Jim Hall, one of the significant innovators in the history of American auto racing, will be honored by the Road Racing Drivers Club at the RRDC Evening with Jim Hall on Thursday, April 12, at the organization's fourth annual West Coast banquet prior to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The racecar driver, designer and team owner who made the name Chaparral famous around the world was born in Abilene, Texas, in 1935 and raised in Colorado and New Mexico. He was a student at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena when he started driving his brother's Austin-Healey at weekend road races in 1954.
That led to the purchase of a state-of-the-art modified sports car in 1961, but the results didn't satisfy him. Thus, in a partnership with fellow driver Hap Sharp, Chaparral Cars of Midland, Texas, was born in 1962. From 1963, when the first Chaparral 2 was built, to 1970, Hall's engineering genius with help from General Motors technicians turned out a series of dramatic racecar inventions that have left a lasting impact on auto racing.
Focusing on the USRRC and Can-Am series, first came the ultra-light chassis built completely of reinforced fiberglass. He then stunned the world with a high-mounted wing that rode horizontal down the straightaways but was tilted down in the turns when the driver released a pedal, giving him extra downforce in the corners (ABOVE).
What followed was the fixed wing, which became Hall's trademark. He also introduced an automatic transmission for road racing, and the radical “vacuum cleaner” Chaparral 2J, which was banned before it could win a race. As a team owner, he won the 1978 Indy 500, and in 1979 debuted the Chaparral 2K, Indy car racing's first full ground-effects car, with which Hall's team grabbed its second Indy 500 victory in 1980 with Johnny Rutherford at the wheel.
Hall made 11 starts in Formula 1 between 1960-'63, and raced in the SCCA Trans-Am, USRRC and Can-Am Series in the 1960s and ‘70s, winning the 1964 USRRC championship. Competing in World Championship Endurance Racing against the might of Ford and Ferrari, the Chaparral 2D won the 1966 Nurburgring 1000, followed by the Chaparral 2F winning the 1967 BOAC 500.
In 1982, Hall left Indy car racing, but returned to the sport in 1991. He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1994 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1997.
Retiring from racing altogether in 1996, he continues to reside in Midland, remaining active in the oil and gas business, and motorsports racing legacies.
“Jim Hall was and still is the epitome of an engineering genius in a sport that seems to spawn the best innovators in the world,” said Bobby Rahal, president of the RRDC. “His talents as a driver and a world-class designer made a strong statement during the early development of the racing industry. The members of the RRDC are privileged to honor him during the ‘RRDC Evening with Jim Hall.'”
The dinner's proceeds will help support the RRDC's young driver initiatives, including its groundbreaking safeisfast.com program and the Team USA Scholarship, which the RRDC has backed since 1997. Previous banquets have honored Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones and Roger Penske, drawing fans and luminaries from all forms of motorsports.
The RRDC Evening with Jim Hall will be held at the Hilton Hotel, 701 West Ocean Blvd, Long Beach, Calif., with cocktails at 6 p.m., and dinner at 7:15 p.m. Tickets are $150 per person, if purchased in advance, and space is limited. Tables for eight are also available at $1,200 each. This event is expected to sell out quickly. Early reservations are recommended at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Editor's note: Jim Hall will be the subject of tomorrow's chapter of RACER.com's Countdown to Sebring series.