INTERVIEW. Jim Briody. Celebrating 100 24-hour endurance races
News | November 21, 2019
On 15th November, Jim Briody will celebrate his 100th, and last, 24-hour or longer race at the Circuit of the Americas, a streak that first began at Nelson Ledges in 1981 and brings a 54-year motorsport career to a close.
 

Even at 75 years old, the enthusiasm continues to radiate off Jim and his wife (and former crew chief) Pat as they discuss famous teammates, the key to strategy, and the trick to motivating Danny Sullivan among many, many other stories that have undoubtedly been told hundreds of times before. Each one is related with such enthusiasm – Jim and Pat adding further charm to them by finishing each other’s sentences – that soon our questions all but disappear. We’re just listening, something we could have done the entire afternoon, were it not for the fact that, y’know, Jim actually had to race in Barcelona!
 
After almost an hour of their time, we’ve barely scratched the surface of Jim’s racing career, yet have wandered away with more material than we could possibly fit into this story. And in the end we went with what we knew you wanted to read. Jim Briody, together with Pat, talking in his own words about the 100 endurance races that brought him to COTA, and the 54-year career he brings to a close at COTA. Over to you Jim…
 
 
The ‘1’ of ‘100’ in 1981, and teaming with ’85 Indy 500 winner, Danny Sullivan.
 
Jim – “Well, I guess we should start with 1981. That was my first ever 24-hour race, and what was interesting was that I brought Peugeot” – pronounced ‘Poo-jeaux’ in Jim’s charming American drawl – “back into US racing for the first time since 1919. And I brought them back kicking and screaming! Peugeot is the only foreign manufacturer to win the Indy 500 three times – 1913, 1916, and 1919 – and then they stopped racing in the States. So they had the 505 Turbo…
 
Pat – “…you had the 505 gas, not the Turbo…”
 
Jim –“…that’s right, which was 96hp, had a 19-gallon fuel tank, weighed about 4000lbs, and ran 175[mm] tyres, which were like rubber bands! We entered that in the ‘Longest Day at Nelson Ledges’* in 1981. We qualified dead last, and we actually won our class! What happened was that, we didn’t pass any of the cars on the race track, but we could go 3.5 hours on a single tank of fuel, whereas [the class leaders] were pitting every hour!”
 
*Run on the Nelson Ledges road course in Mid-Ohio, the ‘Longest Day’ was a 24-hour event dedicated to gentlemen drivers and showroom stock vehicles. The event ran uninterrupted between 1980 and 1993.

 
Pat – “We set a record that is unlikely to be broken, because we did the entire 24-hour race with just seven pit stops. SEVEN. And what’s interesting is that Danny Sullivan was our co-driver that day.”
 
Jim – “We’ve run into Danny a number of different times throughout the years, and one of the first times he saw us, he had this big smile on his face, and said, ‘the most fun I’ve ever had racing, including Formula 1*, was in that Poo-jeaux!’ ”
 
Pat – “He also made a date with the girl that gave him his pit signals! But that’s another story!”
 
*Two years before his Indy 500 win, and a further three before taking the IndyCar crown in 1988, Danny Sullivan drove for Tyrrell’s F1 team in 1983.
 
 
 
The ‘curse’ of the Nürburgring.
 
Jim – “We started doing the Nürburgring 24 Hours in 2001. That first year we were supposed to drive a Porsche 911 and that fell through. But those guys hooked us up with the factory Volkswagen team, and their drivers had already done 300 laps, 800 laps and the paid factory driver had 1000 laps around the Nürburgring. After I did my two qualifying laps, I was only five seconds behind the paid driver and ahead of the other two. I remember, he looked at me and said, ‘how many laps have you done around here?’ ‘Including these two?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘12!’
 
Pat – ‘How did you learn the track so fast’?
 
Jim – “I’d sit there and think, ‘turns one, two and three are like this sequence at Watkins Glen [International].’ Then the next sequence of corners would be like Mid-Ohio, or Elkhart Lake, so I found I could remember different sequences from different race circuits and string them all together.  Once I started to get my rhythm, I could memorise where the track went – turn left or right – but I couldn’t tell you Aremberg from Wippermann, or any of the corner names. Which was funny, because when I talked the engineers, I’d always have to say, ‘wait, show me on the map!’”
 
Pat – “He’s raced at the Nürburgring 19 times…”
 
Jim – “…never won. Five times I’m been in the leading car only for the lead driver to crash out. So I’ve only got two 3rds from 19 races.”
 
Pat – “Once we had a two-hour lead, and then the team put this young stud in who couldn’t believe that the old man was faster! Next thing you know, the kid blows the turbo. We had a two-hour lead, and it only takes an hour to replace, but then they put the kid back in, because he didn’t get his full stint, and he blows the gearbox.”
 
 
Don’t call me Shirley. Coaching Airplane’s Robert Hays
 
Jim – “Robert Hays, the actor, who starred in Airplane.” – We’re back at Nelson Ledges, in a Nissan 200 SX T, in 1986 – “What was interesting was that, going into turn one, he was braking way too early, before the first marker, and in the Nissan, turn was easy flat. He comes in after his practice and I said, ‘Bob, why are you braking for turn one?’ His eyeballs got as big as eight-inch plates, and he said, ‘I’ll crash the damned car!’
 
“I said, ‘Okay, here’s what I want you to do: work your way in, brake a little later each time, and when you really feel ready, just lift, turn the wheel, and get back on the throttle.’ Finally, he goes through flat out, and when he came back in at the end of the session, you could see nothing but teeth!”
 
 
Race 50. Win 20.
 
Pat – “One of our favourite races, or more notable races, was the second time we went to Dubai. The first time, we finished 2nd in-class, and then in 2010, we won [the D1 category]. That was Jim’s 50th 24-hour race.”
 
Jim – “50th or 20th?”
 
Pat – “50th. It was your 20th win.”
 
Jim – “Oh right. Yeah, took a while to get the rest of them!”
 
Pat – “I know, the wins are getting harder! But it was our 20th win, it’s was Cor Euser's first 24-hour win, Hal Prewit’s first 24-hour win…”
 
Jim – “…and Toto Lassally. All three of them were as happy as pigs in a barnyard!”
 
Pat – “Cor actually had a t-shirt made for us, ’50 races’, for Dubai that year. And then they had another at 75 races, then 90, and again at 99. In that time, Jim took 24 wins and 52 podiums. That’s a hell of a record, and we’re still speaking with the Guinness Book of World Records.”
 
 
Husband and wife. And teammates.
 
Jim – “If it wasn’t for my dear bride, I wouldn’t be doing this nonsense!”
 
Pat – “When we ran the Trans-Am, I actually was his engine builder. I can still build a 650hp small block Chevy and that’s what every girl needs! [laughs]” Actually the first time I tried to coach Jim, he still thought of me as his wife and not as a mentor…
 
Jim – “YOU get in the car and YOU drive it!”
 
Pat – “[Laughs] The exact words! Problem is he knows I get car sick – right personality, wrong inner ear! – and I’ve only ever taken two victory laps. The first one I lost my breakfast all over an official’s shoes, and then the second one was when we won with Janet Guthrie at Nelson Ledges” – another Longest Day, this time in 1985 – “and there were 18 people in the car celebrating. He couldn’t go too fast so I figured I was safe with that one!”
 
Jim – “Later, in the Trans-Am series, which we ran in…’96?”
 
Pat – “…’97 through to 2000…”
 
Jim – “…in the entire history of the Trans-Am Series – that’s 51 years – there’s only been one female who won crew chief of the race, and that’s my wife Pat. They’ve had women that have WON the series, but not as crew chief.”
 
 
The best advice for a young driver.
 
Jim – “‘Smooth is fast’. That’s really the best bit of advice I can give. Don’t try to go as deep as you can into a corner, because you’ll just end up fighting the car. Brake a little earlier, get on the throttle sooner. Your exit speed will be much better and terminal velocity at the end of the straight will be much higher. You’ll be less abusive to the car. You’ll have tyres that last longer, better gas mileage, and your brake pads won’t fade on you.”
 
Pat – “When Jim raced with Troy Flis of ‘Spirit of Daytona’” – in select rounds of the Grand-Am Sports Car Series in 2002, during which Jim took an AGT-class win – “Troy’s dad, Stan, would check tyre and brake temperatures when the driver’s came in, and when he checked Jim’s, he’d always walk away shaking his head. ‘We don’t understand, what’s the problem?’ ‘There’s no problem, Jim’s one of the fastest drivers, and he’s got the lowest temperatures of any driver!’ He doesn’t look fast, but he is fast, because he’s so smooth and so consistent. And that’s why consistency is one of the biggest things we strive for in a 24H SERIES race.”
 
Jim – “Hit the same number, each lap. Time the traffic so you lose the least amount of time: in heavy traffic, I lose maybe ¾ of a second, because I time them to be more efficient. That’s where all this experience comes from: you learn all these little nuances to make yourself a better driver. Keep an eye on your mirrors and make sure you don’t get run over or run into. In order to finish first, first you have to finish.”
 
 
Race 100.
 
Jim – “It’s going to be huge. I don’t have any family left, I’m the last of my bloodline, but we have all of Pat’s family coming up. Nieces, nephews, the whole nine yards. This kind of thing makes you really nostalgic. I think I’ve done 90-something race tracks throughout the world, a lot in the US and some of them aren’t even there anymore. Plus I’ve had the chance with Cor [Euser] to race at the Nürburgring, Dubai, the Hungaroring, Spa, Portimão, Zandvoort, Zolder. So many tracks in Europe, and every one was a new challenge! And Silverstone too. I like Silverstone.”
 
CREVENTIC – “If it doesn’t go well, is race 101 an option?”
 
Jim – “Nope. After COTA, the game’s over and I’ll be moving on to other projects.
 
“It’s been fun. I love to do the 24H SERIES and I’m still fast, but at 75 years old, I’m not going to get a whole lot faster. I mean if somebody asked me to help them, I’ll help them and will probably have a pretty good time doing it. But I’m not going to drive anymore. I think it’s time to hang it up.”

*Jim and Pat Briody were speaking with James Gent ahead of the 2019 Hankook 24H BARCELONA