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
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
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
As always – Good welding,
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