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James Mansfield "Jimmy" Pardue
Born: October 26, 1930      Died: September 22, 1964
Home: North Wilkesboro, NC

On 22 September 1964, Jimmy Pardue was conducting tire tests at Charlotte in his Burton-Robinson Plymouth when a tire burst going into the third turn. The red Plymouth hit the guardrail and burst through it, literally sailing down the embankment, through a chain-link fence, and finally coming to rest near the entrance of the tunnel leading to the infield. Remarkably, he was still alive, but died almost three hours later of head injuries apparently caused by one of the support posts coming through the window and striking him.

JIMMY PARDUE   By Steve Samples

When the subject of NASCAR greats is discussed, the name Jimmy Pardue rarely enters the conversation. After all, Jimmy only won two events, and died tragically during a 1964 tire test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Like many drivers of that era though, Jimmy was limited to a standard of track performance based on the quality of his equipment, and unfortunately he rarely had cars capable of winning.

Jimmy Pardue at Lincoln Speedway, PALike all contenders who never seem to be able to win consistently in independent cars, Jimmy waited for his break when the call from a quality team with factory sponsorship, a big time budget, a stellar pit crew, and a very fast car would come. Finally after years of struggling, Jim's break came. The year was 1963, and the firm of Holman-Moody, NASCAR's premier car builders, had found themselves with an extra car for the World 600 in Charlotte. The driver they tabbed to drive the car was Jimmy Pardue. Jim was a local boy from nearby Wilkes County, and like another Wilkes County driver named Junior Johnson was a lead footed charger. Perhaps the main difference in Jim and Junior's win totals was equipment. Perhaps not. In either case this would be a race that Jimmy Pardue could showcase his talents to the elite of the stock car racing world. If he could pull off a win at Charlotte, or even a top five finish, he might be offered a permanent ride.

Eager to appear a team player, Jim offered his services to make the plethora of personal appearances prior to the big race on Memorial Day weekend. He attended an autograph session at Scenic Motors in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, the home of the dealership that would provide the "factory" car which Holman-Moody would re-build into a 160 mile per hour firebrand. During the week before Jim's arrival, area radio stations announced that Holman-Moody driver Jimmy Pardue would appear in person to sign autographs and talk to fans, just a few days before the race.

I was a resident of the tiny southern town at the time, and like many youngsters growing up in the south, the thought of meeting a NASCAR driver was exciting. I convinced my father to take me to the dealership to meet Mr. Pardue. The trip was about a 10 minute drive from my home and I remember thinking there must be at least a thousand people that would be there. I mean how often does a "real" NASCAR driver come to such a small town? And a Holman-Moody driver at that!

It seemed to take an hour to drive the five or so miles from my home to Scenic Motors that day, and I kept asking myself what to ask Mr. Pardue when I arrived. When we finally got there I was stunned. There was no line of traffic, no people, and no parking problem. We drove right in and pulled up to the dealership door. I looked inside and saw three men. Two standing and one sitting. The man seated was Jimmy Pardue. As we walked through the door I approached Jimmy. He was wearing a light jacket and was smoking a cigar. Well half smoking, half chewing. He never could keep it lit, and that didn't seem to bother him. Jimmy was a slender dark haired man. Some would say skinny. His hair was short and combed back in a style more popular a couple of years earlier. As I entered the room I introduced myself and began to barrage him with questions. The kind you would expect a 12-year-old to ask. How fast do you go through the tri-oval at Charlotte? Do you ever lay back and then charge at the end of the race? Is Fred Lorenzen really that much better than everyone else? He handled the questions like a college professor, carefully explaining each answer in terms a 12-year-old could understand. He spoke with confidence, and smiled just slightly as he emphasized the important parts of his answers. "You drive through the tri-oval wide open. "Anytime you make even a slight turn, even though you don't lift the accelerator, your car slows just slightly," he said. "As far as laying back. No, I never lay back. If the car is going to blow, It's going to blow. It doesn't matter how hard you drive it."

"Now on Fred Lorenzen. He's a great driver, but if you ask me, Freddie is just a little bit conceited," Jimmy said as he laughed. I immediately defended Lorenzen by pointing out all the races he had won. Jimmy, realizing he had trampled ever so slightly on a kid's idol, began to agree with everything I said. "He does have a lot to be conceded about. You're right. He's one of the best," Jimmy said. "If you see Fred Lorenzen at the shop would you tell him I said hello," I asked. "I won't promise, because I'm not sure I'll see him. But if I do see him, I'll tell him you said hello," Jimmy responded.

I've thought many times about the sincerity in his voice. You had the feeling that if Jimmy Pardue told you something, he fully intended to do it. Our conversation finally drew to a close, and Jimmy Pardue walked out the door and stepped into a Scenic Motors courtesy car, by himself, for the drive back to Wilkesboro. As he opened the door, one of the Scenic employees yelled, "Give 'em hell at Charlotte, Jimmy." He smiled, and then looked stern. "I'll do it," he said.

I never had the opportunityJimmy Pardue with Banjo Matthews to speak to Jimmy Pardue again, but I did see him race a few more times. His Holman-Moody Ford would not finish the race at Charlotte. Maybe because he drove it too hard. But maybe because nobody, not even Fred Lorenzen, could have made it finish. I'll always wonder just how many races Jimmy would have won if he had that Holman-Moody Ford throughout his career.

Sadly, that is a question that will never be answered. A year later I was sitting in my den when I heard on the radio that Jimmy Pardue had been killed. Ironically at the same Charlotte track where he had gotten the ride of his life, in a Holman-Moody Ford. A few minutes after hearing the report, my father entered the driveway and I ran out to deliver the news. "Dad, Jimmy Pardue was killed today at Charlotte running tire tests," I said. My father, a man of few words and little emotion looked back. With a poker face he said, "Oh hell. Nice guy. Skinny little guy always chomping on a cigar." Then he paused and stopped walking for a moment. He frowned and shook his head. "That's a shame," he said. Coming from my dad, that was a tribute.



 

From a Tom Higgs Article:

Another successful driver, Jimmy Pardue, was killed while testing at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1964.However, Pardue died in a crash on Sept. 22 while preparing for Charlotte's National 400, not in a pre-season shakedown.

A tire failed on his car and Pardue, who hailed from North Wilkesboro, N.C., sailed over the Turn Four railing and plummeted 90 feet downward to the bottom of the banking.

Pardue had started to fare well. He had won a race in each of the '62 and '63 seasons.


With legendary car builder Banjo Matthews

        

Jimmy Pardue: Grand National Driver Statistics
Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn Miles
1955 24 1 of 45 0 0 0 0 10 0 0 245 16.0 28.0 5.0
1956 25 2 of 56 0 0 0 0 170 0 200 145 19.5 13.0 85.0
1959 28 7 of 44 0 0 1 0 657 0 515   17.9 16.1 307.9
1960 29 32 of 44 0 1 11 0 5004 0 5,610 17 20.6 16.9 3704.2
1961 30 44 of 52 0 3 16 0 7757 0 10,562 11 15.9 14.0 5627.9
1962 31 29 of 53 1 5 16 0 7274 200 12,066 19 10.2 12.2 4855.1
1963 32 52 of 55 1 7 20 1 9905 74 20,358 6 12.1 13.3 7387.7
1964 33 50 of 62 0 14 24 2 9412 237 41,597 5 7.5 11.4 6612.9
8 years 217 2 30 88 3 40189 511 90,908   13.1 13.5 28585.7

 


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