My First Race Car


My first race car was a Sprint Car, specifically a kit car from the SoCal builder Roger Beck Auto Racing Development. Sprint cars are designed to run on small dirt tracks, usually a 1/2 mile or less. They have powerful 410 cubic inch, fuel injected V8 engines with no clutch, starter or transmission. They use a direct drive with a solid rear axle and quick-change gears. Sprint Cars are extremely light with one of the highest power to weight ratios in motorsports. Sprint cars are built for pure speed, and any component that is not essential is stripped off to decrease lap times. That’s why I dig them!

Jim Watson's #51 Roger Beck Designed CRA Sprint Car - That's me Tuning the Engine

Jim Watson’s #51 Roger Beck Designed CRA Sprint Car – That’s me Tuning the Engine


I was 19 at the time when my Dad and I built the Sprint car in our home shop in West Pasadena, CA.  The state-of-the-art “4 bar” chassis was made of precision mandrel bent 4130 chromoly steel tubing and was tack welded when we bought it.  This was actually my first welding and metal shaping project. I TIG welded the entire frame together, then we began to fabricate the body panels, axles, radius rods and all the related components.

Afterwards, we hand built a custom radiator made with a polished brass top, bottom, and sides that I  carefully silver brazed together.  It was completed with personalized “JW” initials drilled out of each side of the tank. To this day, it was the most beautiful radiator I have ever seen.  We raced that car in the CRA (California Racing Association) championship, and primarily competed at the famed Ascot Park in Gardena, CA.

Roger Beck was an excellent fabricator and metal shaper; his cars were pure, elegant, and simple, yet very well engineered.  I still remember the first time I contacted Roger to buy some torsion bars, he said, “you don’t need to get those from me, buy them somewhere else.”  The message was very clear, he was not a retailer,  he was a car builder.

Jim Watson's #51 Roger Beck Sprint Car - Driven By Mike Sweeney at Ascot Park during the Pacific Coast Nationals in 1980

Jim Watson’s #51 Roger Beck Sprint Car – Driven By Mike Sweeney at Ascot Park during the Pacific Coast Nationals in 1980


I ended up going to his shop in Montclair, California because I wanted to see first hand what he was doing, check out his shop, and see the different kinds of tools he was using.  When My Dad and I got there we were greeted by a guy with a big Oxy-Fuel torch with a rose bud heating tip. Roger had a several big pieces of tubing heated bright orange ready to shape into something beautiful. Sometime later, we toured the shop again and met with Mr. Bob Meli, an aspiring race car driver. Coincidentally, 10 years later he ended up driving for my Dad in his USAC Champ Dirt car at the Hoosier 100 at the famed Indiana State Fair grounds.

Jim's Father (Jim Watson Sr) - The Speed Sport West USAC Champ Dirt Car which is in the Sprint Car Hall of Fame

Jim’s Father (Jim Watson Sr) – The Speed Sport West USAC Champ Dirt Car which is in the Sprint Car Hall of Fame

As always – Good welding,

-Joe Welder

If you’re interested in fabricating your own race car, here are five items you may need:

  1. High Quality TIG Torches: TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas), GTAW (Gas Tungsten Arc Welding) or HeliArc® is a precision arc welding process that is clean and quiet and produces welds. Arc-Zone offers the most complete line of high-performance TIG torches, replacement parts, purge and flooding gas cups, trail shields, remote amperage controls, cable connectors, tungsten electrodes, tungsten electrode grinders and sharpeners. Each product is carefully selected by our TIG/GTAW welding experts and supported by our Satisfaction Guarantee and industry leading product support.
  2. TIG Accessory Kits: We offer several kits that may include a sampling of Standard Collets, Collet Bodies, Nozzles and Thoriated Tungsten Electrodes. Each include a bonus handy TIG welding calculator, Joe Welder’s “Guide to Optimizing Your TIG Torch”, and popular articles on “How-to-Select” and “How-to-Grind” your Tungsten Electrodes for optimum TIG welding performance.
  3. Tungsten Electrode Grinders: Includes high-production tungsten electrode grinders, hand-held and bench-top tungsten grinding machines, and replacement diamond wheels for the most popular tungsten grinders.
  4. TIG Welding Rod: We deliver the most complete line of cut-length TIG welding rod for virtually every application. Different base materials and the dynamics of the welding process call out for a specific types of TIG welding rod. The welding experts at have compiled the most well-rounded TIG rod offering including: Stainless Steels, Mild Steels, Copper Alloys, Aluminum Alloys, Nickel Alloys and Titanium Alloys.
  5. Oxy-Acetylene Torches: Oxy-Fuel (Oxy-Acetylene) or OFW (Oxy-Fuel Welding) is a fusion welding process that uses a flame produced by gas containing oxygen and a gas fuel.  The process is used in a variety of industrial, construction, hobby and art applications. Oxy-Fuel cutting is a chemical reaction between pure oxygen and steel to form iron oxide. We carry a complete line of Oxy-Fuel torch replacement parts, regulators, flash-back arrestors, hoses, tip cleaners, strikers and more.



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