It was a week before Labor Day 1989. I was racing in the wild UDRA Outlaw Pro Stock Circuit and had just capped my second World Championship in a row. By this time, I had raced 20 years. Fifteen as a national touring professional. Won over 100 races and four championships. I was getting lot of Ink and TV time. Sponsor proposals were actually coming to me.
One was Rick Jones. The 29 year old owner of RJ Race Cars. He offered to build me a much needed new chassis as an associate sponsorship for the 90 & 91 seasons. The car would be a prototype carbon fiber replica of the new 90 Ford Probe to race in IHRA’s new up and coming class Pro Modified. A was spin off from Outlaw Pro Stock. Pro Mod would be a wild new class yours truly helped establish . Jones and I shook on the agreement.
Rick Jones and I had made arrangements to go to the Sema Show in Vegas in Nov. to announce our new alliance, renew and find more sponsors. Sema is the largest automotive & racing trade show in the world.
Suddenly we realized -the NHRA Indy National are on Labor Day weekend. The most prestige’s drag racing event of the year. I did not race NHRA but the Indy Nats.midway will be packed with manufactures and national media people by the scores. Going to Indy for a couple days to network and announce our RJ & AJ plans would give us a huge jumpstart before Sema.
One slight problem. To get a room at Indy at this late date, would be like trying to get a date with Madonna.
Our friend and Pro Stock racer Gary Stuart came to the rescue. Gary tells us of a Motel in South Indy on Shadeland Ave. called of course-The Shadeland Motel. Gary says it is out of the loop of race fans and always has rooms. So I called and booked us a room with two double beds for Sat. night.
Labor Day weekend –Three of us-my new sponsor Rick Jones and his top fabricator Charlie Hoots (Hoots is a story himself. Hoots is the same age as RJ. -29. Hoots is also a burnt out rock band singer and lead guitar player who recently left his band to return to his original vocation as a fabricator, trying to rehabilitate himself from drugs, alcohol and other vices.) And of course me-Animal Jim the Prima Dona race driver-A serious hard nose ,bad to the bone, 48 year old racing veteran. I was 48-but still Young at Heart.
We three arrive at the Indy Nationals. Our promotion idea goes great. We attain our goals and then some. In fact our appearance becomes Animal Jim Mania. For the first time-the realization sets in that I have become a nationwide drag race celebrity.
It was kind of Surreal. In fact 20 years later it still is.
Finally, the first day at the track is over. We leave Raceway Park in Clermont and head down I-65. We finally find the Shadeland Ave. exit.
It turns out the Shadeland motel is near the abandoned Chrysler Plant in the sleaziest part of Indy.Populated mostly with winos and homeless people. Featured are Strip Joints, Gay Bars, etc. I suddenly notice Hoots and Rick light up to the notion of naked woman.
We check in at the Shadelande Motel office. It looks pretty grim! But-How bad can the place be?
By now Hoots is so excited about the strip joints he is coming unglued. I feared for his rehab efforts! The Boys-Hoots and Rick are so eager for lap dances and drinking we bypass going to the room and go directly to the vice filled joints. I had outgrown those tendencies years before-but I did not want to cramp my new benefactor’s desires. The sacrifices a racer has to make! In the course of the evening we all drank too much. In my case-I think it was to escape. I will admit-I did like the sauce a little too much at that time. But the pressure of my racing career back then was very intense.
The evening of reckless nudity and drinking is finally done. The joint hopping was as bad or worse than I expected-but I endured. Now it is time for the Shadeland Motel experience,
We go to our room and see it as it for the first time. Even half hammerd-reallity sets in. This place is really bad. The room was rundown, full of roaches, and so dirty-we slept fully clothed on top the covers-with the lights on and with a chair propped under the door knob. All night you could hear roaches and mice munching! Unless the screaming from the room next door and carrying on in parking lot blocked it out. Finally-I need the bathroom. I go to the can. I hear water running but nothing is on. Then I feel wetness on my bare legs. There is a fine spray from the fixture below the sink spraying on my legs. I kid you not-I have traveled to races all over the US and even some foreign counties to for over 40 years. This had to be the worst place I ever stayed! No wonder this place always had vacancies!
To this day. –Whenever traveling South on I-65 through Indy and pass the Shadeland Ave.exit , I recall that experience and chuckle. Actually I wish it was 1990 again. A 20 year Time Quake would be most welcome!
In the following 1990 season. The RJ Probe would become the first ever Ford Pro Modified car to break 200mph and clock 6 sec. et’s in quarter mile drag racing. That same year we also won many races, set many other records and I was awarded Driver Of The Year. The topper was: We won a 3rd. in a row World Championship. 1990 really put us on Broadway.
Years later. Rick Jones would win the Car Craft Chassis Builder Of The Year award several times. Presently-20 years after the Shadeland experience - RJ Race Cars is a international multi-million dollar business still building cars for the big names in drag racing.
Rick’s 21 year old son - Rickie Jones is a top contender in NHRA Pro Stock driving a RJ car of course. Now, Rick Jones goes to the events with a $300,000 Toter Home and Double Stacker Trailer. No more Shadeland Motels for RJ or me for that matter!