Jim Hall - Texas oilman/engineer/racing driver
James Ellis Hall -- Born July 23, 1935, in Abilene, Texas
1953 found Jim Hall helping his brother Charles manage the family oil business. He enrolled at the California Institute of Technology to study geology, but graduated as a Mechanical Engineer.
Hall competed in his first race driving an Austin Healey at Ft. Sumner, New Mexico in 1954. From that beginning, to his retirement at the end of the 1996 CART racing season, he competed as a driver, designer, constructor or owner in Formula One, the Can-Am, FIA Endurance racing, the TransAm and Indy cars.
His lasting contributions to automotive technology were made in the use of exotic materials -- fiberglass and aluminum honeycomb constructions, magnesium wheels, high temperature engine metals -- and aerodynamics -- adjustable air control, dynamic and passive ground effects. The Chaparral 2C was the first racing vehicle to successfully utilize an automatic transmission in competition. The Chaparral 2E, in addition to presenting the first high-strut adjustable wing mounted above the rear axle, also introduced radiators mounted midship on either side of the driver rather than in the nose of the vehicle.
His Chaparrals undoubtedly hold the dubious honor of being the most frequently banned vehicles of their time. The adjustable wing was banned as a movable device. The same device without the motion was tested and adopted by his competitors. The Chaparral 2J was banned after a debut season in which it failed to complete a single race -- something about being able to corner at speeds up to thirty percent faster than the competition despite looking like a shoebox.
The consistent level of quality found in innovations introduced by Jim Hall in his Chaparrals, made them the most feared, scrutinized, and copied vehicles of their time. Even today, most cutting edge racing technologies, and many of the drivetrain and aerodynamic designs found in production cars, can be traced directly back to the influence of Jim Hall and the vehicles of Chaparral Cars.
Competitors consistently characterized Hall as a quality driver whose potential was perhaps never realized. After successful seasons in 1961 and 1962, campaigning the Chaparral 1 in American road races, he drove for Sterling Moss' Formula One BRP team in 1963, finishing 12th in World Championship points.
Jim Hall suffered two serious accidents in his career. The first in 1964 at the Canadian GP at Mosport resulted in a broken arm, which was the only blemish on a successful season for the Chaparral 2 He recorded four wins and three seconds in eleven races; in the remaining three events, his Chaparral was driven to a second place finish at the LA Times Grand Prix, and wins at Monterey and NASSAU, by a young driver named Roger Penske. Hall's partner, Hap Sharp drove to an additional win and a second, co-driving with Penske for the win at NASSAU.
The next season, 1965, the Chaparral 2C, driven by primarily by Hall and Sharp, made 22 starts to produce a record of 16 wins -- including an unprecedented overall victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring -- nine seconds, two thirds, one fourth and one sixth, with only six DNFs (Did Not Finish). The Chaparral was driven to the fastest lap of the race, sixteen times.
The competitions staged on American road courses in 1965 were unlike any seen before or since; they were direct precursors to the FIA Group7 Canadian-American series which would begin the next year, with drivers and marques competing from every form of international competition. The record of Chaparral Cars, and Jim Hall in particular, with 12 wins, 2 seconds and a third in 18 starts stands as one of the truly great campaigns in racing history.
Hall's second serious accident occurred in 1968 at the Stardust Grand Prix in Las Vegas, Nevada. After three Can-Am seasons, the Chaparral 2E/2G was at the end of its competitive life when Hall encountered a slowing Lothar Motschenbacher and misjudged the pass, ramming the backend of Motschenbacher's McLaren and vaulting into the air at over 120 mph. The Chaparral landed upside down pinning Hall in the wreckage.
"The result of the crash was the hospital, with a lot of doctors hovering over me. They were telling me that I would be in traction for months and that I probably would not walk for over a year, if ever."
The 2G chassis destroyed at Las Vegas was never repaired, and Jim Hall never drove another lap in competition. He did however continue as an owner, designer and innovator with vehicles driven by Jackie Stewart
, Vic Elford
and John Surtees
in the Can-Am series in 1969 and 1970.
From 1974 through 1976 he managed a Lola based F5000 team to three championships with driver Brian Redman. Then he went to Indianapolis where he won the Indianapolis 500 with a modified Lola and Al Unser, Sr. in 1978. And he captured the 500 again in 1980 with Johnny Rutherford at the wheel of the passive ground effects Chaparral 2K; Rutherford went on to win the driver's championship that season driving the Chaparral. After two more seasons, Hall left racing to manage other ventures but he returned to CART Indy car racing 1990, until his final retirement in 1996.
In 1964, as a lad of 12, I discovered the Indianapolis 500, and auto racing
put its mark on my life. I read everything I could find about it, kept a scrapbook
of clippings from the newspaper
, searched the radio
dial each weekend for races to listen to, and of course ABC Wide World of Sports
became my favorite television program
-- it was in those days, about the only place you could see an auto race on television, by tape delay
, then live from Europe using the satellite
technology of Telstar
Racing drivers became larger than life for me. They became my heroes. And while there were many from Texas, the most accessible became Jim Hall.
Hall was more than a race driver. He was an "engineer." He was an innovator. He designed and built his own vehicles -- the Chaparral -- with his wife Sandy and his co-driver Hap Sharp. Chaparral Cars outside of Midland, Texas became a sort of mecca for me. One I finally acheived in the early seventies.
As a 13 year old, I wrote a letter to Jim Hall, and he responded; not just once, but every time I wrote. I received answers to my questions, a thank you for my enthusiasm, an invitation to say "hello" in person whenever possible, and the all important autograph on Chaparral Cars stationary.
I was actually in his presense at least twice in the early seventies, and both times I bailed out on the "hello." But in 1995, at the CART race in Portland, I confidently strode up to him with my hand extended and introduced myself. He acted like he knew who I was, and took time to show my father and I the CART Chaparral sitting on pit road, and made a joke about his driver John Andretti, being "a short little sucker" - I am 6'2" and Hall is taller than me! It was a short time to visit but it was like a dream come true - right up there with carrying Dan Gurney's helmet (but that is another story) - and we parted with another hand shake, best wishes, and another invitation to drop by anytime.
- The Encyclopedia of Motor Sport
Edited by G N Georgano
Rainbow Reference Books Ltd 1971
- Chaparral Can-Am and Prototype Race Cars
Motorbooks International Publishers & Wholesalers 1998
World Print Ltd
- Arnold E. van Beverhoudt, Jr.
April 22, 2000
- International Motorsports Hall of Fame
- Bill Maloney -- The Auto Channel
- Background - Jim Hall -- The Auto Channel
- A Tribute To Jim Hall
By Avrom Pozen
SpeedCenter Internet Publishing, Inc.
- Vic Elford And The Vacuum Cleaner
by Andrew S. Hartwell
- 1996 Goodwood Festival of Speed
- Chaparrals and Corvairs, by Allan V. Lacki.
- Jim Hall's Chaparrals (1960's)
by Mark Smotherman