Jim Luikens: A Life Devoted to the Automobile, Automobile Racing, and the Automotive Racing Industry
Although Jim has drag raced a variety of vehicles he has an intense passion for all forms of motor sports. However, he is much better known for his contributions to the advancement of motorsports from behind a parts counter, a desk, a computer, or a microphone than behind a steering wheel.
Jim was a “car guy” long before such a term was coined. As a precocious three year old, Jim amazed his parents by standing between them on the front seat of their 1950 Chevrolet and identifying passing cars by calling out their names and model year. Amazing as that was, it was just an early glimpse into a life that would be dedicated and devoted to the automobile, automobile racing and the automotive racing industry.
After learning to drive in his parents’ 1957 Chevrolet (an iconic car in its own right) Jim obtained his first real car. Not many people can say that their first car was a Hemi, but Jim can. It wasn’t something as glamorous as a Hemi ‘Cuda but instead was his grandfather’s 1955 De Soto. However, to Jim it was as good as a ‘Cuda because he finally had wheels of his own.
In 1963 Jim got his driver’s license on a Thursday and, just two days later, took his first out-of-town trip to the Martin US 131 Dragway. As a budding racing enthusiast he’d salivated over the Martin Dragway ads on the radio, but previously had not had a way to get there.
Two years later Jim bought a brand new Chevrolet Impala and it wasn’t long before he moved from Martin’s grandstands to Martin’s starting line with his street-driven Chevy. Possessing a definite need for speed it wasn’t much longer before Jim built his first dedicated race car, a 1957 Pontiac. He chose to build a Pontiac because he was never a me-too kind of guy and instead wanted to race something more challenging than the much more common Chevrolets.
Ironically, his Pontiac ran so well that he came to the attention of Berger Chevrolet and their High Performance Parts Department. Subsequently he was asked to join Berger’s fast-growing HP Parts Department. In 1970 he became the High Performance Parts Manager and attended his first SEMA Show. Jim has never missed a SEMA Show since and his attendance record stands at an amazing 46 consecutive shows out the 48 total shows ever held.
After building Berger into the number one Chevrolet High Performance Parts Dealer in the USA, Jim reluctantly left Berger in 1975 to join the marketing arm of Mr. Gasket and other leading performance parts companies. In this capacity he worked closely with A&A Fiberglass, founding their race support program and becoming their first racing coordinator while also being a member of the original Performance People racing support team. He also purchased his second race car, a 1971 Pontiac 455 HO that had been originally ordered strictly for drag racing.
In 1986 Jim’s career path took a slight turn. He founded his own consulting and marketing services company devoted exclusively to the racing industry. Beginning with just one client his new business grew quickly. In 1993, Roger Rosebush hired Jim to produce a complete set of marketing materials for Mangels Minas, a Brazilian manufacturer of “mag” wheels. The completed documents were very impressive and a decision was made to enter the materials in the Best New Catalog competition at the annual SEMA/AIA Show in Las Vegas where they won handily. This remains Jim’s proudest accomplishment. As he says, “to go to Las Vegas and have your work judged the best of the best by your peers is a thrill that will probably never be exceeded for me.”
In 2000 Jim’s motor sports career entered yet another phase when he became the General Manager of the Wild Dog Racing Team. The Wild Dog team was a two-car, factory-sponsored Dodge Viper team that competed in the premier class (GT) of the SCCA’s World Challenge series. It was the prominent sports car series of its time and all 10 World Challenge events were nationally televised.
When Toyota was considering entering NASCAR in the early ‘00s they hired Jim to do all of their marketing research for the clandestine project. More recent accomplishments have include writing more than 100 award-winning articles for Drag Race Central and winning the Best of Marketing award twice in the annual International Automotive Media Awards competition. When the now-named Martin U.S. 131 Motorsports Park celebrated their 50th Anniversary in 2012 they recognized Jim as the single person that had served the track in the most different ways during its 50-year history, including being the color commentator and expert analyst on their television broadcasts.
Jim’s soft-spoken nature is sometimes mistaken for aloofness but that is just his quiet intensity showing through. He usually has one or more projects taking shape in his head and some people can’t believe that his work is as good as it is because he is not based in a major market. Actually, location has little to do with creativity according to him. Not much has changed from those long-ago days on the front seat of his parents’ car. After 48 years in racing and the racing industry that he loves so much Jim is still doing the improbable with no end in the foreseeable future.