You would be amazed how many times I have told a mistaken person or persons that fact. I would tell them, “No, I am Animal Jim Feurer (pronounced “foyer”), not Jungle Jim Liberman.”
I always try not to embarrass anyone over this Jungle and Animal Jim confusion, however, it does cause some uncomfortable moments especially when I have to inform the mistaken people that Jungle Jim died in 1977 in a tragic traffic accident in his home town in Pennsylvania.
It’s now been 33 years and I just want to say, “Where the hell have you been, people!!!”
Then, if it’s needed, which is more times than not, I would tell the person or persons the difference between Animal Jim and Jungle Jim’s racing careers and the history of how we got our nicknames. These days I can refer to our websites, but when time permits and there are no interruptions, here is how I explain to them:
“Jungle Jim Liberman was a famous legendary Funny Car racer in the ‘70s who was known for his tremendous showmanship and popularity. Jungle Jim was in huge demand for exhibition match races and did it for a living. He is a legend I admire."
Then I go on:
“There are several stories as to how the “Jungle Jim” name evolved. One theory I read in an article a few years ago was that early in his career, Jungle Jim got his nickname when an announcer at an event in California associated Jim Liberman going through the field of his Funny Car competition like the cartoon character “Jungle Jim” rapidly swinging on vines through the jungle."
"Jim picked up on that analogy and his funny cars from then on had the Jungle Jim cartoon character swinging on a vine and a huge Jungle Jim name emblazoned above it. Then I have read that “Jungle” simply thought it up as a catchy name."
"However it evolved, Jim Liberman’s Funny Cars all had the name Jungle Jim and sometimes with a Jungle Jim cartoon character swinging on a vine emblazoned on the sides."
Then I pause and go on:
"My nickname, “Animal Jim” Feurer (foyer) has nothing to do with the Jungle Jim name in any way. Nor was it inspired by the Jungle Jim name."
"My nickname was given to me because of my first serious drag car that I started racing at Oswego, Illinois in 1969. The car was a big, orange 1957 wheel-standing Mercury Monterey named “The Big Animal”. After racing that local sportsman door slammer car a season, media, fans and friends started calling me “Animal Jim”. Simple as that!"
"I was not even aware there was a “Jungle Jim” during that period of my racing. I was too busy concentrating on my local sportsman racing and did not keep up with big time drag racing. It was not easy to keep abreast of national drag racing back then. There was very little national drag race news back in 1969."
I go on:
"In 1976 when I started racing National Pro Stock with my little Ford Pinto, I could not very well call that little car “The Big Animal” or “The Big Animal 2”. And “Little Animal” just sounded too weak and demeaning." Especially when me the driver, Jim Feurer, is over six feet tall and 200 pounds.
"So since everyone was calling me “ANIMAL JIM” by then, I had “Animal Jim Feurer” painted in huge letters on the doors of my orange 1972 Ford Pinto Pro Stock Car. After that, all my cars for the next 35 years in Pro Stock and then in Pro Modified had “Animal Jim” logo on them. In fact, my speed shop business in Lacon, IL. is called Animal Jim Racing and has been for decades."
Then to help clarify the subject, I add firmly:
“I never did race anything on a drag strip but door slammers. I never even ever sat in a Funny Car.”
Then I say, “Do you understand what I have just told you???”
Some do, but I can tell some people are still in a haze as to what I have disclosed. It is a lot to grasp at one time.
All the above is what I try to explain to the mistaken folks. It is not always possible.
By 1976, I was aware of Funny Car racer “Jungle Jim”, but never gave a thought that our names kind of mimicked each others. When I raced as a professional, I just concentrated on my own program. Back then, when I would participate at AHRA and UDRA national events and someone asked me later about what happened in Top Fuel or Funny Car, I wouldn’t know. But I could disclose my class - Pro Stock, in rhyme and verse.
I do want to add that today, I have the greatest admiration for Jungle Jim and his legend. He was drag racing’s show business icon. We need him badly today! And a Jungle Pam, also!
When Jungle Jim got killed, little did I know it would cause some turmoil in my own life. The irony is that I did not even have an opportunity to know Jim Liberman personally. I never had a reason to. Wish I had. I think we would have hit it off!
I watched him race a few times, but our paths never crossed. But amazingly, when Jim got killed, many fans and even friends thought it was me that got killed. Needless to say, these folks that mixed us up (and still do) were only casual drag fans that lived in some delusional-type drag racing fan fog or they would have known Jim was killed in 1977.
The first incident I experienced caused by Jungle’s demise came only days after his death. It was when I showed up for a make up race at one of Don Garlit’s PRO Events at Great Lakes Dragway in 1977. It just so happened that Jungle Jim and I had both qualified for that event two weeks prior.
Jungle qualified in Funny Car and me, Animal Jim, qualified in Pro Stock with my trusty Pinto. The eliminations were rained out just as we all got in staging so the event was postponed for two weeks.
The very next weekend after that PRO rainout at Great Lakes, I was at Ontario, California working with an Indy Car support team. (Yes I was also involved with Indy Cars for 25 years, in fact!) Plus I also had a performance automotive shop in Lacon, IL.
Back then, I always burned the candle at both ends and some people criticized me for it. “But, ah, my friends and, oh, my foes. It gives off a lovely light!” (Edna St. Vincent Millay)
Anyway, I got back from Ontario the following week just in time to get to the PRO make-up eliminations at Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, Wisconsin.
I arrived the night before the make-up race at the little ma and pa motel that I always stayed at when racing at Great Lakes. It was only a couple miles from the drag strip. As my crew chief Rick Davis and I pulled our rig into the motel parking lot, the man and woman who the owned the place and had become my friends over the last couple years, came running out, white as sheets, and screaming, “We just heard on the radio you were dead!”
I thought they were joking and I said, “Well here I am! Alive and kicking!”
Needless to say it was Jungle Jim that was dead - not “Animal Jim”. Having been in California for a week, I was in my Indy Car loop and out of the drag news loop and had not heard that the great Jungle Jim was gone forever - sadly killed in a traffic accident in his home town in Pennsylvania.
Several times during the next few years, I would pull into a track somewhere and someone would be confused as to my mortality and identity. I would then do my best to explain.
One incident I recall clearly happened that next spring at a UDRA race at Wisconsin International Raceway near Appleton, Wisconsin. I had appeared there several times in Pro Stock with the UDRA in the past couple years and had established a local Wisconsin fan base. As my crew chief Rick Davis and I were making our way to the pit area with the race rig, several little kids were running alongside the truck by my open door window yelling to me, “Animal Jim! We heard you was dead!”
In my best John Wayne impression, I retorted, “Not Hardly!”
Here is major incident that affected me due to Jungle Jim’s untimely death that same year. One Sunday, some racer from Peoria, Illinois. (Peoria is near Lacon, Il. where I live.) showed up at Oswego Dragway which is about 100 miles away from Lacon. Oswego was the track where I got my start in 1969 as a local sportsman drag racer. I had become an Oswego icon over the next several years and then went off to be a national Pro Stock racer. But Oswego was my home track and I had made many fans and friends there.
Anyway, this guy from Peoria, who raced a Maverick and called himself “The Mad Scotsman” told the Oswego track manager, Bub Thurlby, who was a friend of mine, that Animal Jim Feurer had gotten killed in an auto accident. So the Oswego media staff announced the sad news over the Oswego track PA and even had a moment of prayer for me!
Then the track manager and his wife, as I said earlier who were my friends, decided to call my home and give their condolences to my wife Linda.
Linda Lou, the love of my life, answered that phone call and was floored at what Bub had to say. Linda told them there is a big mistake and that I was very much alive. Bub said he had just heard the news from some racer from Peoria that came to Oswego to race that I had recently been killed in a traffic accident.
Thank God I was home that Sunday to verify I was ok to my family! I had a bad race car crash with my ‘71 Comet at Oswego in 1975 and we all had finally recovered from that trauma. If I would not have been home when that call came it would have freaked out my whole family.
Finally, Linda said to Bub, “Would you like to talk to him? Jim is right outside the door here, working on Jackie’s bicycle.”
Our daughter, Jackie, was only 10 years old at that time and she was in the chase truck with my crew chief Rick Davis and saw me crash in 1975.
Then I came into the house, took the phone and convinced Bub I was alive and kicking. I think Bub and his wife started to cry. In fact we all did. For joy I guess, glad that the Mad Scotsman was misinformed. Animal Jim was ok!
Bub then announced over the PA that he had great news. There had been a terrible mistake about my well being. That he had just spoke with me and then he patched me into the PA system at Oswego Dragway and with tears in my eyes, I thanked all the folks for their concern and assured them that I was alive and well.
One of my favorite and humorous of myriad mistaken Jungle/Animal identity incidents happened several years ago. 1994 I believe - I was booked into the Fun Ford Event at Norwalk, Oh. Dragway. I was featured to match race legend Wayne Torkelson in his blown ‘55 Thunderbird Pro Mod. At that time I had my fabulous record-holding Haas Super Coupe Wunder Bird Pro Mod.
We are at the trailer ready and waiting to go up for the first segment of the Fun Ford Feature Show and Al Schmitt, my crew chief, is putting the final touches on our fabulous Wunder Bird Pro Mod. My wife, partner and also my best friend , Linda Lou Feurer, is at the back door of our 46 foot trailer selling Animal Jim T-shirts like a carnival hawker and handing out AJ Hero Cards. I am at the side door up front, talking to fans and friends and signing shirts Linda has sold, signing hero cards Linda has given out and even signing human body parts. In fact, some of those parts look pretty fine! LOL! Oops! Sorry, Linda.
Suddenly this wiry little middle-aged guy appears in front of me like a stand-up comedian. He looks and acts just like “Huggy Bear” from the old Starsky and Hutch TV show. He looks at the pictures on my door and has one of my hero cards in his hand and as I’m signing it for him, he says to me, “Man Yooose is “Jungle Jim” I saw you years ago when I was a kid!” And goes on to describe Jungle Jim’s Funny Cars and places I had yet to race at.
I try to correct him, stating that I am not Jungle Jim the Funny Car racer, I am Animal Jim the Pro Stock and Pro Modified Racer, but Huggy Bear refuses to understand that JJ and AJ are different people. So then I try to explain Jungle Jim was a Funny Car racer and I, Animal Jim, raced Pro Stock and then Pro Modifieds. I also TRY to explain the history of our nicknames. I also break the news to him that Jungle Jim, who I’m sure Huggy saw when he was a kid, but because Huggy failed to keep up with drag racing news in the last 20 years — That Jungle Jim got killed in a traffic accident in Sept. of 1977.
Anyway, he’s still not buying this and refuses to listen to me! And he finally responds with, “Yooose is putting me on. I knows yooose is Jungle Jim who I saw in the ‘70s!”
Then he looks down through the trailer and spied Linda. “There!” Huggy says, “There is the proof! I knows that is Jungle Pam down there behind the trailer selling shirts!”
So there he sees my little Linda Lou, a cute, 5 ft., 95 pound Home Ec. school teacher, but for some reason, Huggy perceives Linda Lou looks like Pam Hardy - Pam Hardy - Wow! Jungle Jim's woman - the famous Jungle Pam who was a tall statuesque, voluptuous, dark-haired beauty who was usually scantily dressed and looking so sexually awesome that a devoted holy man would trash all his convictions and leave home for.
My little Linda Lou, cute as a bug, was always dressed conservatively in tastefully fitting jeans, an AJ over-size t-shirt with a normal bra!
In their prime, which Huggy was relating to in his warped mind, Linda Lou and Pam Hardy looked about as much alike as, well, here is a male analogy; “As a cute little jockey would compare to Hulk Hogan in heat!" LOL!
With this new Jungle Pam revelation- that Huggy thinks Linda is Jungle Pam-I finally gave up. I needed to get rid of this crazy guy. I still had a line of fans waiting on me. So I passed Huggy on to my poor unsuspecting little Linda Lou. And told Huggy Bear, “Your right. It is Pam, go see her back there, buy a shirt and have her autograph it.”
Huggy goes around to the back of the trailer and waited his turn, then talked to Linda for quite some time. I go back to signing autographs for more fans, but keeping a sharp eye on Huggy back there with my wife. Finally, he does buy a shirt and Linda does sign it and then Huggy takes his treasured shirt and hero card and disappears into the crowd. I never saw him again. Thank the Lord and Linda.
To this day-I don’t know the conversation that transpired between Huggy and Linda Lou. What ever she said-seemed to pacify him.
Linda always has a way of dealing with situations like that. But she is smarter than me. That and pure lust is why I married her! LOL!
Later I asked Linda how she signed his shirt. She said, “Love From Jungle Linda”. LOL!!
Even today, the Jungle Jim and Animal Jim name still gets people confused. I still have customers write me checks that are made out to Jungle Jim and sometimes I even get introduced as Jungle Jim. Anytime I appear somewhere, a fan or two will call me Jungle Jim.
It just tells me just how popular Jungle Jim was and still is. His memory and legend will live on forever. I guess I have involuntarily become part of the care taking of Jungle Jim’s legend!