Jim Fricker was born on October 27, 1935, in Hemet, California at a maternity home. There were no hospitals in Hemet at the time. As a small boy he played with the adventurous kid across the street, Larry Minor (Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame 2005).
After graduating high school in 1954 Jim left Hemet and became a United States Marine until 1958. Upon his return with the help of the G.I Bill he started trade school to become a mechanic. By 1961 he completed not only trade school but a stint at the General Motors Training Center. From 1961 until his retirement in 1991 Jim wrenched at the Hemet Buick-Pontiac dealership.
In the late 1950s the entire Hemet area automotive culture revolved around the Hemet Jeep Club. After his time in the Marines Jim became friends with members of the club. In 1962 while working at the dealership Jim also became friendly with his future wife, Linda. They married in 1965 and started a family.
Jim’s first foray into off-road racing came in 1969 with his friend Carl Jackson. Jackson had secured a seat in one of the James Garner (Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame 1978) American International Racers Ramblers that was experimental with four-wheel-drive. Carl and Jim brought that Rambler home fourth in class and were the first of the Ramblers back to Ensenada. Jim Fricker was now hooked on off-road racing. Jim continued to ride with Jackson for three more years in Bill Stroppe (Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame 1978) prepared Ford Broncos.
Perhaps their greatest accomplishment as a team came in the 1971 Baja 500 when Bill Stroppe picked the duo to drive a stock Baja Bronco attached to a Sprite travel trailer. It was a publicity stunt for the trailer manufacturer. NORRA and most of the off-road racing community did not give them a chance to finish within the official time limit of 30 hours. NORRA started Carl and Jim last. Fricker remembered, “A little ways out of Ensenada I thought I better look and see how the little trailer was doing. Man, it was bouncing all over the place, I’ll tell you what, that’s the last time I looked behind me the rest of the race.” Through a myriad of flat tires and one stop to weld the hitch, Carl and Jim came home with nearly four hours to spare for an official finish. Legend status achieved.
After the 1973 season Stroppe moved Jackson into a Courier mini truck. Good for Carl, bad for Jim Fricker who is a tall guy and did not fit in the import pickup. In what would be a fortuitous move for them both Jim Fricker moved to the Bronco of Rod Hall. It would start a partnership that would last through 1994.
Along the way Jim would be generous with his time with up and coming co-drivers, teaching them how to prepare and execute a race plan. One of those co-drivers was Bob Bower (Off Road Motorsports Class of 2020) who remembers a trip to Parker in 1984 with Jim who was schooling him on the art of co-driving. Bob remembers, “He talked about the sounds and smells of a healthy race car and the same for an unhealthy race car. Of course, there were stories and vignettes in between lessons. He talked about visually navigating terrain to stay in touch with where you were in relation to chase roads. And then there was the lessons he offered on dealing with your driver. For a guy who did not spend much effort to be “out there” and famous he had a lot to say.” Bower says that in his own 30+ years of co-driving there was always a “Fricker lesson” to be applied.
Sometimes the driver/co-driver dynamic seems like there is little respect for each other. Nothing could be further from the truth between Hall and Fricker. Although they did get an occasional dig in. Hall was quoted on more than one occasion saying, “I’m always willing to drop a door handle into the dirt if I am battling for the lead, but if I do, it’ll be on Fricker’s side.” At the 1978 Repco Reliability Trials in Australia while Rod was getting frustrated trying to pass a slow Russian competitor Fricker remanded Hall, saying, “Listen, if you want to start World War III, why don’t you just go shoot an Archduke? That way racing won’t get blamed.” And so it went, back and forth for decades.
Over his career Jim Fricker was renowned for his mechanical abilities, race planning, and keeping his driver in the proper frame of mind. At the 1984 Baja 1000, while on the beach north of San Felipe the Dodge’s driveline got caught up in a fishing net that wrapped itself around the drivetrain. Fricker, with a pocketknife, dove under the truck and spent over an hour cutting away the net to preserve he and Rod’s string of 37 consecutive wins. At the 1986 HDRA Fireworks 250 on the final lap with a big lead, the Dodge lost all forward gears. Jim Fricker jumped in the bed of the Dodge truck, turned the cab lights around, knocked out the rear window, and navigated from the bed for an estimated 30 miles to the finish line. There are scores more of these stories.
When Jim Fricker retired from the right seat, he amassed an impressive list of wins. Twelve Baja 1000s, eleven Baja 500s (or Internacional’s), eight Mint 400s and a host of Parker 400s, Fireworks 250s, Frontier 500s and 250s and many others. Jim Fricker won races in America, Mexico, Australia, and Africa.
Now, as Jim Fricker takes his rightful place in the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame his legacy will be preserved for future generations of co-drivers to learn from. Jim Fricker will always be remembered as a fierce competitor, a kind man, and a devoted husband and father. He would not have it any other way.
Written by John Elkin, Off-Road journalist and author of Bronco Racing: Fords Legendary 4x4 in off-road competition.