Sports car racer Jim Pace has died at age 59 after recently contracting COVID-19. The Mississippi native earned considerable success in America’s biggest endurance races, opening his IMSA account with a victory in the GTU class at the 1990 24 Hours of Daytona in a Peter Uria Racing Mazda RX-7.
By 1996, Pace would become one of the treasured few to capture overall victory at the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring in the same year. As teammate to Wayne Taylor and Scott Sharp in a Riley & Scott Mk III-Oldsmobile, the former junior open-wheel driver reached the pinnacle of professional sports car racing in the U.S. at Daytona, and added to the achievement with Taylor and Eric van de Poele at Sebring in a span of 42 days.
Before his epic endurance victories, Pace was a regular in GTU with the powerhouse Leitzinger Racing Nissan outfit where we won the class title in 1994, and built a substantial reputation in GTP Lights class with class founder Jim Downing and Essex Racing, among others. As the 2000s approached, Pace would go on to find regular work in the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am representing Downing’s prototype team and The Racer’s Group in a variety of Porsche GT cars. As the two series merged into the new-era version of IMSA, Pace’s leadership role in the Fifty Plus Racing/Highway To Help Riley-BMW Daytona Prototype program ensured his skills and friendly nature would add to the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on an annual basis through 2016.
In recent years, Pace was a steady presence in vintage racing where his talent for wielding brutally fast machinery was both revered and coveted by car owners. Pace’s fearlessness was put to the test in July at Road America where the Shadow DN4 Can-Am car he was racing took flight while following another Shadow up the hill near the start/finish line. Unlike the tattered DN4, Pace was unscathed in the wild aerial adventure.
Known for brightening the paddocks he called home, and exceptional versatility behind the wheel of anything he drove, Pace will be greatly missed by his legion of friends in the sport.
“Jim was a ‘determined mindset’ kind of guy,” recalled Dorsey Schroeder, a frequent co-driver with Pace and one of his best friends. “What made him different was he got where he needed to go through kindness, not by stepping on others’ toes as he went. A true champion, very soft spoken and polite. Jim wanted to be remembered as the nicest guy that anyone ever met. And the champion was.”
Commented Wayne Taylor, “It’s very, very sad news. Hard to believe, especially because Jim and I drove together and won at Sebring in 1996. I was literally showing Scott Dixon a picture of our car in the hotel last night and it was Jim in the car, then 20 minutes later I heard the news. My condolences to him and his family. I always said he was one of the best teammates I ever had.”
Scott Sharp said, “The racing world lost a dear friend.. He will always be remembered for his outgoing friendliness, overly generous with his advice and time, fierce competitor, big smile and welcoming handshake. A great man and ambassador to our sport. He will be dearly missed by all.”
IMSA President John Doonan said, “RACER, TEACHER, and LOYAL FRIEND. These are three simple 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. From a beginner to a champion…Jim counseled drivers on the path to the top after he himself rode that same journey. All of us at IMSA are devastated by losing such a great champion and friend.”