Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Famed Baja Racer Jim Garner suffers stroke

Hollywood California-

It was announced this morning that veteran Baja Racer Jim Garner suffered a minor stroke overnight, was undergoing surgery and would be released in a couple days.

Garner is a member of the Off-Road Hall of Fame. " He acted in the movie “The Great Escape” in 1963 with fellow Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame inductees actor Steve McQueen and stuntman Bud Ekins. In 1966 he appeared in the automobile racing movie Grand Prix.Beyond the screen in “real life” Garner also actively participated in auto racing both on-road and off-road. He has driven the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 on three occasions in 1975, 1977 and 1985. He owned the American International Racing team from 1967 through 1969. The team members partook in Daytona and Sebring. Garner participated in many off-road races as a driver, his presence often brought a touch publicity to the sport while still being treated as an “everyman” by his fellow racers. He attended the first Stardust 7-11 in Las Vegas. He co-drove with Scooter Patrick in a Porsche powered Manx owned by John Crean. The men did not finish the race. His presence at the 1968 NORRA Mexican 1000 helped to generate publicity for the event and coverage on ABC’s show the Wide World of Sports. In 1972 Garner raced the Banshee a vehicle built for him by fellow Hall of Fame Inductee Vic Hickey. Garner won the Riverside Grand Prix in the vehicle despite the fact that he crashed the car towards the end of the event. He placed the car in the top five at a number of races. Hickey said of Garner “The thing about Garner was that, while he wasn’t the world’s most fearless driver, he had the best retention of any man who drove for me. On a pre-run, if he hit a bump, he come back five days later and tell you where it was with in ten feet.”

One of the first sponsored, sanctioned Baja racers, Ray Brock and James Garner went off-road, bigtime. James Garner, Steve McQueen's adopted 'big brother', loved the racing-and the headaches his hobby caused studio insurance people. They weren't limited to Le Mans or airborne stints on the streets of San Francisco. In June 1968, McQueen and his pal Bud Ekins drove George Hurst's (of shifter fame) Baja Boot in NORRA's ultra-rugged Stardust 7/11 off-road race. The Boot didn't finish, notching a DNF for its famous pilots. Jim Garner said during those years, "After Grand Prix [1966] I formed a racing team," he says. "I didn't drive for the team except in off-road races because of insurance purposes. I could drive in off-road races because they had checkpoints. The insurance companies thought if you had checkpoints you couldn't go fast. I think they learned better after a while because we lost a couple of guys when they crashed or flipped. But I had a ball."