If you’re going by first impressions, Jim Hall looks like a mild-mannered type, someone you’d guess might be a school principal, accountant or chief financial officer.
The last thing you would think is that he’s an accomplished driver, engineer and race car entrepreneur. This man go fast? Well, yes, actually. Hall smiles broadly when he mentions what he loves most about racing.
“I like the speed,” he said. “I like the feeling of pushing the limit.”
Little wonder. Hall comes from an accomplished racing family. His father, Jim Hall Sr., competed professionally in Formula One in the early 1960s, participating in 12 World Championship Grands Prixs and numerous non-championship races. His cars won championships in Can-Am in the ’60s, Formula 5000 in the ’70s and at Indianapolis in 1980.
Given all this speed, you might think Jim’s destiny has been set from day one but he insists that’s not the case.
“I thought about being a pilot,” he said, a nod to his airline pilot stepfather.
In fact, Hall did become a licensed pilot as a teenager, and after graduating from UCSB in 1981 with majors in engineering and psychology, he worked briefly for a design and manufacturing firm in Goleta.
“I only lasted a few months,” he laughed. “I was bored and missed the excitement of the fast-paced racing business, so I started my own retail and service karting business in Ventura.”
His goal: to design, drive and win the Karting National Championship, something he eventually accomplished at Sonoma in 1987.
Hall has fond memories of growing up among racers and pit crews. He learned his mechanics by working as part of his dad’s race team — watching, working on small tasks, and asking lots of questions. “I worked with some top-notch guys,” he explained.
Some top-notch drivers as well.
“I got to work on my dad’s team for racer Brian Redman. I was maybe 13 or 14, very impressionable. Redman was smooth, fast and a finisher.”
One of his biggest thrills was being part of Johnny Rutherford’s pit crew the year he won the Indianapolis 500.
“He and I were on the front straightaway and you could look up for three quarters of a mile and see towering stands filled to the brim with people,” he said.
Hall has been involved in kart design, engineering and sales in Oxnard and Ventura since 1982. He established his first racing school after he became acquainted with members of a club karting track near McGrath State Beach.
“There was no one teaching new and potential racers how to drive karts,” he said. “Our unique niche became the nationally recognized Jim Hall Kart Racing School.”
Then, six years ago, Haas Automotive gave him an option to lease property near Rice Road and Fifth Street. Here again, the chance proved too good for Hall to pass up.
“We took seven acres of dirt and designed a purpose-built karting facility,” he said. “It can be run in many different configurations. It’s a great training ground and entry-level race track.”
Hall is a kart racer at heart because he loves how the little cars handle. Describing their wide, low design, he explained:
“The kart is all about cause and effect. You can learn to feel cornering, braking and acceleration limits. It’s all about vehicle dynamics. These karts are very maneuverable.”
The kart itself has changed drastically in the last 30 years. These are not your father’s old go-carts that roared down the street and looked like somebody’s stolen plumbing. These vehicles are built to race.
He showed off a kart one of his regulars brings to his track. Italian design with an Austrian engine — 125 cc, water-cooled, automatic, 30 horsepower. Even more impressive, at one inch above the ground, it can zoom up to 70 mph.
Hall has won the national and world championships in the sport, and has mentored many young professional drivers like Buzz Caulkins and Patrick Long. His track has also included celebrity drivers like David Letterman, Patrick Dempsey and Ray Romano. Romano’s handwritten thank-you note is framed in the office.
What’s important to Hall, however, is that he’s been able to pass on his love for the sport.
“I’ve been able to influence many young men to be instructors and mechanics, to learn how to relate to the public, and to kind of grow up,” he said. “In 30 years, I’ve introduced more than 50,000 people to the sport.”
“And,” he adds with a smile, “I get to do it all in Oxnard.”
Seaside weather and his own race track — this is the life of mild-mannered Jim Hall, kart racer extraordinaire. No wonder he smiles a lot. He gets to do exactly what makes him happy. Drive. Fast.
For more information about Jim Hall Kart Racing School, visit www.jimhallkartracing.com.