The Spirit of Mazda: Jim Downing

When you think of Jim Downing, many words and phrases may come to mind.  IMSA Racer.  Georgia Tech grad. Engineer. Smart.  Creative.  Safety-minded.  Understated. Quiet. Integrity. Problem-solver. Mazda legend. IMSA Lights.  HANS. Kudzu.  Downing embodies many of the core values of the Mazda spirit, and in fact helped develop the culture that is the challenger within Mazda Motorsports today. For these reasons and more, the Mazda Motorsports community recognizes Jim Downing as the recipient of The Spirit of Mazda award from the month of August.

Old school Mazda people know Downing as one of the early RX-2, RX-3, RX-7 pioneers.  1980’s race fans remember him for creating, and dominating, the IMSA Lights class.  The industry knows him as the persistent catalyst behind the HANS device.

Downing has a 50+ year career behind the wheel.  He earned the pole position at the first SCCA Runoffs in 1964, driving a Formula Vee, and was racing just last month in a Mazda-powered P2 prototype at the 2016 SCCA Runoffs.  In between he won multiple IMSA GTU races in his Downing/Atlanta RX-7.  He created the IMSA (Camel) Lights class and won the first three class championships in 1985-1987

Racers, and the entire motorsports world owe him a debt for his long-term development of the Head and Neck Support (HANS) system that has contributed so much to modern motorsports safety.

Downing has been credited as the first racer to identify the problems associated with a restrained torso and an unrestrained head in sudden deceleration impacts.  Downing enlisted his brother-in-law, Dr. Robert Hubbard, a bio mechanical crash engineer, to co-design the HANS device to protect against these types of injuries. Downing was the lone tester for the early versions. After the death of Dale Earnhardt, virtually every sanctioning body in the world made the devices mandatory equipment.

Downing has received many awards over the years and has been inducted to both the SCCA and Sebring Hall of Fame. We are honored to be able to name him as the most recent Spirit of Mazda award recipient.