Jim Jeffords, Corvette Racing Legend - Obituary

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Photos courtesy Lance Miller/Carlisle Events

Jim Jeffords, one of the earliest Corvette racers who piloted the “Purple People Eater” C1 Corvettes to two SCCA National Championships in the late ‘50s, passed away on March 25th.

Jim was a long-time board member at Road America, and that legendary Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin road-race course issued this statement yesterday, upon learning of his passing:

“Jim Jeffords was the definitive example of a gentlemen racer with a heart of gold. He loved racing for the thrill of competition, not for the money. Jim will be best remembered for how his passion for racing carried over into many successful years behind the wheel and many more beyond that serving the fans, volunteers, shareholders and employees here at Road America. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jim's family and friends."

“Jeffords appeared in the very first Road America race at Elkhart Lake in 1955 racing in the SCCA C production class driving a Jaguar XK-140. His skills of piloting the Jaguar were quickly noticed and earned him a ride in a Chevrolet Corvette at the June Sprints in 1956 at Road America. Over the next five years, Jim maintained a close association with Chevrolet and the Corvette engineers competing first in the World Championship race in Caracas, Venezuela and then at Nassau Speed Weeks in 1957. He then went on to compete in Sebring, Florida, as a driver on the Chevrolet Corvette Racing Team.

1959 Chevrolet Corvette Purple People Eater 2/2

Here’s the restored 1959 “Purple People Eater” Corvette, which won the SCCA B/Production National Championship that year with Jim Jeffords driving. Jeffords’ autograph is on the left side of the white roundel, next to the number 1.

“After a very successful season driving both factory modified and production Corvettes, Jim was invited to help form a Corvette race team for Chicago based Nickey Chevrolet in 1958 and he joined the Road America Board of Directors shortly thereafter as Vice President. Jeffords was virtually unbeatable as he easily took the early SCCA "B" Production Class National Titles in 1958 and 1959 including the '59 June Sprints in the Nickey Chevrolet "Purple People Eater" Corvette. Recalling the '58 and '59 seasons, many track announcers and historians said that Jeffords was practically unstoppable in the Purple People Eater, and if something didn't go wrong with the car everyone else was running for second place. Jeffords was also heralded for piloting many Chevrolet powered specials throughout his career like Harley Earl's SR-2, the Scarab, and the Maserati Birdcage.

“In February of 1960, Jeffords driving skill and reputation landed him behind the wheel in the first race ever for the Camoradi Corvette in the USAC Road Racing Championship where he battled against famed racers Carroll Shelby and Sterling Moss to win the Road America Grand Prix. Jeffords also drove it to a first place finish in the Grand Premio de la Habana in February of 1960. This would be the only sports car race open to other nations ever allowed in Cuba under Castro's rule and ranked as one of Jeffords favorite victories.

“Jeffords' racing career spanned nearly half a century, and due to his many victories in Chevrolet Corvettes he was inducted to the Corvette Hall of Fame in 2002.“

As for the “Purple People Eaters,” the 1959 version was discovered by Carlisle Events’ Chip Miller at what’s now the fall Carlisle swap meet in 1974, and was restored by Ken Heckert (who’d teamed up with Miller to buy it). It’s now part of the Miller family’s Corvette collection, and it appeared at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in early March of 2014.

Corvette Fever did a feature story on the ’59 “Purple People eater” back in 2008, and you can see that feature story here.

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