Anyone who's followed the advancements of technology in the sport of motor racing surely knows the name of Texan Jim Hall, a designer, engineer, championship racer and innovator who was responsible for the magnificent Chaparral racing cars that ruled sports car competition from the 1960s through to the 1990s.
Hall received recognition during a festive evening prior to the 38th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, where the Road Racing Drivers Club (RRDC) honored his achievements, inviting many of his peers, elite drivers and friends of the sport to enjoy the remembrances of a stellar career.
With RRDC president Bobby Rahal as master of ceremonies, Hall opened his reservoir of memories - something the soft-spoken gentleman normally shies from doing - and the stories flew, even as former Chaparral drivers Johnny Rutherford, Brian Redman, Gil de Ferran and last year's honoree Roger Penske added their own special tales.
Hall told of his initial encounters with Chevrolet engineers and executives who partnered with him to create the "vacuum cleaner" Chaparral 2J--one of the most advanced race cars of the last century--and spoke of his experiences as a team owner and co-driver, before retiring from the sport in 1996.
More than 350 people came to Long Beach to celebrate Jim Hall's magnificent career, his cars and one another.
"It was a magical evening," Rahal said. "Jim Hall is an icon in this sport and it was a pleasure to sit down with him and listen to the recollections of an extraordinary visionary from such an important era in our sport."
Although much of Hall's history in the sport occurred before he became executive director of Firestone Racing, Al Speyer explained the unique relationship Hall and Firestone shared. Hall would stretch the limits of the tires he was using by putting them on larger rims, resulting in the tire company regularly constructing new tires to satisfy the forward-thinking Hall's search for more performance.
With the Indianapolis 500-winning "Yellow Submarine" Indy car and Chaparral sports racer sitting outside the Hilton Hotel during cocktail hour, it was easy to see the exceptional craftsmanship that marked Hall's work and set the stage for others who would follow him.
"It's fabulous to be honored by your peers," Hall remarked. "And that's really what it is here tonight. There are so many of the real racers here and I'm honored to be with them. It's terrific to follow the three guys who were previously recognized by the RRDC (Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones and Penske--all in attendance) and to see so many of the other people in the sport who were willing to come here and support this event. It just makes you really proud; I'm excited about it."
In addition to former Jim Hall Racing drivers Rutherford and de Ferran, other past Indianapolis 500 winners present included Rahal, Jones, Rutherford, Rick Mears, Dario Franchitti and Danny Sullivan, the group accounting for 13 BorgWarner trophies between them.
The dinners proceeds help support the RRDC's young driver initiatives, including the groundbreaking www.SAFEisFAST.com program and Team USA Scholarship, which RRDC has backed since 1997.