In 1993, at the pinnacle of my racing career, being struck mortal was a shock for me, as it most likely was back in the day for Hercules. Only my turning mortal event was not for the same reason as Herc's. Herc earned his ejection from immortality to mortality for a totally different reason. His punishment was due to his marriage choice. Samson had his problems too, because of another bad choice in women and a haircut, but again, not my reason. My hair, what there is of it, is still long.
I think my fall from immortality was for being arrogant enough to think I actually was immortal.
God has a great sense of humor. Here I was, at the top of my game, and God pulled the rug out from under me. One day I was fine, the next I was in emergency. No stroke, no heart attack. For some reason I suddenly had arterial fib and high blood pressure. Hell, I had just had a physical to renew my NHRA Pro Stock and IHRA Pro Modified driver licenses six months before.
Funny, with all the medical king's horses and all the medical king's men, the phenomenon of my sudden condition was never answered to my satisfaction. I think it was divine intervention.
Even with my maladies, by taking a myriad of prescriptions, I was still able to go on racing for many more years. I even won my sixth championship in 2001 at 60 years old.
To be honest, after mortality was bestowed upon me, I was never quite the person I was when I was immortal. Becoming mortal, badly damaged my "Panache". But I went on. The sirens of racing were still very strong.
(L) My friend Dave Shafer. I ran AHRA and Mid America PS Circuit with in the late 70s to mid 80s.
I always considered Dave immortal. Killed this summer in auto accident. Now Dave definitely is "immortal!"
(R) Peak of Immortality. Hot Rod photo at USSC event at E-Town. 1989--note rendering of Probe on trailer door. Photo by Don Gillespie.
Drag racing, especially when I got in the big leagues and made a name for myself, became an obsession. Linda, my wife, was the catalyst that glued my epoxy of a racing career together. She would do anything to keep me racing. That conservative little school teacher insisted on top racing eq uipment. Many times we jumped off that cliff of opportunity together, hoping to grow wings of financial support on the way down. Somehow we always managed.
My Linda Lou, WOW! What a piece of work; God’s gift to me of womanhood. Luckily, I made a good woman choice. We’ve been together over 51 years and counting. Our 50th wedding anniversary was June 5, 2015.
Here’s an example of Linda Lou’s involvement in my racing. Go back to the early ‘90s, when I was still a super being. We were at a press conference in New Jersey for a big upcoming race. The press soiree was held at a Holiday Inn Holidome. My car and several other national drag race stars had their cars in the banquet room. All kinds of east coast media were on hand to interview, get the scoop, eat free food and drink free booze provided by the promoters. LOL
Linda and I were standing kind of back to back, facing out at about 45 degrees. A female TV journalist had cornered Linda; I was talking to some press and fans on my end. I overheard Linda answering questions and suddenly about four more media people swept to her side to get the racer's little woman's scoop.
The young woman from the TV station had finally asked Linda the classic dreaded question. She asked, " Mrs. Animal Jim, with all the crashes and even deaths with the kind of race cars your husband, Animal Jim, drives, why do you let him do it??!!" Linda retorted, very calm and cool, "Well, I already have a little dog at home." I almost spit my gin and tonic on my admirers. Greatest Answer Ever!!
In 1996 I crashed my drag race car, the fabulous WunderBird Super Coupe, for the second time, making five bone jarring drag race crashes in 58 years, with four different cars.
The Fabulous WunderBird crashed in ‘93 and ’96, was the best car I ever had, but it did not run well in other racer's oil or on "weepers." (A weeper is water bleeding up through small cracks in the asphalt, usually after a hard rain the day before and hot sun draws it out the next day.)
Being without a contemporary race car for 1997, I drove for another car owner. We did not, however, play well together. I am convinced he was the anti-Christ. All I can say, it was a horrible experience.
I am old school and need to own, thrash, make decisions and drive my own car. Don’t misunderstand me, I had some great help from crew people most years and most were volunteers. But I was the boss and made all the decisions. They must have proved correct. I won over 200 events and six championships.
By the end of ‘97, the person I sold the remains of my Wunderbird Thunderbird Super Coupe to fixed up the chassis. He proposed using my engines and drive train and for me to drive it. He had a new Corvette Pro Modified car. Torco fuels, who was one of my sponsors, made a deal for the two of us to do a feature match race at Puerto Rico during the ‘97 Christmas holidays and again for New Year’s. I was really looking forward to it. I had done Puerto Rico a few years before with Wild Bill Kuhlmann, we were treated like ‘Rock Stars’. One of my greatest racing and fun experiences.
(1989) Two immortals AJ with Wild Bill Kuhlmann. - (2008) Both have definitely been doomed to mortality!
However, the deal fell through. Unknown to me and Torco, the guy, who shall remain nameless, that owned my old car and had his own new Pro Modified Corvette had gone broke. So Puerto Rico was scratched. He sold the WunderBird, his car and his semi-truck car hauler to get out of debt.
Example of Linda Lou again: Here was what my Linda Lou had to say, "You know Jim, I don't care if you build a rocket to the moon, but I’m relieved you’re not driving WunderBird again. It was a great car, but I think it was jinxed. (note: Linda Lou related that after the Puerto Rico deal fell through. Not a negative word before!)
What is eerie, the next owners crashed my fabulous WunderBird a third time in 1999 due to a broken steering tie rod, something that could have been undetected damage from a previous crash. WunderBird crashed every three years, 1993, 1996 and 1999, spooky, huh? That steering surely would have broken if I had driven it!!!
In ‘98, I bought my own Pro Modified car again. It was another Super Coupe Thunderbird we named "The Ballistic Bird”, and that is when, even as a struggling mortal, taking 17 prescription meds a day, dealing with medical checkups, wearing a heart monitor while racing and phoning in results on a pay phone, sometimes from over a thousand miles, to Peoria Heart Care in Peoria, as I mentioned earlier, I still managed to win the 2001 UDRA Championship.
After 2001, I sold my contemporary Ballistic Bird and resurrected my old Pro Stock car from the '80s and booked a few nostalgia match races each year until August of 2012. After that match race with Arnie the Farmer Beswick at the famous World Series of drag racing, I hung it up after 55 years. During that time I raced 12 of my own cars and three for other owners, and even a dirt track stock car in 1969.
My days of thunder were over. But even as a mortal, it was a hell of a ride.
Epilog: Currently, I am freshening up my original race car. The car that I drove when I started serious, organized drag racing as a regional sportsman on July 20, 1969. It last ran in 1979, 36 years ago this October. I had been running national Pro Stock with a modern car since 1976. The Oswego track manager, Bubba Thurlby, called me in October of 1979. I was told Oswego was closing for good the last weekend in October. The Big Animal had been one of the winningest cars in that track’s history. Bubba asked if I would bring "Big" on the last day for a good-bye tribute run. "The Big Animal", a hugger orange 1957 Mercury, was the last car down the Oswego Drag Strip. I never ran The Big Animal again.
All drag strips have a "Test and Tune" day, some tracks call them "Fun Runs". I plan to do a couple Fun Runs with my Big Animal, to augment some wonderful memories. Racing at Oswego as regional sportsman 1969 to 1976 was the best of all. Perhaps I feel that way because I was young, immortal! and overloaded with panache!
There is a book, written by Tommy Lee Byrd in 2013, titled "Lost Drag Strips", sub titled, Ghosts of Quarter-Miles Past. In the chapter about Oswego, Illinois Dragway, I’m featured as one of the ghosts. There is a great photo by Brent Fegin at The Big Animal launching with arch rival Frank Marshall and his red and black ‘58 Chevy called, "Daddy's Thing".
Frank Marshall in '58 Chevy Daddy's Thing. Me in Big Animal. 1975 Oswego, IL. We were both immortal then.
Frank died several years ago. Now he is immortal.
Classic shot, both cars side by side with front wheels up, huge Oswego sign in the foreground.
My friend and rival in those 1970’s sportsman drag racing days, Frank Marshall, is now drag racing in heaven. Now Frank truly is immortal! Forever!!
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - By Animal Jim Feurer, Photos courtesy of AJ