The Australian National Drag Racing Association is saddened to hear of the passing of drag racing legend, “Gentleman” Jim Reed, at the age of 86.
Reed had been involved in the sport of drag racing for more than 70 years, modifying and racing cars and heading up a family of drag racers.
A pioneering racer on the track and a true driver of the sport’s growth thanks to his tuning, fabrication and blower, engine and driveline servicing expertise, Reed was inducted into the ANDRA Hall of Fame in 2014 and also recognised as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Surfers Paradise International Raceway and US Dragfest for his contributions to the sport.
Reed was also a founding member of the Queensland Drag Racing Association (QDRA) alongside fellow enthusiasts, and he was granted life membership in the late 1980s for services to the club and Queensland drag racing.
Reed’s first steps into the world of drag racing came at a tender age, when in 1949 at just thirteen years of age he modified the 1928 Essex he inherited from his father, upping the compression for a significant power increase.
In 1955, he raced his modified flathead V8 powered 1935 Ford at the Strathpine ex-WWII airstrip, running 16 second times over the standing start quarter-mile and 100mph over the flying quarter.
At the age of 21, Jim married Nelma in 1957, and together they continued to pursue their mutual love of racing – never missing a season of competition for the next 50 years.
A brief stint in go-karts in the early 1960s was followed by a return to drag racing at the Lowood airstrip in 1965 with a front engine dragster and a 1948 Anglia altered Jim built himself, with both powered by Y-block Ford V8s.
In 1966 Reed raced his dragster in the 1966 Dragfest – USA Tour as part of the opening meeting for Surfers Paradise International Raceway. By 1968 he shortened that dragster to build his first T-bucket altered, repowering it with a 427 Holman and Moody Ford V8.
This led to legendary races against Bob Dunn in his similarly powered vehicle as they tried to beat each other to be the first nine-second altered. He went on to have good success with the T-Bucket, winning the first Winternationals at Surfers Paradise and many others; so many that he said he couldn’t remember each one.
After being trumped to the nine-second zone by Graeme Cowin’s blown Chev small block altered, Reed again repowered his own altered with a blown 392-hemi engine. This brought rapidly improved times and led to a power race in Competition Eliminator as times tumbled.
The altered wars of the 1970s featured many exciting thrills and memories for the fans and racers, with Reed winning a significant number of meetings, titles and consistently resetting records as the times dropped into the eight second zone.
As new challengers entered the fray, Jim built a new chassis to better handle the rapid rises in horsepower as well as moving to a new Donovan aluminium hemi. He soon began sharing driving duties with son Steven in 1977, until 1982 when Steve took over as the full-time driver for the Reed team.
His daughter Kerri also drove, as did his wife Nelma – a legend in her own right – to make a real racing family unit of which he was very proud. The family racing empire would eventually also see daughter-in-law Debbie Reed, grandson Daniel Reed and his wife Fiona Reed, and granddaughter Sally and her husband Matty Watts also on the track.
In the search for quicker times and more spectator appeal, Reed decided to buy the Datsun 2402 funny car of visiting American racer Gary Densham but without the funds or wish to run nitro, continued to run Competition Eliminator in an alcohol funny car.
During the 1980s a group of the quicker Competition Eliminator racers decided to campaign for a new heads-up eliminator featuring blown alcohol powered dragsters, altereds and funny cars. Reed was instrumental in the formation of this new Top Alcohol Eliminator that proved a favourite with racers and fans to this day and Reed Racing has now been competing in Top Alcohol continuously for over thirty-three years with numerous championship victories.
While he had stepped away from the driving duties, Reed remained at the helm of his team using his tuning, fabrication and innovative skills and was always an integral part of the Reed Racing family unit. In fact, as of the end of 2022, in 20 years he had only ever missed one meeting (in November 2022 due to being in hospital).
During his nearly six decades of racing, he also provided much tuning advice, engine, supercharging and transmission building services to drag racers Australia wide at the same time he was laying down plenty of the entertaining drag racing performances.
Australia’s equivalent to America’s Don Garlits and Connie Kalitta, there is no arguing the fact that “Gentlemen” Jim was a true icon and legend of our sport, an inspiration to many, and he will be sorely missed.
All at ANDRA hold the Reed family in our thoughts at this sad time.
Photos thanks to John Bosher and the libraries of Steven Reed and ANDRA