Category Archives: Motorsports

Practical Welding for Off Road Truck Racers

In the upcoming issue of Practical Welding Today (March April 2015) you’ll see an article we did about helping Jeremy McGrath set up his welding equipment in his new race shop.  If you’re not familiar with McGrath… well clearly you’re not a Supercross fan! He’s the winningest Supercross racer of all time, known as the King of Supercross, and his nickname is “Showtime” for his signature aerial move the Nac Nac.

Jeremy’s now retired from Supercross but last year he put together an Off Road Truck Racing team Jeremy McGrath Motorsports (JM2).  They race in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series.

When Arc-Zone’s PRO Partners were in town we went up to Lake Elsinore to the races, and to tour Jeremy’s shop. Continue reading

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

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

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Joe Welder At the GNRS

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be able to go up to the Pomona Fairplex for the annual Grand National Roadster Show.  It was amazing!  Masses of people were milling about (I heard there were 40,000 folks there, grand total), and there were, of course, loads of cool cars, roadsters, trucks, and motorcycles to look at.

The main focus of the competition is, of course, the roadster, and there were so many awesome projects that caught my eye, but I just wanted to share a few of the highlights of my trip with you.

This was, hands down, my favorite roadster – actually, it’s a truck-roadster combination, but it had that “track look” that I love. . . Check out the craftsmanship on this car — the attention to detail was impeccable!

The place was like motorcycle heaven – it made me want to get back on my bike right then and there… or maybe one of theirs – much shinier and way more tricked out than my current ride. I loved this Triumph 650 Bonneville named “Brown Sugar” It took me back to one of my racing mentors Gary Scott who rode his Triumph TT and flat track bike @ Ascot Park in Gardena CA. I can still hear that bike screamin down the track!

I saw this blown HEMI and immediately thought that this would be the perfect engine to install in my Toyota Prius! Talk about uncontrolled acceleration — most folks on the road have no clue what real horse power is. I might wanna get the brakes checked out before I install that bullet though…

And, if I got such a bitchin’ engine, I would probably be tempted to speed like a maniac on my way to the shop, so while we’re installing that engine, I think I might have to go find one of the pinstripers that were there at the show to paint this on my car for me.

And who could forget the food?  As if the automotive eye candy wasn’t awesome enough, there was Pink’s Hot Dogs!  It’s a genuine Hollywood institution, so I had to break down and get one of their hotdogs – the server recommended the “Martha Stewart” – I said what’s in it — she said it’s a kosher hotdog, strip of bacon, sauerkraut, sour cream, relish in a kaiser bun.

Something tells me the bacon might just cancel out the “kosherness” of the hotdog, but hey, it’s a Martha Stewart — so it’s a good thing, right? I loved it! So next time you’re rolling down Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, stop in and get a Pinks hot dog, or better yet plan on coming to next years GNRS– see you there!