column to Menzies' memories of his friend. Far more than just a remembrance, it includes interesting information and insight.

"Jim and I first met as competitors in Texas in 1975," he remembered. "I was running my own BB/FC, and Jim was running an A/Fuel Dragster in Pro Comp. He had previously owned and drove an A/Gas altered built by Dennis Piranio of Dallas. I was 24 years old, and Jim was the ripe old age of 21. We became friends, and the next year, he asked me to shake down a Donovan-powered BB/FC built for him by Bob Norwood.

"The Flyer ran a best of 6.81 at 206, which wasn't bad for the time.You may also notice the familiar shape of the rear spoilers. They resemble half pieces of a full-size stop sign, and, well ..."
"Jim Jackson and Bob Norwood with the low-riding Flyer chassis. Bob has gone on to field exotic cars at Bonneville and has set some records."
The Texas Twister

"At 42 inches high at the roll cage, the Lone Star Flyer was the lowest and most ill-handling Funny Car ever built. The driver literally had to lay down in the cage with his head tilted down to his chest to see forward out of the car. The Flyer had a nasty habit of making 90-degree turns if you had to lift for any reason, and it was a crapshoot which direction she would go. The only way to complete a full pass was to drive into the chutes to stabilize the car off power. I had to complete the last half of every pass with my hand on the chute lever as soon as I shifted into high gear. We ran the car at Green Valley, Texas; Union Grove, Wis.; and Spokane, Wash. I could write volumes about each of these races, but suffice it to say, after several near catastrophes, Jim decided to build a new car.

"We drove the whole operation down to Dale Armstrong's shop in Torrance [Calif.], where I was storing my 'Cuda Funny Car/altered, which was the same chassis that Dale drove as an AA/A to wins at Indianapolis and Tulsa [Okla.] for Jim Foust and me in 1974. Dale and Jim had borrowed it from me for a test bed for Dale's Donovan in the altered configuration while Mike Kase was building the infamous Alcoholic.

"We installed Jim's Donovan in my car with the Funny Car configuration for testing and finished the year off as the Texas Twister Barracuda while Kase and Steve Harris built the Jim Jackson Racing Enterprises Corvette.

"(Interesting side note: Kase was backed up almost a year for delivery of a new car, and I had sold my Barracuda to a gentleman from Norway. Dale and Jim Foust had parted ways, with the Donovan going to Dale's new Alcohol Dragster while Foust parked the Alcoholic. Still waiting for Jackson's new car, we put Jackson's Donovan into the Alcoholic for two races, and I unceremoniously drove it into the right-side guardrail at Irwindale [Calif.] after qualifying in the top spot, destroying the body. I included this just in case you didn't know what happened to the Alcoholic. The chassis from the car was bought by Billy Williams and fronthalved. This was the car that Billy crashed.)

"We ran the Corvette very successfully for two years, winning a total of 18 races, including the '77 PRO BB/FC Championship and the '78 AHRA BB/FC Championship.

"We started the '79 season with a new Donovan-powered Ken Cox Dodge Challenger AA/FC with wins at the Bakersfield March Meet and the WCS event at Fremont. The car qualified at all but three NHRA national events, including both eight-car fields in Denver and Baton Rouge [La.]. We qualified at all AHRA and IHRA national events entered and won two more open qualified non-sanctioned races that year and ran countless match races. We switched to a late-model engine after missing the cut at Englishtown and ran as quick as 6.09 against 'the Snake' at the Fremont tune-up race for the World Finals. That 6.09 loss against 'the Snake's' 5.99, I think besides the Bakersfield win, was Jim's favorite racing memory because, averaged out, it was the quickest side-by-side Funny Car run that year. Ron Colson took us out in the first round at the Finals two weeks later with Roland's [Leong] car, and that was that for Jim Jackson's car racing days, but it wasn't the end of his racing days.

"Jim married Janelle in 1982 and soon started dabbling in thoroughbred horse breeding and racing at his farm in Whitesboro, Texas. His interest ramped up quickly, and in the early 1990s, Jim and Janelle built Valhalla Farms on 800 gently rolling acres in Rockdale Texas, just north of Austin. They used Kentucky breeding-farm locations as a model and built the farm to look like it came right out of the race-horse capital of the world, right down to several miles of Kentucky black-board fence imported from, you guessed it, Kentucky.

"Valhalla Farms is an absolute marvel and soon became one of the premier thoroughbred training facilities in the country, complete with a racetrack that was a quarter-scale of Hollywood Park in California. Perfect in every detail right down to the track compound. Valhalla was one of only six facilities in Texas that could issue certified track times. They boarded and trained some very fast horses. Jim and Janelle fielded horses in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and won the Arkansas Derby and several Dallas and Houston Cup races.

"Jim got a little tired of the grind after his successes and leased out the training facility but kept his home and office while maintaining the grounds and started collecting and refurbishing classic cars for a few years until he discovered dog racing.

"Jim was on his way to being a successful dog owner, winning several races in the last few years. According to Janelle, there may be up to 500 dogs out there that are wholly or partially owned by them both. None on the property, but all boarded at dog-training facilities and tracks. Good ol' Jim -- he was just getting started.

"This has been about what I personally knew about Jim and his love of racing, something that he was very good at, but I knew that racing was just a small part of his life. Jim, in short, was the best family man I have ever met. Every time he changed gears and faded back on a sport wasn't for lack of interest but more that he had achieved success, and now it was time to focus on family, reaching a comfort zone and eventually moving on to another sport. I knew that Jim had helped many people and charities, but I had no idea what an anonymous philanthropist he really was. He had file cabinets filled with thank-you letters from children he sponsored to St. Jude's and other charitable organizations. On a personal note, I asked him 10 years ago if he would take my own son and teach him the horse business. I got one of Jim's typical responses: 'Hell yes; there's airplanes from California flying into Austin every day, but if he's anything like you, I'll send him back on the next flight!' My son Kyle stayed with the Jacksons for almost a year and is now one of the many in their extended family. Also typical of Jim, Kyle was the recipient of a Jackson nickname – 'California Cletus' -- and proudly answers to it in memory of his days with Jackson.

"Jim Jackson was one hell of a man and a dear friend. He left us too soon, and I miss him."