Sit back, relax, close your eyes and picture yourself at "the raciest little dirt track in America," with the announcer shouting "They're racing three wide down the back stretch. Wwwwooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!" His voice goes up three octaves and he screams at the top of his lungs, "They can't do that at Ventura!!!!! Eeeeeeeooooooowwww baby!"
Just another Saturday night of sprint car racing at Seaside Park's Ventura Raceway. Nothing finer in this man's world, that man being Jim Naylor, announcer, promoter, track "Dr Dirtman," sign painter, race car striper, mechanic, and businessman! This is the man who made Ventura Raceway a household name among midget and sprint car fans around the country. Fifty-two years old, and a bachelor for seventeen years, Jim was born in Ventura and raised in nearby Oxnard, California. He owns and runs JN Designs, specializing in vinyl, stitching, painting, signs and especially, racecar graphics. And, by the way, he runs Ventura Raceway.
Jim grew up in what he calls an Ozzie & Harriet environment. Not a lot of money, but plenty of love, in a warm home. It was his dad, the late Jim Sr., who taught him to love racing. He was his mentor and they did everything together. His mom, Ann, works in his office, even today. His sister, Jane Margaroli, is married to a CHP and lives just north of Ventura in San Luis Obispo. His two daughters, Laura 26 and Julie 28, are the light of his life, and live nearby.
At age six, Jim fell in love with a blue Quarter Midget the very first time he saw it. Somehow, his father made friends with the owner, and Jim Jr. ended up driving it. During this period, Jim Sr. sold Racecraft Quarter Midgets, and Jim's picture was on their sales brochure. Jim raced the little cars for 5 years starting in 1953, winning a lot of races and holding the world record on more than one occasion. He ran against Harlan Willis, Jeff Heywood, Danny McKnight and many more during that period. He was good, but physically grew out of the small cockpit and never raced again. That was partly because his mom put her foot down, and partly because he got into painting and lettering his dad's stock cars every week after the body-slamming racing.
Jim Sr. built three small racetracks in the area. One, the then famous Camarillo facility, which was a paved track, held many world records. He was the owner/mechanic of a few stock cars, typically Fords, but never the driver. His dad had great trust in his abilities, and Jim Jr. was only eleven when he started to do more than just letter dad's racecars. He shared in some of the machining work, doing the port and polishing, because of the steady hand and eye coordination that was required. In between racing the family stock cars, he and his dad would go to Ascot and other tracks to watch the sprinters run. Jim Sr. kept working and racing stock cars, while Jim built up his sign painting business, until one day "it" happened. "It" being the thing that cemented the younger Jim's life. Jim Naylor, Jr. got his own racetrack!
Mike Doyle was running the Ventura fairground racetrack back in the late 70's. After he expanded the small track to allow TQ racing, he couldn't pay the fairboard what he owed them. Naylor was just smart enough "or maybe not," he says now, to step up and buy him out. He took over the reins on a dream and a prayer in 1978. His dad retired and came to help him, until his death from cancer in 1980. This was a difficult time for this normally exuberant man. The many times they shared working and racing, were very special to Jim, and to this day, he still feels the loss of his father.
Jim has continued to overhaul, improve, dress-up and put in many hours of loving care into building what is today, one of the finest dirt tracks in the country. He gives a lot of credit for the development and organization of raceway procedures to his former girl friend, Bev Blackwell. It was Bev who forced him to overcome his natural tendencies to "let it all hang out," and make long range plans. Those plans turned Ventura Raceway into a well-oiled and smoothly run facility. Today with Cliff Morgan and Mike Sweeney, they conquer the hardest of problems and make Ventura a place to be proud of.
Each year, the latest improvements come like clockwork during the off season. This year, it was the asphalt expansion of the "midway" behind the grandstands, which provides a large viewing area for fans and kids who can't go into the pits. He provided his track personnel with classy uniforms, and also added a new water truck and Kawasaki Mule for his workers. There are many more changes that go unnoticed by most when they enter the hallowed halls of his "house."
Jim Naylor wears many hats and all of them well. This man is always looking at the big picture. "It's not about money," he insists, "its about success, its about making people happy." When you walk into his racetrack, you know he has succeeded in doing just that. "We have to work at doing the best," he says. "We try to treat all racers and fans the same." He's always in marketing mode, his mind racing ahead to the next challenge. Twice a week Jim has his own radio program that airs on local station KVTA 1520 AM at 6:45 am, in the Ventura area. He is opinionated, but has the convictions to be that way. A TV racing program on Ventura Raceway is new for this season, covering all the weekly action. Yes, life is good in Ventura!
Many a racer has had their racecar personally upgraded and decorated by Jim Naylor's steady hand. Over the years, many got help for free because he wants to help them all. But, there is the other side of Jim. He is a serious manager of his business and racetrack. He has built one of the most envied racetracks, complete with his own support vehicle pool; all painted the racetrack's trademark yellow. The pool includes two water trucks, two fire and safety trucks, four wreckers, two four wheelers, two Kawasaki Mules, two Case skiploaders, a golf cart, and more for keeping the show moving along. Jim is a stickler for safety and prepares for the worst in every emergency situation. There are two "cutters" on his safety trucks used to extricate an injured driver, with one more on the way.
Jim admits he was probably "a little out of control" back when he started to promote at the Seaside Park facility. He has a philosophy, which is that he will always tell the truth. You ask and you will get, because he is not shy. But, he has learned "how to open the door and start dealing with trouble, without attacking the offending party. For instance, dealing with a driver who errs in judgement and needs setting down. One time he instructed an official to tell the champion of one of the classes that he was done for the night because of rough driving. When the chastised offender later got in his face, Jim told him calmly that he was ashamed of the "dirty trick" he had pulled. The driver responded with remorse and a lesson was learned. The offending driver rode the rest of the night in the golf cart with one of the track officials, almost as a penance, and never pulled that stunt again. Jim has had a few unhappy drivers over the years, but he insists the same rules apply to all. One competitor got so mad at a track ruling that he threw a fit on top of the hood of one of Jim's trucks, causing damage to it. Later, ashamed, that racer brought Jim a junkyard replacement hood, and naturally Jim forgave him
When the subject turned to his work, Jim expressed with enthusiasm that he is living a dream. "I get to do this, build my own track, outfit my own workers, make my own rules, have the control to manage it, and provide everything needed to run a racetrack. It is the best it can be." His staff feels it a pleasure to work for the man, and the results show. They continually put on smooth events without any hitches, because they do it by the book, his book!
Jim hosted the famous Turkey Night Grand Prix at his track in '97. After a mother lode of rain, and a miraculous effort to squeeze the bass out of the bulging infield lake, they got the race in. Some even said this edition might have been the best one ever. He needed help to accomplish this miracle and had the respect to get it, without question. He has hosted many ESPN TV Midget races, which has given many drivers, and Ventura Raceway, a lot of national exposure. When asked if he felt the Perris and Irwindale tracks were competition, Jim's response was "They are good for my business and I want them to do well."
Always one to step up to support others, Jim was there for startup of the SCRA. His efforts were part of the success of the club in the beginning, as he gave them 20% of their races that first year. He has changed banking on the track significantly from what it was before SCRA, making the small bowl extremely exciting and wide enough to run three wide! This writer campaigned, from SCRA's first appearance at Ventura Raceway back then, encouraging Jim to make his track a little bigger for the sprint cars. Last year, after several years of watching some of the best short track action at his track, I relented and told him not to change a thing, his track was just fine!
Cory Kruseman, one of the SCRA's top drivers says Jim has been like a dad to him since his father, Ron Kruseman, died in a midget crash at El Centro. Their relationship goes way back to the time Jim Sr. built Ron's first TQ and Jim painted and striped it. Jim Naylor would "give you the shirt off his back," Cory spoke of Jim, fondly. Cory, who has raced at Ventura since he began racing from go-carts on up, gives Jim major credit for guiding him in the right direction in his career. Every West Coast racecar that Cory has driven, has been lettered by Jim. They try to get together often, despite their busy schedules. Jim says Cory is so much like a son to him that he suffers a father's disappointment at times, and revels in the joys of Cory's success, as well. A driving school, with Cory the teacher, is in the "possibility" stage for the near future. Dr Kruseman and Professor of Dirtology? Sounds good!
Mike Kirby likes running at Ventura and has been very successful on the small track. He says he and Jim go way back to when he was the Ascot figure-eight champion and Jim, the promoter, wanted him to appear. Mike, always the shy one, asked about appearance money, but Jim said there was none! He then mentioned what the winner would get, and Mike committed on the spot. Yes, he won. Lealand McSpadden once quietly called Ventura a "Go-Cart" track, but the night he won his last SCRA championship and retired, he admitted it was a thrill a minute for him on the small oval, and the competition was what he enjoyed. The current hot dogs in SCRA admit it is great racing, but report that things happen so fast, you have to trust your reactions and go for the front. The experience gained by the group has made it more exciting with less bolt-on part repairs.
JN Designs has been in the same shop for 27 years and it is remodeled and up to date just like the racetrack, and everything else in his life. On display in his office are his many awards and memorabilia. He's had a hand in the careers of many successful drivers, and some of the thanks are proudly displayed, as well. When he's not working at his shop, or at the track, Jim finds time to do upgrades for the fairgrounds. Things like building fences, moving dirt, and beautifying the area surrounding Seaside Park. He feels a commitment to help the other fairground areas to be better for visitors, and the workers, as well. He makes the monthly Fair Board meetings special by feeding the crowd and encouraging others to share in providing special treats.
Up at dawn every day, this man is driven to do more than the average day can allow. Working 12 to 14 hours a day at the track and at the office, is the norm for Jim Naylor. He is relentless, driven to succeed, and begins each day looking for the next big improvement. He still letters cars with that experienced hand and can't seem to say no to anybody who asks for something special. Jim manages to stumble home by early evening and tries to relax by watching TV for an hour or so to unwind. Then, it's to bed and back up, to do it all over again, six days a week. Sundays are usually reserved for working on what he couldn't get done during the week, being with his daughters, his mom, or perhaps, even rest!
Nobody who goes to Ventura can miss that the welcome mat is out for all. One thing that Jim expresses often is "We just want to have fun. If we're not having fun, why bother! We want [the fans] to have fun!" That is what Jim Naylor gets out of racing. FUN with a capital YOU! There is much more that could be said about Jim and his fast-paced life, but to get a better feel for Jim Naylor the man and Jim Naylor the promoter, you need to stop by Ventura Raceway and meet him personally. This man is absolutely excited about everything and always full of new ideas.Did I mention that Jim wants to have an IMCA Modified built with two seats so he can put people in the "spectator" seat, while one of the "fast guys" chauffeurs them around the track at speed? Just another dream? Maybe. But, while Jim Naylor makes his own dreams come true, he helps make others' dreams come true, as well. Why, just because he can!
Jim says, "the best thing about Ventura Raceway is "it is small," and then he adds, "the worst thing about Ventura Raceway is "it is small!" Its not the Taj Mahal, its not Ascot, its not Knoxville, its just the raciest little dirt track in America. It's Jim Naylor's Ventura Raceway!