Cheerful, never-met-a-stranger Jim Pace, who almost finished medical school back home in Mississippi when he decided to become a full-time sports car racer instead, died on Friday at 59 from complications of COVID-19.
Pace’s friend, fellow competitor and business partner David Hinton, the President of the Historic Sportscar Racing series, and several motorsports notables, executives and colleague competitors in the paddock at a shocked Sebring International Raceway Saturday paid their respects to Pace and his family.
“The HSR family is shocked and deeply saddened by Jim Pace’s passing yesterday afternoon,” Hinton said. “Jim to me was the ultimate gentleman who had time for everyone he came across in his life. He made us all better people for knowing him. He has helped make HSR a better place to race and be involved in with his knowledge and input over the last five years. The outpouring we have received from around the world tells a lot about the respect and love people held for JP. Everyone from Formula 1 drivers to ex-Skip Barber school students he taught over the years all have echoed the same message.”
After co-driving to a GTU-class win in his Rolex 24 At Daytona debut in 1990, Pace later co-drove with Wayne Taylor and Scott Sharp to the overall Rolex 24 victory in 1996 in a Doyle Racing Oldsmobile Riley & Scott Mk III run by Riley Motorsports. He followed up the overall Rolex 24 victory by winning the 12 Hours of Sebring—which ran for the 68th time yesterday at Sebring International Raceway—later in 1996 in the same car with Taylor and Eric Van de Poele.
In addition to quietly building an impressive championship and race win record in his professional driving career, Pace was also and more recently active in vintage and historic sports car racing. In 2015 he acquired an ownership stake in the Historic Sportscar Racing series.
Said IMSA President John Doonan: “Racer, teacher and loyal friend. These are the words to describe Jim Pace and the loss our sport feels today due to his passing. When it comes to racing and driving, Jim did it all and saw it all.”
And Wayne Taylor, his former co-driver and winner of the Rolex 24, and current owner of the Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta number 10 Cadillac DPi: “It is shocking, to be honest. Last night I was at Chicanes Restaurant at Inn on The Lakes in Sebring and I was sharing with [IndyCar champion] Scott Dixon the picture of our car that we won with here in 1996. It was Jim in the car, and 20 minutes later I heard the news.
“It’s very sad,” Taylor said. “He was probably one of the best teammates I ever had. He did a lot for my kids, he helped them in their early career. He was just a great guy and my condolences to his family.”
Pace with AC/DC singer and racer Brian Johnson, a longtime friend.
“I am at a loss for words on hearing of the passing of Jim,” said Brian Johnson, lead singer of famed rock band AC/DC and an accomplished racer. Johnson was a frequent co-driver with Pace.
“It doesn’t seem possible,” Johnson said. “He was the most caring and patient man I ever met. I can only imagine the grief of his family. I feel proud to have known and co-driven with him. I am so sad we have lost a friend and great race driver.”
Earlier this year, at the historic races at Road America in Wisconsin, Pace survived a blow-over crash in a vintage Shadow DN4 Can-Am car, which flipped upside down. Pace walked away.
“Jim survived a horrible crash in that Shadow, but he died from COVID-19,” said one fellow racer. “Anyone who thinks this is just another virus needs to reconsider.”
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