Walt James May 13, 1923 to September 9, 2009 Racing legend Walt James passed away on September 9, 2009, at the age of 86. He was a decorated World War II veteran, flying 26 missions as Lead Bombardier/Navigator, based in England. He served three years active duty and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal of Honor. He remained in the Reserves where he retired in May of 1983 with the rank of Lt.Colonel.
After the war Walt and his brother Joe joined other daring young men at Ash Can Derby, where they would race their street cars on an ill-kept sandy oval or went to the Dry Lakes (now part of Edwards AFB) and ran speed trials. He became a charter member of the newly formed California Roadster Assn where he raced roadsters against such future greats as Jack McGrath, the Rathman brothers,Troy Ruttman and Pat Flaherty. Walt also raced sprints with other big racing names and stocks with the likes of Parnelli Jones. In 1950 he was voted into thePresidency of the CRA, a job he cherished for 21 years. The CRA flourished in California, Arizona and Nevada. In 1969 Walt had an idea which he was able to interest Terry VanGorder in. Terry was the Vice President at Newhall Land and Farming in charge of Recreation. “Walt was the founder, architect, builder and General Manager of the newly formed Indian Dunes Motorcycle Park,” says VanGorder. He transformed 600 + acres of unincorporated land along the Santa Clarita River into a premier motorcycle facility which opened June of 1970 and remained in operation until 1985. He had wanted a place where families could spend an entire day of fun. There were two main race tracks, the International and Shadow Glen, a mini-bike track, and if you got tired of riding on a track, you could spend hours out on the trails. He added a tenth mile dirt oval for Speedway bikes, then enlarged and paved it for Three Quarter and Micro Midgets. The Dunes was a second home to many kids and hosted racing from several different clubs like CRC, CMC, and AMRA (now NMA). The World Minis began its history at the Dunes, running there from 1972 to 1976. It was the starting ground for many young motocross riders many of who went on to become top riders in the industry like Donny Hansen, Johnny O’Mara, Kyle Lewis, Eric Kehole, Larry Brooks, Jeff Ward, Jim “Hollywood” Holly, John Desoto, and many, many others.
In 1982 Walt and a group of buddies resurrected the Western Racing Assn, a sprint car club that had folded in the mid 50s. It was to be a group of older sprint cars and midgets to show off the ingenuity of the early days of racing or, as he liked to say, the Senile Racing Group. He’d say, “We’re just a bunch of old blind guys who still love to go fast.” Also about 1981, Bill Huth owner of the Willow Springs Raceway, encouraged Walt to build a track for WRA and in 1982 the track was open for business. A very surprised Walt got to the track to find it had been named WALT JAMES STADIUM. Every year since on Thanksgiving weekend Walt and Dottie have hosted the WALT JAMES VINTAGE GATHERING. Bill Huth has said he will still have the 17th annual Walt James racing weekend this Thanksgiving.
Walt never met a person he didn’t have a smile for or a helping hand. He touched thousands of people’s lives and will never be forgotten. But his joy was always family, with wife Dottie by his side at racing events, watching son Lee racing sprint cars as a top contender with the World of Outlaws, and all his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He had a twinkle in his eyes seeing grandsons Brent, Tanner, and Caden race motocross, and was amazed at the kinds of tracks that are built nowadays and how the motorcycles had progressed. He did always comment that they didn’t need to be grading the track during motos, that the guys should have had the rough lines that were at Indian Dunes and then they wouldn’t be complaining so much.
He is survived by his wife Dottie, son Lee James, wife Lori, grandson Jeff (wife Cindy and their six children) granddaughter Lindy; daughter Vicki James; and daughter Wendy Lovgren, husband Bobby, and grandsons Brent, Tanner, and Caden.
Graveside services are to be held Friday September 25th at 10:00 a.m. Riverside National Cemetery is located across from March Air Force Base where Walt had once served Reserve time. Check in at the information booth for directions. A Celebration of Life party is being planned for a later date.
The family has requested that in lieu of cards or flowers, a donation be made in Walt’s honor to the Castaic Lion’s Club, where Walt was a proud member for40 years:
or to the
Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation
OBITUARY -------- WALT JAMES – 86 (5/13/23 Mother's Day – 9/9/09 at 9 am)
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Walt James, known as Mr. CRA for leading the California Roadster Assn./California Racing Assn. sprint car sanctioning body, passed away peacefully September 9 at home in Acton, California. He was 86. He was hospitalized at the Veteran Administration Hospital in West Los Angeles for two months with debilitating back pain and had two surgeries to connect four vertebrae to relieve back pain shortly before he succumbed. Walt will be remembered for his quick smile, fascinating racing stories, helping hand for all, and respected leadership in racing over the decades. He worked for the best interests of racers and was a gentleman, family-man, competitor, and racing pioneer with a wealth of knowledge that he shared freely....