TOLEDO OH (10-25-02) Auto racing legend and MARC/ARCA series veteran driver Bob James passed away following a four-month battle with cancer. He was 79.
James succumbed peacefully in his Chagrin Falls, Ohio home on Friday morning, October 25 at 9:45 AM eastern time.
James was born on December 15, 1922. After a 3-year stint in World War II that including duty/landings in France, Italy and North Africa, James returned to his bride Kitty and embarked on a racing career in 1945 at the Berea Fairgrounds. For a span of four decades, James was as formidable on the racetrack as much as he was a gentleman off. A fan favorite, the likeable Maple Heights, Ohio driver was always near the front.
After winning the feature event in only his second appearance at Berea, James started driving roadsters in the Ohio Roadster Association and the Eastern States Roadster Association throughout the Midwest and Northeast. During this period, James captured two Ohio State championships and was also runner-up in the Eastern States points championship.
In 1951, James began running stock cars at Sportsman Park in Bedford, Ohio continuing to win races. It was also in the early-to-mid-fifties that James began racing in NASCAR and MARC sanctioned events. By the time Sportsman Park closed following the 1956 season, James was the winningest driver there and had earned two track titles.
Through the course of his MARC career, which would become ARCA in 1964, James posted 15 career MARC/ARCA series wins.
In all, James won more than 1,000 main events throughout his career. His career included track championships at Ashtabula, Heidelberg, Sportsman Park, Lorain County, Fort Wayne, Barberton, Canfield and many other long-gone racetracks.
While James may have been known for his victories, he was also voted Most Popular Driver at Sportsman Park five years in a row and won this same honor at other tracks he raced at. He was also well known for his sportsmanship and dedication to drivers^Ò safety. Many younger drivers patterned themselves after James, and his willingness to assist those drivers was legendary. James was also revered by the young fans who came to watch him race. He never turned down a request for an autograph or a moment of his time with the kids, and he is still remembered for that kindness. His popularity during his career was second to none.
James retired from racing in 1975 after racing at over 140 different racetracks in 21 states and Canada winning at most of them. ^ÓIf you were fortunate enough to beat Bob James, then you knew you beat the best,^Ô commented 1973 USAC Sprint Car champion Rollie Beale.
James was also a successful businessman, operating Bob James Automotive, first in Maple Heights, Ohio, and later in Oakwood. He was active in his community and he and his wife Kitty were honored for their work in getting recuperating, wounded veterans to the races. Bob and Kitty organized transportation and arranged for tickets so the veterans could enjoy an evening at the races.
James may be best described as a man among men, a true sportsman, a dedicated family man, a successful businessman and a true gentleman. All of those he touched will miss him.
He is survived by his wife of 61 years Mary Catherine ^ÓKitty^Ô James, daughters' Cathleen James, Michelle Hawk and her husband Edward Hawk and Heather Cogan and her husband Tom Cogan; and grandchildren Bob & Jim Hawk, Jennifer Frederick and Mathew and Dan Hess.
Viewing will be at the Ferfolia Funeral Home, 356 W. Aurora Rd, Sagamore Hills, Ohio on Monday, October 28 from 2-9 PM. A Memorial Mass will be held on Friday, November 1 at Holy Angels Church in Aurora, Ohio.
Cards of sympathy may be sent to the James family c/o Cathleen James, 8891 Carnes Road, Chagrin Falls, OH 44023.