An Interview with a Driver with some History : Jim Burruss
TAC and SCCA’s Tennessee Valley Region have some wonderful members and history in Southern Racing circles. It has been my good luck to get to know Jim Burruss and to have come with in inches of buying his Lotus 7 clone… but I was just too tall! His 43 years of running autocross and Solo I events give him a unique perspective… and some of the BEST of stories! I asked Jim to do an interview and share some of his life with us. The cars you see here are just a taste of the evolution of his passion for sports cars.
Birthplace : I was born in Jackson, Tennessee, and lived there until I was almost 17 and my father was transferred to Kentucky.
Home : I live in Madison County, Alabama, just outside of Huntsville. I have lived in Huntsville and Madison County for 49 years.
Family/Pets: My wife and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in September. We have two grown “children,” a son nearby in Madison, Alabama, and a daughter and granddaughter in (too far away) Seattle, Washington.
Profession : I am retired from the federal Civil Service after a 34-year career with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the Army Corps of Engineers as a program/budget analyst. (I get paid for doing nothing, so I am now a professional bum.)
Cars presently owned : We have a Lincoln LS (wife’s car and for trips) and a BMW 330Ci (daily driver). Then there is that necessary evil, a ’92 Dodge Dakota pickup that is seldom driven. Adding interest to my basement are a ’65 Sunbeam Tiger (I’m the second owner, for 43 years now), an ’85 BMW M635CSi (that’s the Euro version), and a ’92 Acura NSX. All the vehicles run well and are driven at least semi-regularly.
Favorite past cars owned : I liked almost all of them for various reasons, but two very different ones that come to mind are the ’71 Torino Cobra and the Opel Manta Rallye (German version).
Championships/Titles/Offices held : At various times, I have served as President, Vice President, Treasurer, newsletter editor and car show chairman of Huntsville’s Twickenham Auto Club. For a brief period, I served on the Board of Directors of SCCA’s Tennessee Valley Region, also in Huntsville. I have been lucky enough to have a first and a couple of second place class awards in SEDIV Solo I season championships and a few similar awards at the local level.
Your favorite childhood memory involving cars: Prior to World War II, my parents did not own a car; so the purchase of an old (even then) Ford Model A just after the war when cars were still scarce was a momentous occasion. I can still remember them reupholstering the interior panels with vinyl leatherette and tacks. There was still a lot of wood in cars of that vintage. Of course, I vividly recall my teen years with a new driver’s license and access to a new Mercury (straight shift with overdrive and a 4.11 rear end) and too many death-defying stunts. Fortunately, cars in the ‘50s were built like tanks. And most fortunately, God was good to me.
What you enjoy most about motorsports: I was never a good spectator, even of professional events. I most enjoyed the shared fun of participating with good friends and the good sportsmanship that usually prevailed. Now that I no longer participate, I sometimes find myself envying the formula car drivers on TV.
Advice to up and coming drivers : Have fun, step back and take a breath when you are frustrated (and there will be frustrations), and don’t take yourself too seriously. For most of us, our sport will never be more than a hobby.
Favorite professional driver past or present : I don’t dwell much on the personalities of motorsport. While I’m not a big fan of NASCAR, I think that earlier drivers like Richard Petty and the Alabama Gang epitomized driver friendliness and accessibility to the fans.
Favorite road to drive : Any that have nice curves and light traffic, but my wife doesn’t share my enthusiasm.
Your future racing plans : I think I will have to be satisfied with televised events.
Anything you’d like to share about yourself, motorsports or experiences : My participation in autocross and Solo I was tremendous fun, and I treasure the friendships and memories that remain. TAC and TVR-SCCA share much common membership and are great clubs. TAC is 57 years old, and I am a lifetime member (for 43 years now), thanks to the generosity of its membership. I truly believe there is no better car club anywhere.
Favorite story from your driving career : One of the formula cars that I owned was powered by a John Finger-built competition rotary engine and accelerated like a bullet. At a Solo I in Northern Florida, a portion of the course almost encircled one worker station. During the Saturday lunch break, corner workers came to the paddock to check out the competitors’ cars. One of them identified himself as a worker at that particular station and said to me, “Do you know what your car reminds me of when you go around and then accelerate away from us?” Following my negative reply, he continued, “The Starship Enterprise going into warp drive!”
Jim, thanks for your contribution to TAC and TVR and Southern racing history. I have enjoyed reading some of Jim’s exploits in early days of Solo 1. His first Solo 1 at the airport in Huntsville was a great story…Wanda Kirkham issued his novice license and Rich Crowell helped with set up on his car. It was interesting that while we have changed the name, sites, run groups and rules in Time Trial, one thing has remained constant. Jim wrote “These events definitely have their unsung heroes. They are the workers, without any doubt. Drivers and crew can sit down between runs, even if they are fretting over a malfunctioning machine. The workers have no such luxury; they must be on their toes all through a long, hot day. Because of their dedication, we can drive our playthings around at speed, secure in the knowledge that there will be no other cars, pedestrians, debris or what-have-you to endanger us. They don’t even get a very good show for their efforts, because solo events are not very exciting to watch. We’ll do well to remember these selfless people. They deserve our thanks.And so does TVR. Thanks! I had a ball!” WELL SAID! Thanks for being a Southern Driver, Jim.