While surfing the net for Datsun Racing history, I stumbled upon the fact that comedian Adam Carolla is now the owner of a 280Z that was campaigned by my long time close friend and mentor, Jim Fitzgerald. Now I must admit that I first delved into sports car racing by becoming the self appointed President of the Jim Fitzgerald Fan Club.
The first time I saw Jim race was in 1970 at Fernandina Beach, FL. I was working as a corner worker and the corner captain, a lady said as Jim’s little red Datsun 2000 roared by, “There goes the nicest man in racing.” As a new owner of pale yellow Datsun 2000, it was obvious that I had to meet this person. For the next 18 or so years, we were the closest of friends and confidants.
So based on that history, I hope you will under stand my displeasure when I saw that Mr. Carolla referred to Jim’s 280 as the Designated Hitter Jim Fitzgerald 280 ZX . I take exception to this title on a couple of levels. First, that was not the kind of person, let alone the kind of driver that Jim was. Sure, he liked to win, but he won fair and square. And he won a lot. To this day, he is believed to be the winningest driver in SCCA Championship Club racing with over 300 victories
I also know for a fact that Jim was never a “designated hitter.” The term surfaced after an unfortunate incident at the start of the CP National Championship race at Road Atlanta in 1980. Jim was on the outside of the front row and Freddy Baker in a Jaguar was on the inside. When the flag fell, it appeared that Jim cut across in front of Baker. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I was standing along the pit straight directly in front of where the incident happened. A better vantage point could not have been had. Now the SCCA Stewards in their “infinite” wisdom were looking down from the tower, and as such could see the tops of the cars but not the wheels which were hidden by the banking.
Freddy Baker went on to win the race. I must confess, that as a woman that NEVER uses four letter language, I let it fly on Fast Freddy that day when he pulled in the pits, assuring him that he was no champion in no uncertain terms. To add to Jim’s disappointment, the SCCA Stewards decided that Jim had taken Freddy out to enhance the possibility of a Datsun victory, a concept that was fueled in large part by the fact that at the annual Datsun party the night before the race, one of the racers proudly wore a lapel button with the letters DH, for designated hitter. I actually think that button was generated by the consummate practical joker Paul Newman. I assure you Jim was not the “designated hitter.” It was just a joke, much like the year that Paul Newman had a plane fly over the paddock pulling a banner telling Bob Tullius to CALL MOMMY. Tullius retaliated by having the GA State Patrol arrest Paul for impersonating an actor!
The stewards incredibly decided that Jim had indeed deliberately hit Freddy Baker and issued penalties. Of course Jim was not only livid, but incredulous. He immediately filed an appeal of the stewards decision. They would decide not to hear Jim’s appeal that weekend, and told him he would have to come to SCCA headquarters in Denver before an appeals court at a later date.
In the mean time, “the fan club” found footage shot by the local CBS affiliate WAGA TV with narration done by their sports caster Bill Hartman that graphically showed Jim was totally innocent. We had the video printed in frame by frame stills and it showed that Jim’s front wheels were cut to the left through out the entire incident. Now, any reasonable person could figure out that if you are turning right (Jim’s Z car was cutting across the bow of Freddy’s Jag) and your wheels are pointed left, theres only one explanation. Some one has to be pushing on the right rear fender of the car that is cutting to the right. That would have been Freddy Baker. Now, I can’t say that Baker did it on purpose. I doubt that he did, but the Jag had a powerful engine and I’m guessing that at the drop of the green flag, under heavy acceleration, the front of the Jag got light and started to understeer, drifting into the right rear quarter panel of Jim’s Z. Freddy never got out of the gas. It’s a wonder that the entire field was not take out by his actions.
To add insult to injury, after Jim had gathered all this data and purchased a plane ticket to Denver, (you must remember, driving a race car in SCCA was not a money making proposition, and Jim actually still worked full time for Western Electric, so the ticket expenditure was a financial burden to him) when he arrived in Denver the Appeals Board refused to hear his case. The nail had been put in his racing coffin, his fate was sealed.
To this day, I still hold Freddy Baker and the SCCA responsible for this injustice. I actually brought it up to a former steward of that era in Las Vegas last year when Jim was inducted (a little late I might say) into SCCA’s Hall of Fame. I was greeted with the same BS that had greeted Jim on his futile trip to Denver. As a comedian, I’m sure Adam thinks using this term is funny, but if Adam Carolla is really a fan of Jim Fitzgerald, he will stop referring to him as a designated hitter, because it simply is not true. Truth is he was one of the cleanest driving drivers in SCCA Club Racing. He couldn’t afford the body work!