We join the racing community in mourning yesterday’s passing of Jim Hallahan, a true legend. Jim was a friend to all and a mentor to many; he will be greatly missed. Our deepest condolences to Liz and the Hallahan family.
In 2016, Jim was our IWK 250 High Bank Hero – he was very proud of the following article. We’re republishing it today in Jim’s honour…
High Bank Hero – Jim Hallahan (Published July 2016)
At 86 years young, Jim Hallahan has enjoyed two robust careers in stock car racing and contributed as much or more to his favourite sport than just about any other, and in his 67th year in racing, he’s still going strong.
He and his wife, Liz, still travel to stock car races every weekend and still plan their annual vacation around NASCAR races. Yes, vacation, Jim goes to work every day, and loves it.
Racing cars and car racing has been his hobby for as long as he can remember, and still is.
Selling cars has been his lifelong occupation, and still is.
It would be safe to say he is a car guy.
But more than that he is a people person, a good person, and has rightfully earned the respect and admiration he enjoys from all walks of life, at the track or away from it, with folks from nine to 90.
Jim Hallahan is our 2016 High Bank Hero.
Jim Hallahan’s interest in cars started at a very young age.
“It’s all I’ve ever done,” said Hallahan, a native of Clarkson, Ontario. “Work on them, sell them, and drive them.”
His passion for cars has led him down paths that have shaped his life. Cars have been responsible for some of his highest highs, and some of his lowest lows.
It was four years after the end of the second World War when in 1949, at 20 years of age Jim Hallahan started racing driving a jalopy at a track in Streetsville, Ontario. Five years later he moved to the modified class at Pinecrest Speedway where he won the 1958 and 1959 division championships. It wasn’t long before he wanted to run in the late model division. He had a Studebaker dealership at the time so took a car, cut it up, and made it into a stock car. It didn’t handle well so they cut off the front clip and replaced it with one from a ’57 Chev; it was with that ’65 ‘Studelet’ that he won the late model championship at Pinecrest and a lot of races at tracks in southern Ontario and the United States. He became known as one of Canada’s top stock car racers.
In 1966 he made his first trip east to the new River Glade Speedway in New Brunswick with his familiar No. 33, a carbon copy of Pinecrest Speedway where he had enjoyed so much success. The year before, in 1965, River Glade owner Ernie McLean ( a friend of Hallahan’s) had started the River Glade International, at the time the richest race in Canada.
“I didn’t make the trip in ’65,” said Hallahan. “We went in ’66 and won it, lost a fan belt in ’67 and didn’t finish, won it again in ’68, and had a gas line block in 1969.”
During this time he was becoming known as a pied piper in bringing Ontario racers to the east coast, with as many as 10 others following him at times. Besides River Glade in New Brunswick, he visited Danny’s Speedbowl in Bathurst, where he won its International 100 in 1967, and Brookside Speedway in Fredericton, winning the International in 1969. His reputation had Nova Scotia and he was invited to Yarmouth International Speedway for its annual International event, which he entered in 1968 and 1969. Promotional materials for that event show Hallahan being billed as ‘Canada’s top stock car driver and winner of more feature races than any other driver in Canada’.
It was in Yarmouth that Hallahan met Ivan Forbes, whose Dartmouth dealership Forbes Chev Olds owned and sponsored a race car. Forbes eventually offered Hallahan a job selling cars and the opportunity to drive his race car. Forbes would pay the expenses and Hallahan keep the winnings.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Hallahan. “It was like going south. I couldn’t turn that deal down.”
By then he was married with children but moving east was still an easy decision. Family vacations for the past few years had been on the east coast and they liked the area and the people, so in the spring of 1970 they packed up their life in Ontario and moved to Dartmouth.
He drove the Forbes ‘Hugger’ for one season, winning a handful of races. They had hard luck more than good luck and after the second time the car was wrecked in what was the worst crash of Hallahan’s career – at Atlantic Speedway in Hammonds Plains (NS) – Forbes got out of racing, but Hallahan didn’t.
“Stupid me,” said Hallahan. “I was leading but let off a bit on the backstretch. Another car hit me and over she went, then another car hit me and she blew up. I hit the guardrail and flipped about 10 times. I woke up in the hospital. That was it for Ivan. If I hadn’t let up we would have been okay, but the car was totalled. It was a good one; it came from Don Biederman.”
He continued to sell cars at Forbes and on weekends for the next few years ran his own cars at tracks throughout the Maritimes, but primarily at Atlantic Speedway and Riverside Speedway, both in Nova Scotia. In the late 70s he drove for others including Bob Riley and partnered with Don Alexander on one car and then Bob Yuille with another.
By then it was the early 80s and he was starting to not have much fun anymore. He remembers getting into his car for a race at Onslow Speedway near Truro (NS) and knowing it was time, time to get out. It wasn’t long after that he retired from driving race cars, but not from racing.
Ironically, after 33 years (his car number), it was time to start a second racing career, that of a builder and promoter.
During his transition from driver to promoter he helped his son, Jim, Jr. and daughter Debby start their racing careers. Jim, Jr. had other interests so didn’t stay with it. Debby was showing great promise as a rookie on the MASCAR circuit when she died in a 1984 racing crash.
The sport that had given Jim Hallahan some of the best moments in his life was now responsible for the worst possible tragedy a parent could imagine. But he soldiered on, choosing to advocate for safety in race cars and in helping build what was still his favourite sport.
The year before, in 1983, Hallahan had spearheaded the formation of MASCAR, a regional late model touring series. He served as President of MASCAR for several years and it was he that negotiated for the series to race through the streets of Halifax during the Moosehead Grand Prix weekends from 1990 to 1993 as an undercard for the headline American IndyCar Series, bringing even more prestige to the successful Maritime stock car racing series and to Maritime racers.
After the dissolution of MASCAR in 2000 Hallahan was instrumental in the successful transition for racers to the newly founded Maritime Pro Stock Tour where he served as assistant general manager from 2001 to 2009 and still works as the driver relations representative. Concurrently, he was assistant manager for Scotia Speedworld near Halifax (NS) from the mid 1990s through 2009.
Hallahan tried to retire from racing several times but the lure of the speedways and of the friends he had made kept pulling him back.
“It’s the love of the sport, I guess,” said a humble Hallahan. “It’s a way of life.”
In 2002, Hallahan’s accomplishments in and contributions to Canadian motorsports were recognized when he was inducted to the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame.
“This is the biggest thing that ever happened in my racing career,” he said at the time.
In 2010, he was inducted to the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame where he also served on the board for several years.
In addition to his involvement in racing, Hallahan has been a tireless worker for charity with the Boys and Girls Club of Dartmouth, the Children’s Wish Foundation, and Rainbow haven – a summer camp for underprivileged children.
And while some things change over the course of time, some remain the same.
The dealership he works at is no longer called Forbes, but it is located on Forbes long-time site in Dartmouth.
Jim and Liz live just down the road, an easy commute to work for Jim and easy access to the highway for Jim and Liz as they head off on their frequent trips to a track, somewhere, anywhere.
Jim Hallahan’s invaluable contributions to stock car racing are legendary. But his legacy goes beyond racing to include his family, his friends, his work, and his community.
He is our High Bank Hero for 2016.