On July 25, 2020, I stood on the front straight at Road America in Wisconsin and witnessed the most terrifying crash that I had seen in many years. Jim Pace flipped over driving a historic Shadow Can-Am race car, and thousands of people watching were relieved to see him walk away unhurt. Many race-car drivers have had these types of crashes. It is hard to imagine that, after living the perilous life of a race-car driver with all its dangers, a healthy man like Jim could be taken away by a virus called COVID-19.
I awoke last night at 3 a.m. from a dream, hearing Jim’s patient voice in my headset, "Relax, take a deep breath, wiggle your toes, wiggle your fingers, check your mirrors. Get your bearings on where the field is.” Thinking about those reassuring words, I felt special on those late nights, but I learned later in life, when talking to other racers, that Jim was just as calm and nurturing to all of them as well.
While we traveled around the country, recruiting people to attend the inaugural Chattanooga Motorcar Festival, we visited many racing garages, car collectors and their museums. Everyone we met was immediately drawn to Jim’s kindness and Southern charm. One minute he would be under the car talking to the mechanics trying to solve a problem, the next minute he could be in the mayor’s office in a room full of city commissioners convincing them to allow us to do racing in the middle of their city. Everyone felt immediately comfortable with Jim’s kind and genuine personality. They trusted him, just as we always did.
Jim was so proud of his upbringing in Mississippi. He loved to tell stories of his family and his childhood years. In the summers, Jim worked for his grandfather who was a brick mason. Jim learned many things from him. When we were working on a project in recent years Jim was attempting to nurture someone that we were working with. I had already given up on the guy, but Jim continued to try to make the situation work. Finally one day, Jim walked into my office and informed me that our friend was no longer working with us. I asked him what had happened and Jim said he finally had told the fellow what he had heard his grandfather say many times, “Here’s your check, pack up your tools and go home." Those of you who knew him well know that this did not happen very often with Jim. He just wasn’t that type of guy.
I loved the story of Jim’s 1994 trip to France to race at Le Mans. When their car, No. 19, rolled to a stop, Jim checked his watch. It was 3 a.m. straight up. He was four miles from the pits and light years away from his hometown in Mississippi. The gearbox had failed on the Mulsanne Straight. Jim got out of the car and leaned up against a guardrail. He watched Porsches, Ferraris and McLarens blowing by over 200 mph. Discouraged, he felt pretty down for a moment. Then he looked at his car and saw his name, Jim Pace, on the window. At that moment, he decided things were not so bad.
This year’s racing season ends soon. COVID-19 has cancelled many automobile events around the world. I know I am wondering what it will be like next year without Jim. The normal scene would be Jim in his little office packed with computers that contain all the data for his racing clients. Racers would be lined up to meet with him for their sessions. I can hear Jim’s nurturing and patient voice talking to them, “You are getting on the brakes too early, you accelerated too late, don’t pinch the car off, you are losing too much time, etc."
We all feel that we wish we had more time, more instruction, more of life’s racing adventures with him. Without Jim, we are all going to feel light years away from Mississippi.
Farewell, my friend. We all hope to see you on the other side.
With love and respect,