Indy Stalwart Jim Gilmore Dies

To the casual race fan, Jim Gilmore’s face probably wouldn’t stand out in a crowd.

But, put him in his team’s famous red-and-white checkered shirt beside Indianapolis 500 legend A.J. Foyt and Gilmore suddenly is an important part of the picture.

That all changed on Sunday afternoon.

Seventy-four-year-old Gilmore was killed in a freak automobile accident in his hometown of Kalamazoo, Mich.

Although he never got behind the wheel of a car in the Indianapolis 500, Gilmore was a constant at Indy throughout the 1970s. He sponsored A.J. Foyt’s team in 1977, when the Texas legend won his fourth Indianapolis 500.

"When A.J. got the winner's ring, he took it off and gave it to me and said, 'Jim, you may go broke, a lot of things may happen in your lifetime, but this is something we did together,'" Gilmore recalled of that historic victory.

According to police reports, Gilmore's pickup truck hit a patch of ice, overturned and slid into a fence. Snow fell through the driver-side window and the sunroof, and Gilmore was covered with snow. He had to be dug out of the snow before his body could be removed from the truck. He was pronounced dead after CPR efforts failed.

A passenger in the truck, Lynn Marie McCarthy, was treated and released from a Kalamazoo hospital.

Gilmore interest in racing began in boyhood, when he built model race cars and tiny gas engines that powered them.

"I've always been mechanically inclined even though I don't have any degrees in engineering," Gilmore once said. "That's one of the reasons I love race cars.

"I see the mechanical side, the intricate side."

Many years later, after working in the family department store and then branching out to run his advertising agency and later owning a chain of radio and TV stations, Gilmore became involved in racing as a way to lessen the pressures of his business dealings. He helped fellow Michigan resident Gordon Johncock get his start in Indy cars in the mid-1960s.

Gilmore later sponsored cars owned by Lindsey Hopkins and Clint Brawner and driven by Wally Dallenbach, Mel Kenyon, Jack Brabham, Art Pollard and Jimmy Caruthers.

In 1973, Gilmore formed his partnership with Foyt. They signed an original contract that was renewed year after year without either one changing any of the wording. The team wore red-and-white checkered shirts with Jim Gilmore Racing emblazoned over the left pocket.

Through thick and thin, Gilmore always had a smile and was available to the media. He was the buffer for Foyt when things went wrong. Gilmore's dedication to auto racing included the presentation each year of the Diana Fell Gilmore Woman Behind the Scenes Award. It honored his late wife. This year's award winner will be announced at the annual USAC banquet Friday night in Indianapolis.

In the 1980s, Gilmore, who was elected mayor of his hometown in 1959, owned the largest Chevrolet dealership in the United States, in Miami. He also owned the family Cadillac/Pontiac/Nissan dealership in Kalamazoo and a Lincoln-Mercury operation in Hialeah, Fla.

He began Gilmore Broadcasting in 1962 with a radio-TV station in Joplin, Mo. He still owned WEHT-TV and Jim Gilmore Productions in Evansville, Ind. Racing souvenirs in Gilmore's home included the car Foyt drove to a closed-course speed record of 217 mph in 1974. It sits in the living room.

Another Foyt Coyote hangs from the ceiling of the family room. Walls of his home and offices are covered with thousands of photos of Foyt and clippings of his driver's exploits.

Langeland Family Funeral Home is handling the arrangements. Visitation will take place from 4-7 p.m. Wednesday at Langeland, 622 S. Burdick St., Kalamazoo, MI 49007. The funeral is at 1 p.m. Thursday in St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 247 Lovell St., Kalamazoo, MI 49007.

Survivors include four daughters, Bethany Lass of Richland, Mich.; Sydney McElduff of Quincy, Calif.; Elizabeth Bystrycki of Otsego, Mich.; and Ruth Lamp of Ann Arbor, Mich.; son James S. Gilmore III; and 13 grandchildren.

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