James Garner Was Also An Auto Racing Legend

The recent death of acclaimed actor James Garner has affected Americans everywhere. His starring in the 1950s television show Maverick and many mainline film roles, later reprising Maverick in the modern detective series The Rockford Files, and starring in yet more films, made him famous.

During the late 1960s and 1970s, when he was at the height of his career, James Garner also owned an automotive race team, American International Racers (AIR) and made a film based on auto racing during that time.

The film, The Racing Scene, was released in 1970 when the AIR team was fielding cars in top-shelf racing series such as Le Mans, Daytona, and other endurance races. James Garner himself often appeared with the cars, but is most-associated with the AIR team’s offroad event racing, which eventually became a contract to race in the Baja 500 with American Motors Corporation (AMC).

When Garner died at age 86, as first reported here at the Inquisitr early Sunday morning, he left behind a legendary history of iconic roles, films, and more. Yet for many of us, he’s also fondly remembered as the man who took AMC through what may have been the company’s best showing at the Baja races during the 1970s.

James Garner AIM team cars had an impressive seven out of ten completions using shop-modified 1969 SC/Ramblers. A predecessor to those is this 1970 Oldsmobile 442, shown at right, courtesy of Bring A Trailer.

Some of us clearly remember Garner driving the pace car at the Indianapolis 500, which he did in 1975, 1977, and 1985. As this CarNewsCafe.com article points out, those were some iconic rides, with his 1975 pacemaking car being a 1975 Buick Century Custom V-8 with ride-alongs by Tony Hulman and Jim Rathmann.

Garner’s return to drive the pace car two years later was in another GM product, this time a 1977 Oldsmobile Delta 88, again with a ride-along by Tony Hulman. His return again in 1985 was once more in an Olds, this time a 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais with passenger Don Bailey.

During most of his career, Garner was an avid auto racing and motorsports fan. He enjoyed driving vehicles on the track during his free time, hired many well-known race instructors to better his performance on the track, and more. James was often seen in the stands, celebrity box or track-side during endurance and other races and was sometimes associated with another Hollywood race legend, Steve McQueen.

James Garnder in Grand Prix

Although James Garner is fondly remembered by most for his acting career, many of us also recall his participation in auto racing and his contributions to it through his race team and appearances. James Garner was truly a great man in many ways.