It's not every night a number of racing legends gather in one room, with another one being honored for his career achievements – but such was the case Thursday night at Long Beach.
Jim Hall, the quiet Texan who was one of racing's most legendary innovators with his line of Chaparral cars, as well as a fantastic driver in his day and a solid team owner for the later balance of his career, was the star of the annual Road Racing Drivers Club dinner.
The joke going in was that Hall, as a man of few words, wouldn't elaborate much on some of his successes. It turned out to be quite the opposite.
“It was a privilege to race against those guys,” Hall said of his time in Europe racing against Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren and Dan Gurney during his Formula 1 stint. "There were a lot of wonderful drivers and a lot of good guys. I was a Southwesterner and I bet I hadn't run four races in the rain and when I went to Europe that year it rained a lot.
“It rained some time during every race weekend. It might have rained during practice and before qualifying. At some time it would rain and some of the races were run in the rain and I'd have to say that for me with my experience level that really was tough.”
Back in the U.S., Hall's budding relationship with Chevrolet helped the Chaparral sports cars come to fruition.
“We did a lot of test work for Chevrolet and they paid us for doing it,” he said. “It was a great thing for us to have. It was a business relationship that didn't have much to do with racing. We got to know a lot of people who were shakers and doers in Detroit. They liked us and we liked them and we worked hard for them and I think we showed them some things.”
Along with his insights and recounting of some of his career highlights, Hall also sent the crowd into laughter with a number of great one-liners. Asked about his relationship with longtime co-driver Hap Sharp, Hall joked, “We bounced ideas off each other on how to make the car work, and if it really came down to it, I said, ‘We're going to do it this way.' So it was a great partnership!”
Before they ever were competitors as team owners, a certain Roger Penske served as Hall's team manager during their legendary win in the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1965, a year after driving for him.
“I taught him everything he knows,” Hall said.
RRDC president and co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Bobby Rahal served as the night's master of ceremonies, and engaged in a great conversation with Hall as Hall told the stories of his successes throughout the year.
Later in the evening, two of Hall's former drivers – Johnny Rutherford and Gil de Ferran – came forward to pay tribute. Brian Redman did as well. Rutherford, of course, scored the 1980 Indianapolis 500 victory, Hall's second as a team owner, in the iconic Chaparral 2K “Yellow Submarine.”
De Ferran recounted how in late 1994, Hall called out of the blue and asked if he wasn't doing anything during an upcoming weekend, if he wanted to test Hall's IndyCar. The rest was history and Hall's last IndyCar driver recorded his first career win at Monterey in 1995, and Hall's last as a team owner at Cleveland 1996 (de Ferran's near miss at Long Beach, LEFT).
Besides the aforementioned individuals, Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Rick Mears and Danny Sullivan were also present among the other luminaries in attendance.
It was great to see how the young drivers in the room – some of whom I'd had lunch with at a Mazda event last week – were taking this evening in like a sponge. This night was as much a history lesson as it was a night to honor Hall's career, and was certainly among the highlights of the weekend.