Jimmy Rector - Hard Work Never Killed Anybody

By Jim Luikens

The dream of every racer is to someday earn a world championship. In 2003 Jimmy Rector earned his third world championship overall and his first as a crew chief. His latest championship complements quite nicely the two that he previously earned as a tuner/driver. This is the story of Jimmy Rector and his progression to the top of the drag racing world.

Like most racers, Jimmy got his automotive start early. At the age of 14 he built a Chevy pick-up that he used to drive himself and his older sister to school. By the next year he had advanced to a ‘56 Chevy with a 350 small block engine. A larger 406 small block soon replaced the 350 as his car became a dual-purpose street and strip vehicle.

Jimmy’s steady progression continued when his 406 engine found its way into a ‘69 Nova that ran 6.90s in the eighth mile. At this point he was only 17 years old and yet he was racing a car that had 10-second capability in the quarter mile. Even that was only a preview of things to come in the racing career of Jimmy Rector.

When he turned 18, Jimmy debuted his first purpose built race car, a front engine dragster that was powered by a 509 cubic inch big block Chevrolet. With that car Jimmy was a frequent participant at the Winston County (Alabama) Dragstrip. His dragster turned 4.90s in the eighth and he was a strong competitor in the track’s heads-up eliminator.

During this period Jimmy met his long-time partner, Frank Morrison, who was a machinist. They soon combined their talents on a new rear-engine dragster that Jimmy drove. Their domination during this period was so thorough that they went undefeated for two years with that car. They then turned their attention to a funny car that they match raced locally for the next three years to gain experience.

In 1990 the team made their first move towards the big time when they purchased a first rate Oldsmobile Firenza funny car that used a 511 cubic inch Donovan for power. Its previous owner had been Perry Holt, who was a premier driver in that area. The Firenza ran a best of 4.50 for Jimmy in the eighth but it really needed to run in the 4.30-second range to be competitive.

Taking stock of the situation after their first season at this level, the team realized that they needed to take some time off in order to become truly competitive. The time off served them well as the team went from qualifying 12th in an eight-car field before their break to being truly competitive when they returned. They typically were able to qualify mid-pack and their win and loss record was about equal during this period.

In 1993 the team sold their Donovan engine and switched to a Keith Black late model Chrysler engine. After another learning curve the combination began to come around the following year when the team started the season strong with runner-up finishes at Darlington and Jackson, South Carolina. A credible ninth place finish in the final 1994 standings gave the first indication of the true potential of this team.

1995 started off strong when the team qualified number one at Darlington and went to the semi-finals. Two blown engines at the Bristol event brought the team back to reality and reaffirmed what a humbling sport drag racing can be. Taking time to regroup again the team match raced throughout 1995 before returning for the last race of the season at Steele, Alabama. A 5.96 elapsed time was good enough to notch Jimmy’s first ever national event victory and end the season on a high note for the Rector team.

From 1996 to 2002 Jimmy ran every IHRA national event as he truly became a threat in Funny Car Eliminator. In 1996 he reached 7 finals, winning four of them and finishing a then career high second in the points. The following year he debuted his new Dodge Avenger and rode it all the way to his first IHRA world championship.

His second world championship was earned in 2002 when he won seven races for the year and five consecutively. In between his two championships he finished no worse than third as he recorded three seconds and two thirds to go along with his two firsts. This is quite a seven-year record for any competitor. All of these results were earned with Jimmy serving as the tuner and driver.

His successes led to an interesting career move in 2001 when he began tuning the pro modified entry of Mitch Stott as well as driving and tuning his own funny car. Despite the fact that both entries used the same basic Chrysler-based powerplant there is a night and day difference between a blown pro modified hemi and a blown funny car hemi according to Jimmy.

In spite of the differences between the two combinations Jimmy was able to tune Mitch to three wins in the 2002 season and a fine 2nd place finish in the points standings. Bolstered by that result the decision was made to park his own funny car for the 2003 season and focus on tuning Mitch’s Radiac Abrasives sponsored Corvette.

That decision immediately bore fruit as Stott’s Corvette broke the six-second barrier for Pro Modified cars by turning the sport’s first, and thus far only, five second run. Mitch’s 5.98 run was recorded at a special event held at Darlington, South Carolina. Jimmy reports that the car competed that day at 2500 pounds and that it was teched by NHRA officials for the event.

The balance of the 2003 season was just as impressive as Mitch led the IHRA points the entire year to win his first world championship as a driver. To gain additional track time now that his own funny car was parked, Jimmy agreed to tune the funny car of Mark Thomas. The dual role allowed him to have two cracks at the track during each qualifying session and, since the funny cars run before the pro mods, hopefully something might be learned that could be applied to Mitch's car.

Jimmy’s efforts with the Thomas funny car team resulted in four final-round appearances, two wins and a second place in the funny car points championship. Jimmy has signed the paperwork to again tune both racers exclusively in 2004 and his goal is nothing less than a world championship for each of them. Recognizing that two world championships is a lofty goal for the same season, Jimmy says he would take the same results that he had last year if dual championships are not possible.

While Jimmy has every right to be proud of his tuning accomplishments last season he still has a desire to return to the cockpit himself if the situation was right. He doesn’t limit himself to a nitro or alcohol ride specifically, only that it would have to be the right situation. He’s quick to answer that his proudest accomplishment is what he accomplished with his own cars considering the money invested.

Jimmy particularly wants the efforts of his wife of 19 years, Karen, to be recognized. He says she was a big part of his team when he raced and that he is very grateful for her support and efforts. In addition to her “normal” duties like inventorying the trailer she also cleaned parts and even helped with tear down.

Despite not being in the driver’s seat, Jimmy states that he is enjoying his new role as a tuner only. He says that there aren’t two better cars to work on and he likes the working relationship that he has with each of the teams. He says that they accept his decisions and allow him the final call. Each of the teams believe in him and, likewise, he in them.

Jimmy Rector is someone special in the world of drag racing. He doesn’t pay attention to others but instead follows his own thought process. He works 8 to 9 hours each day and then another six at night. He’s living proof that hard work never killed anybody and that’s good because the sport of drag racing would definitely be a poorer place if Jimmy Rector were not part of it.