This story ran in DCRR Racing News in 1998
Also, Don O'Keefe Jr. has an excellent Jim Booth tribute page with lots of pictures located HERE.
BY DON MARTIN II
ANTIOCH, CA...When you take a look at the car counts of the Northern California Modified Association in this their 11th year of existence and see them in the twenties and see top drivers like Mike McCreary, Don Hicks and even club founder Mike Johnson racing along with NCMA stars like Scott Holloway, Ed Amador Sr., Duane Watson and Don O'Keefe Jr., it's easy to be impressed. The NCMA has emerged as one of the top three touring support divisions in California. Things are going well now, but it wasn't always that way. In fact, if it wasn't for the leadership of former club President Jim Booth from 1991 to 1994, perhaps this whole club would have went away quietly.
Jim had been a Stock Car racer in the seventies and in the early eighties. In fact, he won the 1982 track championship at the old Baylands Raceway Park in Fremont. "I only won one race there, " Booth admitted. "It was done with consistency. I had a lot of top fives."
Even then, Jim was one of the true sportsmen of racing and that came more to the forefront in 1983. Jim gave up a shot at second in the standings that season. "It was between me and Bill O'Malley for second, and I loaned him my good tires for the final race, " said Booth. "My car was only running on seven cylinders, and I knew I wasn't going anywhere. So, I loaned him my tires so he could try and catch Larry Lundin. I used his old worn out tires."
Booth was still one of the top five that year, but he gave up Stock Cars during the 1984 season. "It was fun running at Baylands until NASCAR came in, " claimed Jim. "I ran one year with them until I got tired of the b.s. and sold the car."
In 1985, Jim returned to Baylands as the track got in on the ground floor of the up and coming 360 Sprint Car division, which ran 360 c.i. cast iron motors at the time. The class was thrown out there with the 410 Sprinters, but Jim emerged as the top 360 point getter and won the first track championship there. "That year was funny because we had a lot of cars some weeks and other weeks we had only three or four, " Booth explained. "They used to run us with the 410's and score us separately. I had a couple of top ten finishes with them in my 2,000 pound old Super Modified. They never hit me out there, because if they did, it would bend their cars pretty good."
A year later, the growing 360 Sprint Car class ran their own races, and Booth was faced with the competition of future Petaluma champion Gary Geving, Don O'Keefe Jr., Brian Gray, Keith Shipherd and future NCMA founder Mike Johnson, to name a few. The steady Booth ended up ranking second to Geving. In 1987, as the division continued to grow with the addition of such drivers at Pat Scilley, Dale Johnston, Charlie Correia and David Vodden, Jim ranked second again, this time behind Scilley. Jim was a consistent top five and top ten finisher in the 360 division at Baylands, but as it began to take on a new direction and growth, he decided to stop racing it for points in 1988. "The 360 Sprints at Baylands were a lot of fun to race, " Booth admitted. "Unfortunately, it started to get a little to expensive for me with all the things they were allowing for the cars. I couldn't afford to do it anymore."
However, during the 1988 season, Mike Johnson and the NCMA Modifieds paid a visit to Baylands, and Jim was interested in what he saw. A year later, he had a car of his own. "The NCMA came around at the right time for me, " said Jim. "In talking with Mike about it and seeing the rules, I knew I had found something I could afford to race and have fun doing it."
Showing just how well he could adapt, Jim hit the NCMA with the same kind of consistency he'd displayed in Sprint Cars. Though he had no feature wins, he had several top five finishes and even had a dash victory in ranking third in both Overall and Antioch points in the 1989 season. His year had many ups and a few downs, including a spectacular flip in Cottage Grove, Oregon, but perhaps the one memory that sticks out is the main event that got away. Jim was a distant second when the leader, Darryl Shirk, was trying to lap a couple of battling cars and crashed.
Suddenly, he had the lead, but he was not expecting the drag race to the checkered flag that he would lose to Gordon Chappa. "I knew where everybody else was out there on the track and I knew I had 'em covered, " Booth recalled. "I didn't know Gordon was still out there. I was just taking it easy in the corner, making sure nothing went wrong, and the next thing I knew, he was driving by me."
The question in the NCMA pits in the future would be, when will Jim finally get his first feature victory with the club. In 1996, he finally got that win at Merced and also won a shortened race there a year later. In fact, Merced has been Jim's best track in recent seasons. Since 1989, Jim has ranked top ten almost every year and was top five in the 1991, 1995 and 1996 championship point races. This year, Jim has run a more relaxed schedule and is not running for points, but he has long since established himself as one of the best and most knowledgeable competitors in the club. After running a good race with Darryl Shirk at Antioch in 1992 that was filled with many side by side laps, race winner Shirk said of runner up Booth, "Jim is one of the best drivers out there. I wasn't worried at all about him crashing into me. I knew I could trust him running alongside me and we had a good race."
In 1990, Jim had become more involved with the NCMA and was paying close attention to what was going on with the Board Of Directors and offering up ideas that would prove very helpful. One such idea was the body rule change that took the NCMA away from the California Dirt Car idea and brought it to it's current Modified look, more closely resembling the classic style non winged Super Modifieds of the seventies. In 1991, he was elected President by the membership.
He spent that first season defusing several tense situations and co-ordinating the NCMA towards it's future goals. The club nearly died that year, but thanks to Jim dealing with the things that were upsetting club members to the point of quitting, all the membership responded by supporting the final few races of the season in force. That, more than anything, saved the club from ending after only four years of existence.
Jim brought the NCMA into new relationships with tracks in Petaluma, Grass Valley and Merced, which was another key factor in the club's survival. In 1992, the NCMA actually fielded a couple car counts in the twenties, securing the club's future at its home track in Antioch as well. It is true that this club would never have had a chance to begin with if not for the tireless efforts of Mike Johnson and it is also true that Duane Watson's presence as Race Director in the last three seasons has made these 20 races per year schedules possible. However, if not for Booth's hard work as President, these last six seasons may never have happened. One thing is for sure, both on the track and off, Jim Booth is a winner.