IT WAS 30 YEARS AGO TODAY...
'll never forget Friday morning, September 9th, 1977. I was sitting at my desk at Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. when the phone rang. I picked it up and answered "Raceway Park." The voice on the other end was Bob Liberman, "Jungle Jim's" brother. He recognized my voice as he had just bought a car from me a few months earlier, I said "Hey Man, what's up?" He answered saying "Jim is dead."
It's all foggy what happened after that...
Russell James "Jungle Jim" Liberman was killed in an early morning crash when the yellow Corvette he was driving on the West Chester (Pa.) Pike went through the median barrier and collided head-on into a South East Philadelphia Transit Authority bus killing him instantly.
JJ was a friend of mine, make that a very good friend of mine. I met him in 1969 when he was barnstorming the country racing what has evolved into the most popular class in all of drag racing, a nitro Funny Car. I took an instant liking to the dude, so much in fact that I joined his team for the 1970-72 seasons and I consider the time I spent with him on the road the best times of my life.
There are a lot of stories about Jungle during those days and most of them are true. During the 1970's Jungle was the most popular Funny Car driver bar none. If he were still alive today I'm sure he would have been right up there with John Force in terms of popularity but the tragic accident that claimed his life was on par with the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and other music stars years earlier.
I wanted to keep Jungle's memory alive on the 30th anniversary of his death. I did something similar to this five years ago on the 25th anniversary on the long gone, but never forgotten, NITRONIC web site and you can follow this link to read that, but since then I've collected and received a bunch of new "Jungle" stuff that I wanted to pass along and thanks to Jeff Burk and Drag Racing Online, here it is.
There's a photo page with a lot of Jungle photos, some of which have never been seen before, and I want to thank all of you who sent me photos for this project.
Click images to enlarge.
It might be kind of gruesome but there's also a copy of the local West Chester newspaper with the report of his death on the front page. It's a rare piece and, again, I wanted to make sure it was out there for all you Jungle fans.
And here's a link to a page I did with a "How I Met Jungle" story.
Even though Jungle didn't run many national events he was still voted # 17 of NHRA's Top 50 Drivers.
Jungle's funeral was on Monday, September 12, 1977. Ironically it was his 32nd birthday and if he was around today there'd be a great big party somewhere for drag racing's original showman.
I hope you all enjoy this trip down drag racing's memory lane as much as I enjoyed putting this together.