By Linda Mansfield
GAS CITY, Ind., Sept. 23 — If James Dean were alive today it is very possible he would be at Gas City I-69 Speedway this Thursday night to watch the race named in his honor, and he’d be in awe of the speed and excitement of non-wing sprint car action.
Growing up in the small town of Fairmount, Ind., located just a few miles from Gas City I-69 Speedway, Dean had a fascination with things that went fast. His love of speed would eventually develop into a passion for motorsports.
“I don’t think he would have ever given up acting as a career, but Jimmy loved racing,” said his cousin, Marcus Winslow Jr., to Gas City Promoter Jerry Gappens last year from Winslow’s Fairmount family farm, where Dean lived for several years as a teenager. “He was very competitive by nature and he loved the sensation of speed.”
The iconic actor had athletic talent as well, winning a novice race in Palm Springs, Calif. driving his No. 23F, a 1954 Porsche Speedster. He had only owned the car for two weeks and surprised everyone in the paddock with his impressive performance. The next day he moved up to a main event for under 1500cc production cars and finished second, beating several veterans.
Dean had just traded his Porsche Speedster (and $3,800 cash) for a new Porsche Spyder 550. He decided to enter a sports car race meet in Salinas, Calif. the following weekend.
Dean decided to drive his new Porsche to Salinas for the race meet instead of trailering it. He wanted more seat time and to try the high-performance car out on the open road.
On Sept. 30, 1955, Dean lost his life in a tragic accident at the junction of California Highways 466 and 41. At the age of 24 the charismatic actor and amateur race car driver was gone.
Gas City I-69 Speedway will commemorate Dean’s passion for motorsports Thursday night with the second annual “James Dean Classic” featuring the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series. The event is part of the annual James Dean Festival weekend that celebrates the hometown actor’s life.
Speedway officials are utilizing a 1950s theme for the evening, offering prizes for the best 1950s attire and $50 and the right to present the trophy in victory lane to the best James Dean “lookalike” in attendance.
Gappens feels promoting the race is an honor.
“It’s a real privilege to honor James Dean by commemorating his passion for motorsports with this race each year,” Gappens said. “Based on what I’ve learned about him from talking to Marcus and reading about his life, I have no doubt he would have loved watching today’s USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series drivers battling to win the James Dean Classic trophy Thursday night.”
Tickets for the “James Dean Classic” are available at the speedway ticket office. Spectator gates open at 4:30 p.m. and racing begins at 7:30 p.m. Adult general admission is $25. Children 12 and under are admitted free. The speedway also offers free parking and camping for fans.
Fans can get additional information on the track’s website at GasCityI69Speedway.com. Fans can also follow it on Facebook (@GasCitySpeedwayOnTheGas), Twitter (@GasCitySpeedway) and Instagram (@GasCitySpeedway).