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The Legacy of Jim Turner

Greg Burrow photos

As most of you read my very humble attempt to pay tribute to one of drag racing’s greats, you are thinking David James Turner, (Jim), as strictly related to just that, drag racing. But as you will find out, Jim was so much more than that. Yes, he was a gifted promoter and track owner. Did you know that he was captain of his college baseball team at Campbell University?  Did you know he was a very accomplished principal in both middle and high school in the Guilford County School System? Probably not. 

Approx. 2001, Norman Droullard, Sr., Danny Johnson, Elmer Trett, Pete Hill, Jim and a very young Mark Joyce upon founding the SCRA.

Upon retirement, Jim was able to buy half of Farmington Dragway, along with Jerry Joyce. It was during this part of his life that he founded the Southern Motorcycle Racing Association. This group for many years was a mainstay at Farmington then moving to Piedmont Dragway, which was to become home of many of Jim’s triumphs. One of these was the Top Gun Classic, run during the week of July 4th, paying $10,000 to win per day for five days. Partner Bob Harris ran in this event. There were also events for Chevys, Fords, and Chryslers, which became very much anticipated and highly attended. It was during this early time that Jim was called back to the school system for a year. This was during the mid ‘90s and left Bob Harris and Jim’s wife, Dora, to run not only Piedmont but Ace Speedway as well.

Did I not mention that there was also a round track in the mix? Jim and his brother, Freddie, eventually were able to pave and had several years of success the track. Also during this time, Jim’s close friend, Larry Tomar, was called upon to run the round track, as well as working at Piedmont. Larry recalled how he and Jim would travel out West for the sprint car season. It was during this time that Jim’s appetite for finding the best local dive that had “chopped steak” led to many side trips to soak in the local geography.

Just as interesting were their trips to Pennsylvania for sprint car racing and taking in the local area. During one of these trips the duo ended up in Pottstown, Pa. Unknown to them, this was also the home of Yuengling Brewery. They became instant fans. Also attractive to the duo were trips to Carlisle, Pa. for, of all things, ice cream. It was in later years that wife, Cathy, told Larry that he and Jim were “buddies.”

Jim and partner Bob Harris in happier times.

Bob Harris came in as partner at Piedmont in 2006-2007 and led to a great partnership and friendship that lasted until the end. The Big Dog Shootout came to the forefront and started its recognition as described by Wes Buck at Drag Illustrated as “The best single track series in the country.” Having events such as the July 4th Power Jam, the Extreme Outlaw Pro Mod Association, and the hugely successful North vs. South Shootout. This, along with the Big Dog Shootout, firmly established Piedmont as “the DoorSlammer Capital of the World,” a title still held today. 

Present Tech Director and General Manager, Ric Moore, credits Jim with taking him from a racer to manager with many of the qualities that Jim instilled in him through the years.  During his early days, Ric would observe his Dad, Jim, and Jim’s brother, Fred, work on and build cars that are still talked about today. Such was the ’55 Chevy gasser known as “Mama’s Mink.” Built by Fred Turner and owned by Ric’s Dad, young Mr. Moore got a genuine education in the early days of the sport. 

As a humanitarian, Jim was drawn to the Shriners’ where he joined the Shriner Band and developed the charity event that would become the still-running “Hot Rod & Drag Expo.” This year will be the 21st edition of the event and is growing each year. As if there weren’t enough on his plate, Jim and Dora developed the idea that would become the NC Drag Racing Hall of Fame, beginning with its first class inducted in February of 2007. The event was attended by approximately 100 people and now plays host to several hundred family and friends. As I am writing this, Jim and wife Dora will be given the Pioneer Award for their contributions to our sport. As many of you know, during the 2023 edition of the EXPO, that the Turner Family was recognized by the Greensboro Coliseum management for their 20 plus year contribution to the Shriners’ Hospital, in Greenville, SC and is still recognized as the ONLY for-charity event at the famous event hall. 

All of this success would not have been possible without family support, and in Jim’s case, he had some of the best. With now wife Cathy, sons Bubba and Jay, sister Lynn, and a recent loss, his mom, the family worked tirelessly to make both these events into the huge success they currently are.  I have personally had the pleasure of working with Jim for many years covering events such as the Big Dog Shootout, the Hot Rod & Drag Expo, and my personal honor, being asked to become a founding member of the NC Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

As an educator, Jim was always teaching, telling racers at a drivers’ meeting, “the most important race will always be your next one.” Sister Lynn recalls that one of Jim’s famous comments to her, during her approximate 15 years of working at the track was the following: “Do your job and use good judgement and I will always have your back.”

So, in this short space, I have done my best to introduce Jim Turner, family man, humanitarian, and always an innovator in our sport of drag racing. This said, it is no surprise that at his memorial service, the minister Rev. Kristin Vaughn shared with us stories of Jim as her middle school principal. Rest easy, Jim, knowing you have taught all of us who had the pleasure of knowing you, that we will do our best to honor the legacy you have established.

This story was originally published on February 13, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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Since 2005, DI has informed, inspired and educated drag racers from every walk of the racing life - weekend warrior and street/strip enthusiasts to pro-level doorslammer and Top Fuel racers. From award-winning writing and photography to binge-worthy videos to electric live events, DI meets hundreds of thousands of racers where they live, creating the moments that create conversations.