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It is not possible to talk about drag racing in Northern California without mentioning Jim McLennan. An inductee to the Bay Area Sports

Writers' Hall of Fame and the National Hot Rod Association's Hall of Fame, Jim was selected in 2007 to the prestigious International

Drag Racing Hall of Fame by none other than Don "Big Daddy" Garlits. Jim McLennan's contribution to the sport of drag racing is

immeasurable. He did it all-drove 180 mph slingshot dragsters; ran Champion Auto Parts (a retail speed and machine shop); and, owned

and operated several race tracks, including Champion Speedway which he built from the ground up. Although Jim McLennan died in

February 2007, his legacy is carried on today by sons Bobby and Mike, who continue to build, tune, and drive top fuel dragsters as part

of NHRA's Hot Rod Heritage Series. Jim's life long passion for hot rods and racing started in his teens. While at San Francisco's Balboa

High School, Jim worked in a gas station. He could fix anything, but what he loved to do was make cars go fast. He was well known out

on the Great Highway near San Francisco's Ocean Beach for his street racing prowess with a '51 Chevy powered by a souped up V-8

Oldsmobile engine. In the 1950s, as almost all activities relating to hot rods and drag racing revolved around a car club, Jim became a

member of San Francisco's Pacers Car Club, and was instrumental in moving the racers off the streets and onto the drag strip. As early

as 1955, Jim was racing a flathead-powered dragster at the strip. The problem was that there were very few tracks in those days to

drag race. But, that would all change when Jim stepped in and rescued the closure of Half Moon Bay. The airstrip at Half Moon Bay had

been used by a couple of the local car clubs (the Lightning Rods and the Piston Pushers) as a place to race legally, but the city wanted

improvements and insurance. Without the money to sustain their pastime, the car clubs had to give it up. By this time, Jim had already

opened Champion Auto Parts in South San Francisco. His speed shop quickly became "the place" to go for rodders seeking specialty

parts, hot tune ups, or to just hang out. When Jim heard that a 3000' long, 60' wide ribbon of concrete was available, he quickly

negotiated a lease with the city and took over the track. Jim turned this remote little auxiliary airport into the hub of drag racing in

the late 1950s. With Half Moon Bay and Cotati (which Jim also owned) open on alternate weekends, drag racers in Northern California

finally had a legitimate option to street racing.

Through all this, Jim still found time to be the wheelman for the Champion Speed Shop-Ted Gotelli fuel dragster. Talk about "having

your cake and eating it too"--Jim enjoyed the rare privilege driving his own race car at a track he owned. But, the time to take off the

gloves and helmet was just around the corner. Jim had married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Padilla, and he soon became a

father with the arrival of Bobby in 1954 and Sandy in 1955. By 1961, the dangers of driving a top fuel dragster had escalated

exponentially. With improvements to supercharger and fuel delivery systems, the engines had become very powerful. Drivers were

getting hurt everywhere including close friend Bud Barnett at Jim's own track (HMB). Family and business concerns convinced him to

turn the job of driving a fuel dragster over to another. When Jim's long time partner, Ted Gotelli, left to form his own team, Jim turned

the driving duties over to 19 year old Sammy Hale. It turned out to be a very fortuitous decision. With Sammy behind the wheel of a

new Kent Fuller car, the Champion Speed Shop Chevy-powered, Algon-equipped, fuel dragster rose to the No. 2 position on the Drag

News' Mr. Eliminator list.

However, the strain of constantly touring the country to defend the spot started to wear on Jim. At the end of 1962, he reluctantly sold

the dragster to Masters-Richter. Jim now turned his attention to a most ambitious project-building Champion Speedway in Brisbane. On

the site of an old landfill just south of Candlestick Park, Jim constructed a ½ mile oval track, later adding a 1/8 mile drag strip on the

speedways straightaway. This NHRA-sanctioned facility was the mainstay of the Bay Area auto racing scene until its closure in 1979.

Read the whole story at WE DID IT FOR LOVE Part One and WE DID IT FOR LOVE Part Two

Jim McLennan

Champion Speed Shop

Written by Stephen Justice
Video presentation for the NHRA Hall of Fame 2007 - Narrated by John Drummond