Midland, TX–Tribute to Jim Hall

I don’t mind saying that Jim Hall is one of my heroes.  In the 1960’s and 1970’s he seemed magical.  He was doing things with race cars that just blew everyone away.  It all came out of his shop in Midland, TX.


In back of this building down a side drive was his personal test track – the Rattle Snake raceway.  It was there that he developed aerodynamic race car design to a fine art.


Up to that point aerodynamics was a matter of making the shape of a race car as slippery as possible, and it worked.  Cars got faster.  The problem was that the speeds would reach a point that these cars would want to start flying, with disastrous results.  Ford found out the hard way with their successor to the Ford GT40, the J-car.

Hall was there at the right time with the right perspective to bring the racing design into a whole new era.

Wings, and later – downforce.

So I drove out to the location of Chaparral Racing and peered through the windows and the fence.



Thinking of how it must have been in those days of change.  Sure, it was a badly kept secret that Chevrolet, who had publicly sworn off racing, was quietly providing support to the Chaparral effort.  But the genius came from Hall.

So off I was to the place where you can still see the famous cars of Jim Hall – the Petroleum Museum.

But I wasn’t there to learn about oil derricks and walking beams and horseheads, no I was there to see the creativity of the legend.


In I went, skipping past the other displays.


My pulse rate climbed.


There it was.  The car that changed CART racing (now Indy racing) in 1979 and 1980.  With the secret of downforce it ran away from the field in 1979 until the transmission had trouble, but when it came back in 1980 it won.  By that time all the teams were zoning in on what downforce could do.

The secret was underneath the car.


Those two tunnels channeled the airflow and in the rear…

P1090499It …was allowed to exit quickly creating a vacuum – or downforce, on the entire car.  That resulted in higher traction as speeds climbed so instead of the car getting unstable at speed it got stickier, allowing it to keep grip at unheard of levels in the corners.

This was not the first time that Jim Hall had played with aerodynamic devices.

The Chaparral 2 was a body design that paid close attention to how air pressure could be managed in a race car.


Notice the venting around the wheels.  The spinning wheels and arches are still the most tricky areas of unwanted high pressure areas for aerodynamicists to deal with.  The wing on the rear was to add high pressure over the rear tires while the front was meant to capture the air and produce high pressure on the front as well.


The engine in the rear of the driver, was there to give the car balance and centralize the polar moment of inertia.



From there he designed an enclosed version, the 2D.


Aerodynamics were cleaned up and an automatic transmission was employed to reduce driver fatigue and allow for left foot braking.





The next step was the 2E where a wing was employed to provide downward force directly onto the suspension and would also add drag when the brake was depressed.


Since it also had an automatic transmission the driver was given another pedal to control the angle of the wing.



Here was the 2F which was an enclosed version of the 2E with  more improvements.




Jim Hall was severely injured in testing of the 2G and the company struggle to perfect the 2H.

Racing had banned the practice of mounting the wing struts directly to the suspension’s hubs so now there was a whole new design.



It had a system to automatically adjust the ride height to compensate as downforce changed.


These vortex generators were usually only found on aircraft wings.

Then Jim hall had a brain storm and decided that instead of relying on trying to direct the airflow to create downforce he would just install a vacuum and produce all that he wanted whenever he wanted it.  The 2J was born.




This produced an unbeatable car.  Unfortunately for anyone behind the fans blew all the trash from the track back at you.

The rules were changed to ban the use of such fans although they did appear briefly in F1 only to be banned for similar reasons.

Jim Hall was an amazing engineer and driver.  If you are anywhere near Midland, TX, you should find the time to check out his cars and learn the history.

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13 Responses to Midland, TX–Tribute to Jim Hall

  1. Truly a genius, and truly a gentleman.

  2. Vacuums? Do you think they actually worked when the car was at speed? Seems like that much air being forced under the car would counteract it.

  3. Pingback: Phoenix Arizona–Rising from the flames or carbonizing under the Heat | JIM'S GARAGE

  4. Terry Jost says:

    Saw Jim and Hap (#66&65) in the early days at Candlestick and Monterey. The wing and auto trans were innovative as they kicked tail. I recall they kept the cockpits covered when in the pits so prying eyes couldn’t get a look at how things worked.
    TJ Tyler TX.

  5. John Polette says:

    Talk about memories! I was there at Candlestick and saw Hap Sharp and Jim Hall, Phil Hill, J. Bonnier s/c all race these different Chapp’s and I’ll never forget seeing them at Seca vs the orange McLaren’s (Bruce McLaren and Dennis Hulme) #4 & 5 I believe and before they screwed Seca’s track up we used to stand at turn 2 and watch them come flying over the hill comin straight at ya at about 130 mph taking turn 3 at 120 or so and the 1st 2 laps were some of the most exciting racing I’ve ever seen! You don’t get the same rush watching it on TV!! About the 3rd lap it was always those 4 cars in the 1st 4 positions battlein it out for the whole race and close racing too! I don’t know why somebody got the hairbrain idea to make that turn 3( I guess it is?), a hairpin so they have to slow way down now right there! Bad for the fans for sure! I quit going down there because of it and we drove 16 hrs round trip and put up with the 4 hrs to get to Salinas on Hwy 68 (Bumper to bumper traffic because the Chapparals and McLarens raced that day and approx 50,000 racing fans would show up!) Every minute of it was worth it until now me and all my friends and families don’t even attend Mazda/Seca anymore due to the track change!) What a hairbrained idea that was! It destroyed the whole thrill of that side of the track for sure!

  6. John Polette says:

    Oh and “Terry Jost”! Since you mentioned Candlestick, were you there the day that Bay Area racing star Bart Martin cut the telephone pole in 1/2, flew off one of the concrete blocks (My Dad and I were standing right behind that very one!!;>(, slid out and exploded w/ at least 75′ high flames as everyone turned and ran for their lives as you could instantly feel the heat etc, as poor Bart sat there in his car and burned for at least 15 minutes until they got the out of control fire out, (It was the 3rd lap so he had a full tank of gas Yikess!) I was only 12 yrs old at the time and I think it was 1966 and literally had nightmares for a month or so because of it! Racing can really be a dangerous sport for sure! Anyways just wonderin if you remembered that or possibly were there? John Redding, CA PS I lived in SF for many years and saw a lotta Giants games there but the day they tear Candlestick down for some reason the only thing I’ll think about is “sayin a prayer for Bart Martin!” The experts said he was a real up and comer as a racer too!

  7. Les says:

    69 or 69 dinner for 8 at the Branding Iron

    • Les says:

      I watched as you laid a chair over and tilted it upright with only one hand.. a feat I have never seen repeated. Was it a demonstration on torque? on how the wing would work? Being a polite “servant” (bus boy) it was not within my scope to interrupt and ask who was sitting with you – certainly not polite to ask for autographs. I have wondered for almost 25 years. What was that all about? who was at that table?? had to be spring ’68.

      The only car I was fortunate enough to ever see running was the J… at Rattlesnake.. from a side road. It was magnificent… I got stuck in the sand turning around. The neighbor who called a tow truck to get me out said you practiced late into the night but it was ok with them. Being the town hero had a few perks.

      I was fortunate enough to see you again on a few other occasions.. seeing the Indy winner in the 1st National foyer was a real treat. I was having lunch at the old Pig Stand one day when you walked in (79?) I said hi and met your publicist… I asked why you haven’t put your cars on display so the local supporters could really admire them. You looked at each other and he thought that would be a great idea. I believe they went on display in May for a month – unfortunately I had recently taken a corp move to Houston – mom sent me an article noting it was ending before I could get back. I winced as I saw your ankles. I have the clipping somewhere.

      On my 4th and last move back to Midville, I need to get down to the museum and see the exhibit. So far, I haven’t been advised of the drive arounds – much less when you would be present. Gotta do that one of these days. I have a framed Allington print I’d love to get remarqued by its creator. .

      While it’s late in arriving, I used to live behind Hap, on Lockheed. Went to LHS with Rosemary though I didn’t know her. My condolences on losing Hap.

      With luck I may see you down there one of these days. There is no way the racing world can thank you enough for all you did in the evolution of high speed motor sports. To this day I try to only put Shell gas in my Mercedes and am a huge fan of Lewis and Nico.

      When so many wonder if it’s possible for one man to change the world… Jim Hall pointed the way. The “new” Chaparral video car is flat out amazing… Live long and prosper.

  8. G ADAMS says:

    Brillant and creative race car designer/engineer..
    ..AND driver
    Changed race car design forever.

  9. Mark S says:

    I was wondering if you had more details on Chaparral Chevy motors, displacement, fuel injection… that sort of thing. I’m having trouble locating more info on those details.

  10. Robert Walters says:

    Worked for Jim at Shelby Sports Cars and picked up Hap Sharp’s first race car,a 2 litre Maserati at John Fitch’s Dealership in New England. I also delivered Jim’s 1st Formula 1 Lotus to Frank Harrison in Tenn,I think. Jim was a genius without a doubt and a much better driver than he was given credit for. Robert Walters.

  11. PtfRogers says:

    Jim crashed at Mosport Park outside of Toronto. I heard him gun the motor, then saw him fly through the air. I ran through the tunnel to find the car upside down. Two guys were trying to turn it right side up. I grabbed the rear wheel and we raised it to its side. All I can see are carberators and small gasoline! More people arrived and got him out of the car. He said his arm was broken. I returned through the tunnel to hold back the crowd. Some guys identified as his crew. I said he’s OK except for his arm and passed them through! On Sunday I was on the 401 Highway. And saw a pickup towing the wrecked race car towards Detroit! Ptfr….

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