Category Archives: Memory Lane

Welding and Racing: Connections for Life

Recently I was invited to a Bikes and Burgers Charity Event in SoCal by my buddy Tom White.

Jim Watson and Tom White

We’d run into each other a couple years ago at the Concourse D’elegance Motorcycle show in Del Mar California but I first met Tom and his twin brother Dan at an AMA District 37 TT Scrambles race at Huntington Beach Speedway back-in-the-day. To me, a 12-year-old kid, they were impressive: a couple of cool, classy, good looking guys who raced dirt bikes! They had their own truck and two beautifully prepared Bultaco “boat tail” Pursang TT bikes. They even had their own t-shirts with a tag line “Bultaco’s are Best.”

I’m so glad I was able to reconnect with Tom and attend the Bikes and Burgers event at Tom’s Early Years of Motocross Museum. The event was not only held in an amazing place, it was a fundraiser for the High Hopes Head Injury Program.

Tom’s Motocross Museum is only open for special events, but this is a truly world-class facility with over a 182 rare dirt bikes and related memorabilia—it was impressive.

It was cool to see all the dirt bikes, but seeing all the photos and posters really took me back to those days with my family, and to the time when I first met Tom. Continue reading

Thoughts on the Weldcraft-Miller Consolidation

Even though things are constantly changing and evolving, the New Year is always a good time to reflect on changes.  Here at Arc-Zone we’re getting new computers, we just launched the redesign of our website, and we’re adding new products to our store.  For some people change is scary, it’s a negative thing–but for me, change has always been a way to expand my network, find new opportunities, and learn more.

Jim Welding at FABTECH

Jim Watson with Josh Sprinkle of Weldcraft at the Miller booth, FABTECH 2013

One big change happening this year is the further consolidation of Weldcraft and Miller. They announced this back in November, but you should start seeing these changes now. Here’s the official word from Miller:

APPLETON, Wis. (Nov. 14, 2013)  —Miller Electric Mfg. Co. has announced the consolidation of the TIG torch and accessory lines from Weldcraft under the Miller brand. The consolidation allows Miller to better serve distributor and end user needs by offering best-in-class TIG torches and accessories as part of a total TIG welding system.  Continue reading

My Third Motorcycle

Today you can buy a factory dirt bike from the local motorcycle showroom, and add a variety of aftermarket parts from hundreds of manufacturers. But back in my day you basically had to build your bike for dirt track racing—especially if you wanted a competitive advantage. I mean why just run what everyone else was running? After racing my first motorcycle, my Dad and I decided to build something special.

This Champion Yamaha DT/RT250 / 360 was the first bike my dad and I built from the ground up. We started with a custom designed TIG welded Champion racing frame that was built to our specifications by Doug Schwerma, the founder of Champion Racing Frames.

Jim Watson’s Champion Framed Yamaha DT/RT360 AMA District 37 #16X

Our Champion-framed Yamaha was set up specifically for Dirt Track TT, Flat Track, and Rough Scrambles racing with Ceriani dirt track forks, Barnes quick-change wheels, disc brakes and Pirelli tires.  For those of you who don’t know, TT is the English term for Tourist Trophy—a track set up with right and left-hand turns and jumps.  And “scrambles” was the early term in the U.S. for Motocross—a light version with tracks that were more groomed rather than the rugged terrain of today’s SuperCross and outdoor Motocross tracks.


Those were the days– I built this bike in the bedroom of my apartment in Glendale CA!

We bought two engines from Yamaha of Montclair a 250cc and 360cc and modified them for optimal speed and reliability.  We had a couple versions of custom tuned exhaust pipes fabricated by Dick Haycock from Chino CA, he made every pipe from rolled sheet metal and Oxy-Fuel welded them together.  It was a cool set up – with two engines, I would ride the 250 (light class) and 360 (open class) the same day!  Man was I tired after each race meet– 6 motos of racing in one day was tough!

Thanks to my Mom, Dad and sisters for all their support, good food and for driving me to dirt tracks all over southern and central California!  If you want to experience what it was like back-in-the-day–- check out the movie On Any Sunday by Bruce Brown – it’s epic!

I never rode this bike long enough to post any wins in the Pro Class as a Lightweight Expert.  After my family moved closer to my Dad’s new job in downtown LA, I sold all my motorcycle racing gear, and got into Sprint Car racing!


This is what it looked like when I listed the bike for sale in Cycle News

James Gang Racing Team

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that when I was a kid in the 70s my dad and I raced TT and Flat Track motorcycles, which we customized for optimum performance on the track.  As I got older we started racing cars—Sprint Cars. My first race car started from a kit.

From there I was hooked on racing, on cars, and on metal fabrication and began working as a mechanic on a couple of local teams. One day I was approached by this young, fast driver, Lee James and his father in-law who were looking to put together a team to sweep the World of Outlaws. They hired me: Lee James, Driver and James Watson, Chief Mechanic, became the James’ Gang Racing Team.

In the early days of the World of Outlaws teams would go to the races that offered the biggest purse and with the fastest cars they’d take the prize money. The James’ Gang rode number 15 custom built for speed:

  • OzCar 4 bar custom built Sprint Car chassis by Lee Osborne (TIG welded 4130 DOM tubing, mandrel bent and stress relived)
  • Bailey Brothers 410 Cu. In. Fuel injected, dry sump, aluminum block and heads “Chevy”
  • Direct drive with solid 3″ rear axle, magnesium rear end with quick-change gears
  • TIG welded aluminum radiator
  • Fuel Safe fuel bladder with Saldana tank
  • Hunt ignition system
  • Koni fully adjustable shocks
  • Sander Engineering torsion bars
  • Airheart 3 wheel disc brakes
  • Lee power steering with quick-release steering wheel
  • Cunningham super-lite spun aluminum wheels with bead locks
  • Firestone drag 500 series tries

Jim Crew Chief

We left California and headed to the season opening race at East Bay Raceway in northern Florida.  The car had never been started, the first night on the track we broke the track record in qualifying.  I will never forget Rick Ferkel, Sammy Swindell, Steve Kinser and Doug Wolfgang coming over to the car to see which tire we were running on the right rear, Gary Stanton wanted to know what cam we were running!  (Schneider T154R).

We ended up wining several preliminary races– Three “A” main events and finished 4th in the 1979 World of Outlaw National Points Standings!  To run the entire 70 race championship series we needed to have everything with us when we were on the road.  We designed and built a custom 35′ long three axle trailer with a fully stocked repair shop, loaded with spare parts, engines, tires etc.  Both the car and transporter were custom painted by Paul Knierim.

Continue reading

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.