James "Jim" Downing (born January 4, 1942 in Atlanta, Georgia) is the five-time IMSA Championship winning, owner/driver of Downing/Atlanta Racing, and principal in the development of the HANS device.
His father being a major foreign car dealer in the Atlanta area, he grew up around cars and racing. He began racing soapbox derbies when he was 11, raced those for several years, then won a local downhill slalom event when he was 16. In his late teens and early twenties, he raced gymkhanas (known today as SCCA Solo) in almost anything he could get his hands on because SCCA rules of the time prohibited racing before age 21. When he was 21, he bought an Elva Courier for $200 that had been totaled, spent a year and a half putting it back together, and began racing at Daytona Beach in 1963. He continued SCCA racing successfully on the amateur level for the next 11 years.
Looking for new challenges, he joined IMSA in 1974, at the invitation of John Bishop, President and founder of the (then) new International Motor Sports Association IMSA, they were so friendly and helpful that it convinced him that he should give it a try. As a young person coming out of very amateur racing, it was a big step. He quickly discovered in the first year of racing a Mazda RX-2 in the old RS series that he got more experience in one year than he had in the last six years in club racing.
Sponsored by the Mazda factory for his entire IMSA career, Jim progressed up the competition ladder from the near showroom stock Radial Sedan series Mazda RX-2 & Mazda RX3, to GTU Mazda RX3 & Mazda RX7 and GTO in the Mazda RX7, then up to the ultra-quick purpose-built GTP category prototypes, all powered by two, three, and four rotor versions of the Mazda Wankel engine. After competing in an Argo built prototype since 1984, in 1988 he began designing and building a prototype racer of his own design. His Kudzu DG-1, made its debut at San Antonio in September 1989.
In 1999, with the demise/reorganization of IMSA series, he moved on to the American Le Mans Series with his Kudzu racers until the end of the 2000 racing season, then into an AutoExe Motorsports prototype as his long and successful career wound down.
During his illustrious forty-five year racing career he has either won or scored highly in races at Daytona, Sebring, Nürburgring and Le Mans. He won several Camel Lights championships, including 41 career victories and is still racing today in SCCA and Formula Atlantic (the fastest class in SCCA).
Jim Downing has been credited as the first to identify the problems associated with a restrained torso and an unrestrained head in sudden deceleration impacts, following the 1981 death of Patrick Jacquemart at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Jacquemart, the director of Renault Racing in the United States, raced in the GTU Class in the 1981 IMSA series, and was at the wheel of his heavily modified Renault 5 Alpine Turbo when he missed the curve at Turn Seven and struck a sandbank with the front of the car. He suffered a fracture of the base of his skull and was pronounced dead on arrival at Morrow County Hospital in Mount Gilead, OH.
With the problem identified, Downing turned to his brother-in-law, Dr. Robert Hubbard, a bio mechanical crash engineer for General Motors, to help him design a Head And Neck Support system that would eliminate or protect against these types of injuries. Working together, their goal was to create a device that would reduce the chance of a serious injury caused by the violent movement of the unrestrained head and helmet during a crash. Dr. Hubbard created the first prototypes of the HANS Device in the late 1980s, and Downing, as a firm believer of the product he had helped to create, started wearing the untested prototype of the HANS Device during his IMSA sports car races.
SCCA National Championship Runoffs
|1971||Road Atlanta||Ford Mustang||Ford||American Sedan||5||11||Running|
|1972||Road Atlanta||Ford Mustang||Ford||American Sedan||10||14||Running|
|2005||Mid-Ohio||Ralt RT41||Toyota||C Sports Racer||4||10||Running|
|2006||Heartland Park||Ralt RT41||Toyota||C Sports Racer||5||7||Running|
|2007||Heartland Park||Ralt RT40||Toyota||C Sports Racer||8||DNS|
|2008||Heartland Park||Peach Day 01||Mazda||C Sports Racer||3||3||Running|
|2009||Road America||Peach Day 01||Mazda||C Sports Racer||5||7||Running|
|2010||Road America||Peach Day 01||Mazda||C Sports Racer||8||8||Running|
|2011||Road America||Peach Day 02||Mazda||C Sports Racer||3||7||Running|
Notable Motorsports Awards
2002 Phil Hill Award
2008 Bob Akin Memorial Motorsports Award
2012 Sebring Hall of Fame Inductee
2014 SCCA Hall of Fame Inductee
Fun House (1994) Blue Peter (1994) The Vicar of Dibley (1995)
Internet Source: Road Racing Drivers Club
Internet Source: Mulsanne's Corner: An Interview With Jim Downing
RRDC Press Release, dated February 4, 2008: Motorsport.com