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Gone Racin' - Jim Clark Biography

Gone Racin' - Jim Clark Biography
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Written by Bob Small, photographs by Bob Small, edited by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz. 30 June 2015.

     I actually met Jim Clark in the fall of 1969 at the NHRA World Finals at the old Dallas Motor Speedway.  He had attended the race as a spectator, and had recently become a contract racer for Chrysler, and had some parts that he needed transported back to California, and he knew we were from California, as was he.  I had seen Jim at the races on occasion, but we never spoke, just sort of nodded at each other, but that was about it.  All of the Mopar racers in Division 7 either knew each other, or at least, knew about each other, mostly because we were surrounded by GM competitors, if for no other reason.

     In any event, he asked me to come up to his shop in Baldwin Park, California, Jim Clark's Engine Dynamics, and drop the parts off, and he said that he'd like to talk to me about a few things.  He offered to sponsor my 1963 426 Plymouth B/SA, "Tommy's White Tornado," and he offered to help me with some specialized parts that could help take the car to the next level.  My partner and I held the National ET Record in the NHRA B/SA class at 11:89, and we had one of the fastest cars in the class at that time, so the notoriety that came with that was beneficial to Jim as well, having our car running out of his shop.  At the time, there were a number of fast Chrysler products running out of Jim's shop, and he had a pretty good reputation for being able to build some fast cars.

     He was a good sponsor, and a good friend, and even though I'm long retired from racing now, I'm glad that he and I are still friends, we talk on the phone weekly, and still see each other when time and distance permit, he currently lives in Virginia City, Nevada and currently has a Hemi Dart under construction that should be ready to run in the fall of 2015.

     Jim's list of race cars that he built and drove is long and impressive, and to the best of my knowledge, they were all Chrysler products.  His first real race car was a '62 Plymouth 413, that ran primarily in AHRA competition.  The next car was a '63 Plymouth 426 factory lightweight, and that was followed by a '64 Plymouth 426 Stage lll factory lightweight named the "Determination" or as it was not too affectionately known around Engine Dynamics; the "Detonation."  It was actually a very good car, it had originally been built for Tommy Grove when he was a factory racer for Chrysler, and it was always a fast car.  The “Determination” was driven at alternate times by; Jim Clark, Don Crouse, Dale Reed, Jr, Dale Reed, Sr, Doc Conroy, myself, and Dave Kempton, so it got around.

     Jim's next car was named the Hemi Express, it was a 1965 Dodge Coronet A990 car, and ran the SS/BA class in NHRA, and was probably Jim's most well known car, even though there were a number of other cars that passed through Engine Dynamics over the years, and all the Hemi powered cars were always named Hemi Express.  There is an interesting story behind the name "Hemi Express," and in all the years I've known Jim, I didn't know what the reasoning was behind the name.

     As it turns out, the reason for the name Hemi Express is due to Jim's lifelong fascination with trains, specifically, big steam locomotives, so when he acquired the '65 Dodge SS/BA car, since it was a big car anyway, the name just seemed fitting.  Jim was enamored with trains to the point that, after he quit racing, he sold the Engine Dynamics shop to one of his employees, John Avery, who still owns it today.  Jim went to work for a company that supplied trains to the movie industry, and learned everything he could about trains; how to run them, and how to work on them.  He became a licensed steamfitter, and eventually, he became the "Train Man," in Hollywood, the go-to guy for trains for movies, which is what he still does today.  As he says, jokingly, "I've been in over forty movies, never had a speaking part yet, and I can't count how many times I've had to die onscreen."  His eldest daughter, Andrea, is an actress, and works pretty steadily as an extra; she lives with her husband and children in Huntington Beach, CA. Jim is, in all actuality, most likely the most knowledgeable person today on the early steam powered locomotives, and he scouts the country for suitable locales to make movies where trains are utilized.  His expertise is a highly sought after commodity in the entertainment market.   

     For a short while, Jim owned the Dodge Hemi Dart that had originally been campaigned by the "Drag-ON-Lady," Shirley Shahan, but he didn't keep it long, as he was having a Pro Stock Dodge Demon built at Butler Racing, and the space that the Dart occupied needed to be open for the Demon, so the Dart was sold.  Jim owned the Demon for a short time, had some local success with it, but his heart wasn't really in Pro Stock, and he decided to go back to Super Stock racing.  He sold the Demon to Billy Stepp, also known as "Billy The Kid," a Midwestern racer from Dayton, Ohio, who ended up being quite successful with it.   The driver of the Demon at that time was Stuart McDade.

     Jim acquired a couple of '68 Hemi Barracudas at that time, one from Judy Lilly in Colorado, the other one came from Dave Wren, a well-known Super Stock racer from the state of Washington.  One of the cars, and I don't remember which one specifically, was sold to Harry Holton, a longtime Chrysler Super Stock racer from Northern California, and whichever one of the Barracudas he kept, ended up being Jim's last race car with NHRA for that time period, and he retired from racing the year after I did, in 1974, in order to spend more time with his kids and family.  He went on with his career in trains, a few of the movies that he provided and ran trains for were; "Wild, Wild, West," "Water For Elephants," the cable movie, "Into The West," and the weekly series, "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman."

     Jim and I took the Hemi Express SS/BA to a meet at Long Beach, and at the time, Lions was an American Hot Rod Association (AHRA) strip, and they were holding a three day meet there, and all the AHRA heroes showed up for it.  Long and the short of it, comes Sunday eliminations, and Clark manages to wade through all the AHRA hot dogs, and even with their rather oddball way of doing things, we end up in the final for Super Stock, against a Cobra Jet Mustang from Arizona.   We'd never heard of the guy, but evidently, he was something of a legend in AHRA.  Now keep in mind, the Hemi Express is an NHRA car, complete with NHRA decals all over it, and it was pretty obvious that they really didn't like us much, and made no attempt whatsoever to hide it.

So, up to the line they go, Mustang takes off on a handicap start, Clark chases after him, catches him right in the lights, and blows past him for the win.  We figure we've won the race, right?  Wrong?
     It seems that we went from a no breakout final to a breakout final, only one problem, the only ones that were aware of it was the tower personnel, they'd sort of neglected to pass this tidbit along, and especially to the bandit NHRA car that showed up and spoiled the party.  When this gets announced over the PA system, Clark, who at the time was a pretty large guy, and in good shape, blows up, asks me to put the car on the trailer, and says he'll be right back.  He marches up to the tower, goes inside, and then boils back out the door with the president of AHRA, Jim Tice, by the collar.  Clark puts him up against the tower wall, sticks his index finger in Tice's face, and proceeds to tell him what a bush league, second string, route step organization AHRA is, and will always be # 2.  Then Jim let's go of him, storms away, comes back to the pits, we get in the truck, and leave Lions pit area at about 80+ MPH.  Jim got the various contingency checks from the various suppliers, but he never did get the check from the AHRA, though. Guess I don't have to wonder why, eh?  It’s a true story.

     Today, Jim lives in Virginia City, Nevada, with his wife Lorraine.  He has four children by his first marriage, and four stepchildren with Lorraine, and between them, they have 16 grandchildren.  Jim is quite active in the small community he lives in, and is a member of the local Masonic lodge.  He still races occasionally, and shares his love of cars and knowledge with his son Brian, and his grandson Brandon, who are both active racers.

     I have included some pictures of the various Jim Clark cars; unfortunately, this is not all of them, but these are the ones that I have pictures of.

 

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]