A Racer’s Reputation – July 2013
The sport of drag racing can truthfully boast of some rather flamboyant personalities. Some “left their mark” in drag racing history by their after-hours partying while others have let their driving be their mark of distinction. Some are remembered for their angry outbursts while others are the most calm, loving, caring individuals you could ever meet. Perhaps you were in attendance at Woodburn Dragstrip when one racer became extremely upset and pulled a gun to shoot out the tires of his pit-neighbor who had accidentally spun his tires in the wet and muddy pits, thus throwing mud onto the upset racer’s car. Of course, that violent racer no longer races at Woodburn Dragstrip.
Or perhaps you were there, in the days before enclosed trailers, when some scumbag fan was going through the pits while the racers were in the staging lanes. It just so happened that a racer returned to his pits and observed the fan that had helped himself to some of the racers tools. A chase ensued and the racer yelled for someone to “stop that guy” who headed towards the bleachers, hoping to get lost in the crowd. Little did he know that a regular racer at Woodburn Dragstrip heard the noise and observed the chase in progress. Because there was no safety barrier on the top bleacher row, the racer was able to swing around facing backwards from the top row of the bleachers. As the thief ran underneath, the racer timed his jump perfectly, landing precisely on top of him in full stride. I am sure that a lesson in honesty was learned on that day.
As the sport has progressed, more racers have completed more years of formal education. In the early years, it was not uncommon for some racers to drop out of high school to take up this sport. That was the case for one racer whose first name was Russell. He was one year younger than me and dropped out of high school his junior year. One of the most flamboyant racers ever, he had the reputation of backing up after his burnout at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. Russell began driving funny cars in 1965. He usually ran in the 8 second range while some of his competitors ran in the 7′s. Never-the-less, when it came to attracting a crowd, fans would come for miles to see him put on a show.
Russell met an 18 year old high school gal who began touring with him. Super Stock & Drag Illustrated had an idea for a racing story where they would tear a funny car down to the last bolt and nut. Every leading driver in the category refused to allow their car to be used for this story except for Russell. The resulting publicity added to his legend.
Unfortunately, Russell was killed at the age of 32 when his 1972 Corvette collided head-on with a bus in the state of Pennsylvania. Some of you may never have heard of him, but I believe most of you know the name. You see, Russell was his first name, but his middle name was James. Russell James Lieberman. We know him as “Jungle Jim” and his touring friend as “Jungle Pam”. Their ability to “put on a show” is one of the great stories in drag racing. Just like Paul Harvey, you can truthfully say, “That is the rest of the story.” So I wonder, how will we all be remembered? What will be our legacy? In my humble opinion, we are all a family of racing friends. May it ever be so.
- Elvon Kauffman -
Elvon Kauffman has been drag racing since 1975. He has been a NHRA Northwest Division Bracket Champion twice – first in 1978 when he defeated fellow Woodburn racer, Joe DiFillipi at Seattle International Raceway and secondly, in 1980 when he again defeated a Woodburn racer, Ron Burch at Woodburn Dragstrip. He was the first and only World Champion in Heavy Bracket, winning with his 1970 Plymouth Road Runner 4-speed at the now defunct Ontario Motor Speedway in October, 1980.
Elvon’s variety of life experiences become the basis for the stories he shares in Straight Talk, a monthly column produced by Woodburn Dragstrip.