~ Byron's Gasser Madness! ~

~ Rest in Peace ~

~ Jim Paoli ~

Correction, received 21 March 2009:

In your story on the death of Jim Paoli, you indicate his parents moved to Winter Park, Florida, when, in fact, they moved to Winter Haven, Florida and lived on Lake Summit until the early 90's when Bess returned to Springfield.  I just wanted to let you know so you provide correct information.  Thanks!
Danielle Paoli-Heath

Courtesy of Phil Burgess.  First published on NHRA.com

Former Division 3 Top Fuel champ Paoli dies: Jim Paoli, the 1970 and 1971 NHRA Division 3 Top Fuel champion and later Funny Car racer, died April 3.

Paoli, who was based out of Springfield, Ill., was runner-up to Dave Chenevert in the Top Fuel final of the inaugural Gatornationals in 1970 in his lone national event final-round appearance.

Paoli was the son of Indy 500 racers Guerino and Bessie Paoli, who won the 1952 U.S. Nationals Championships with driver Art Cross. Paoli began his drag racing career in 1965 on Springfield-area eighth-mile tracks with a new 396-powered Chevy Super Sport. He later graduated to an injected roadster and to Jr. Fuel in 1967 with partner Bob Baugh.

Paoli’s parents had moved to Winter Park, Fla., where his mother met Don Garlits and quickly commissioned a Top Fuel car for her son, who flew to Florida to learn at the knee of Garlits and Connie Swingle.

Paoli made his Top Fuel debut at the 1969 Nationals in Indy, where he reached the semifinals before a devastating clutch explosion ended his day against Kelly Brown.

In addition to his divisional titles in 1970 and 1971, Paoli won NHRA’s Eastern Conference championship in 1970 and the UDRA championship in 1971.

Paoli struggled with breakage after switching to a rear-engine car in 1972, so much so that he jumped back behind the engine. After a short stint with the Ramchargers team, he fielded a Vega-bodied Funny Car, known, like his Top Fuel rides, as Yankee Packrat, with which he won an IHRA national event in 1972.

After his father became ill, Paoli retired from driving after the 1973 season, ending a short but respectable career.

"My attitude was that if he couldn’t race, then I wasn’t into it, either,” he told National DRAGSTER in a 1997 interview. “It was tough to quit because I really loved racing, but family considerations ruled.”

After his racing career ended, he owned and operated Springfield Welding and Auto Body, which his father had opened in 1941.