A versatile competitor who helped to make the old NASCAR Short Track Division a headline attraction, Jim Reed (February 21, 1926-June 29, 2019) of Peekskill, New York, was a winning Chevrolet and Ford factory team driver whose considerable mechanical skills and handling knowledge combined with his abilities behind the steering wheel allowed him to take full advantage of letting the race car do the work.
Primarily an owner-driver, Reed is probably best remembered for taking his iconic blue and white No. 7 race cars to five-straight NASCAR Short Track Division Championships (1953-1957) and for winning the 1959 Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
Reed began racing in 1947 and he drove Midgets, Sprint Cars, Modifieds and Track Roadsters before moving to what was then called NASCAR’s Strictly Stock Division in 1949. And his debut in a 1946 Ford Coupe that day at the old quarter-mile banked dirt track in Richmond , Virginia , gave the Southern drivers more than a bit of concern as to how good this New York racer really might be.
When everything was said and done, Reed had won the track’s first 100-mile 400-lap Stock Car race and his rivals disliked being beaten by a “Northerner.” But they also complained that his car had a straight front axle while their cars were all independently sprung.
So after it was ruled ineligible for 1951 Reed switched to a flathead-V-8-powered Ford Police Special and he won 11 races.
By this time Reed was racing throughout the Eastern United States and Canada in NASCAR’s Short Track Division which was created in 1951 for tracks of less than one-half-mile with the idea of brining first class Late-Model Stock Car Racing to smaller tracks and markets. And in 1953 he used his Police Special to win his first Short Track Division title.
The 1953 Short Track season was also noteworthy for another reason. On July 31, the International 250 was held at the old banked quarter-mile Norwood ( Mass. ) Arena Speedway with at least three Jaguar Sports Cars in the 25-car field. But while the lighter Jags held the early advantage, Reed’s Ford was able to win the day.
In 1954, Reed switched to a 1953 Hudson Hornet with its famed “Twin-H Power” 308-cubic-inch inline 6-cylinder flathead engine and won nine times and finished second twice in 12 races to repeat as the Short Track champion.
In 1955, two-time (1947 & 1948) Indianapolis 500 winner Mauri Rose was the head of Chevrolet’s Racing Division and he gave Reed several cars and brand-new 265-cubic-inch overhead-valve small-block V-8 engines.
These were the first Chevrolets to be raced for their advertising benefits and Reed won two more Short Track titles (1955 & 1956). And the popular driver also used them to finish second at the 1955 Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and fifth in the 76-car 160-mile Grand National race on the old 4.1-mile Beach-Road Course at Daytona in 1956.
In 1957, though, Reed went over to Ford as Peter DePaolo – the 1925 Indy 500 winner who headed Ford’s Stock Car operations – built him three 312-cubic-inch overhead-valve Y-block-powered Fairlanes; one to race on the West Coast and two to race in the East. With this setup, Reed won nine Pacific Coast/Short Track races as well as a 200-lapper from the pole at the quarter-mile Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem , North Carolina , and that gave him his last Short Track title and Ford its first championship.
But Reed was more than just a Short Track Division driver as he won seven Grand National Division races (four in 1958 and three in 1959) with his most significant of these being his two-lap victory in the Southern 500 on Sept. 7, 1959.
On this Labor Day afternoon Reed and his blue and white factory Chevrolet Impala – powered by its famed 305-horsepower/348-cubic-inch overhead-valve engine – completed the race at an average speed of 111.836 mph; the first major NASCAR triumph for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. And even though the track temperature was over 140 degrees Fahrenheit, Reed was the only finisher in the top-five who did not use a relief driver.
This historic Darlington race was the final victory of Reed’s Grand National career (1951-1963), which saw him record 47 top-10s and five poles in 106 races, with his best finish being ninth in the 1959 GN Championship. He also raced 16,299 laps in GN competition, led 1,428 circuits and had career earnings of $53,891.
Reed’s racing résumé also includes competing in a 91-car NASCAR Sportsman race on Daytona’s Beach-Road Course in a No. 22 1937 Chevrolet on Feb. 10, 1951. And in 1950 he raced his flame-accented red, white and black No. 7 Hackert Motors-sponsored 1939 Ford Modified on a one-fifth-mile indoor concrete track at Kingsbridge Armory in Bronx , New York .
Plus, he was a two-time competitor in 1952 in NASCAR’s old Speedway Division for Championship Car-style machines with Stock Car engines and his best effort in these open-wheeled racers was second in a 200-lapper while driving a GMC-powered entry on the half-mile dirt Heidelberg (Pa.) Raceway. And he ran in five NASCAR Convertible races (1956-1957 & 1959) and finished second in his No. 7 1959 Chevrolet “ragtop” in a 250-lapper at the one-third-mile paved Marlboro (Maryland) Motor Raceway on April 5, 1959.
Reed sustained a broken vertebra in his neck in a 1963 racing accident and he retired from racing at the end of that season. And from that point on he devoted himself to the further development of his popular and profitable commercial truck sales operation, Jim Reed’s Truck Sales and Service in Peekskill .