TJ’s Take on Jim Nace

By T.J. Buffenbarger, photo courtesy of Jim Fisher /

Wyoming, MI — It’s amazing how through Motorsports people can feel a connection to someone they have rarely or never seen in person or ever met personally. In 1987 I made my first trip to Central Pennsylvania for a two day World of Outlaws show at Williams Grove Speedway. With the Outlaw regulars I had seen a handful of the Central Pa. teams before at Eldora, but one car in particular caught my eye. It was a white car with brown trip and gold lettering for “Camel Express” carrying number 26.

At the time I was not really sure why. For some reason I hadn’t come across Nace’s name in the racing papers, which later I found amazing given his track record. I kept an eye in the results for the Campbell #26 car in the time trial rundowns of various sprint car races.

Later the same year Nace visited Eldora for a season ending All Star Circuit of Champions event, one of the rare occasions where Nace came west of Sharon Speedway. For the record Nace ran very well (4th according to Open Wheel Times). In the years after I followed Nace’s career in the racing papers, magazines, and eventually online. Oddly enough I had never even met him, but for some reason followed his career even post Campbell #26 through Bill Brian’s car before landing in his own sprinter. Nace was winning features even as I graduated high school in 1995 and into 1997.

In 2000 Nace started driving a 358 sprint car and continued to win in that division. It’s likely that Chad Layton, Doug Esh, and others that have graduated out of the 358 sprint car division drive a little harder thanks to racing with Nace.

Nace was diagnosed with cancer and still managed to continue his driving career. Once he could not drive, Nace owned a top notch 410 sprint car team that picked and chose it outings and was a winner with other drivers in the seat. Nace took the car to Knoxville, Iowa and made the feature as a car owner. I wonder how Nace would have fared at the Nationals as a driver?

I had read where Nace’s condition had worsened. The amazing thing was Nace made it to Knoxville one last time and his car made the feature with Jason Solwold behind the wheel, and ran well at Port Royal before a crash ended Kerry Madsen’s run towards a Tuscarora 50 victory.

When I received the news of his passing today it was still a shock. It seemed like Nace had been fighting Cancer for so long he just might win. Tributes will pour in from people more qualified to write them, but I wanted to express my feelings not only as a grown adult, but the part of me that’s still the 12 year old following the Camel Express 26 in the racing paper. RIP Jim Nace, the great driver I only saw race in person twice, but followed for a lifetime.