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Jim Paulson a priceless friend of racing

Jim Paulson was one of those rare individuals who didn't have an enemy in the world. He was a long-time Toronto radio personality and the voice of auto racing at many Ontario circuits and speedways. In Norris McDonald's column today, his racing friends pay tribute.

  • Detail of an automatic gear shifter in a new, modern car. Modern car interior with close-up of automatic transmission and cockpit background

A little over a month ago – Jan. 13, to be exact – about 150 relatives and racing people attended a gathering at the Whitby Yacht Club to celebrate the life of the late Martin Chenhall, a General Motors engineer and a car racer/organizer of note.

Host Chick McGregor invited people to say a few words in tribute. He informed most of them of his intention. One he might have missed was long-time Mosport and Molson Indy announcer, Jim Paulson.

Paulson appeared to be caught off-guard when he was called up to speak. But being the consummate professional, he gathered up himself – and his thoughts – went to the microphone and spoke glowingly for two or three minutes about Chenhall and the sport of automobile racing.

Every word was a gem.

How shocking, then, that a little over four weeks later – Feb. 13, to be exact – Jim Paulson collapsed and died while working at his regular job with Toronto radio station AM740. He was 67.

A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 3, at St. James Anglican Cathedral (King and Church Sts.) in Toronto. The tributes will be many.

Why? Because Paulson was a genuinely nice, gentle man. He had nothing but good words for everybody. Every day was sunny, or so it seemed.

There was so much in his life that could – and often does – turn a body bitter. His first son, Brad, died, as did his first wife, Lynn. His beloved second wife, Kitty (a.k.a., Diamond Lil) also passed away. But Paulson carried on, ever smiling, ever optimistic.

He was, most of all, superbly talented, whether it was performing on radio, TV or at the track. And a really quick-thinker, too. Gary Dolson, long-time Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. communications manager, loves to tell this story:

“It sounds like a cliché, but Jim was such a calm, cool and collected guy,” Dolson said. “Nothing could throw him off. He saved the day so many times. For instance:

“At one of the early Molson Indys in the late ’80s, Jim was on the podium introducing a bunch of honoured guests and generally getting everybody worked up for the start of the race.

“There were 70,000 people at the CNE and the race was on international TV so who knows how many people were actually watching. Anyway, Jim introduced the girl who was going to sing O Canada and then threw it to her.

“Halfway through, she stumbled and started to forget the words. Without missing a beat, Jim slid in behind her and whispered: “True . . . North . . . Strong . . . and . . . Free . . .”

“With his prompting, she got through the national anthem and nobody was ever the wiser.”

His good friend, two-time Canadian driving champion Craig Hill, tells about the time he was in a jam in Montreal and Paulson bailed him out.

“I was marketing manager for Castrol and we had a big reception for clients at the Canadian Grand Prix. It was 1993, we (Castrol) sponsored Team Lotus in those days and one of the drivers was Alex Zanardi.

“My regular Montreal MC was tied up doing things for Molson’s and I was in a fix. I turned around, and there was Jim just standing there.

“He agreed to fill in as host but was worried because he wasn’t bilingual. So you know what he did? He asked the questions in English and had Zanardi answer them in French. It worked perfectly.”

Said Hill: “Jim was such an easy-going guy. He always had a good word for, and about, everybody. If there were problems, there were no problems – if you know what I mean. Jim’s attitude was, `We’ll keep on going and, at the end of the day, everything will turn out all right.'”

Bert Coates, long-time automotive marketing executive, laughs when he tells this story.

“Jim was doing the announcing at Mosport and we were sponsoring the BFGoodrich Sundown Grand Prix. In a six-hour endurance race, things can get a little boring, so Jimmy interviewed the company president and then he interviewed me – except he told people that I was the captain of the BFGoodrich Blimp and that I was talking to him from high in the sky.

“We talked for 10 minutes about the `view,’ and what I `saw’ going on in the race, and he was so convincing that fans across in the stands were staring up in the sky, trying to catch sight of our imaginary blimp.”

Paulson’s amazing ability to make those sorts of things up on the fly got him lots of work with Bob McAllister, whose company planned and produced receptions and press conferences.

Said McAllister: “I’d be able to call him up at 8 a.m. and tell him to meet me at 11:45 a.m. (for a noon start) in the John Molson Room at Molson’s headquarters and he’d arrive not knowing who was there or what was going on. He did Dave Barr, the golfer, cold, and Whipper Billy Watson, the wrestler, and every auto racer you can think of and he had this unique ability to make everybody feel right at home.”

This skill earned him the Molson Indy job in Toronto in 1986 and in Vancouver in 1990. Said marketing and public relations specialist Sid Priddle:

“I knew of Jim’s work at Mosport and recommended him for the Molson Indy jobs because he could explain auto racing in layman’s terms. Because we figured our initial crowd would be half ‘race’ and half ‘event,’ we wanted somebody who could ‘talk’ to both constituencies. You didn’t have to be a motorhead to enjoy commentary at those races because Jim was so good.”

Three-time Canadian driving champion Bill Brack was eloquent in his praise:

“When I wasn’t racing, I liked to listen to Jim’s announcing because he was so clear. You listened to him and you knew what was happening all around the race track, even if you couldn’t see it. Jim’s voice was our eyes.”

Here are more tributes from members of the motorsport community:

Paul Madder, photographer:

“The good morning ritual was great. I would be walking through the empty pit straight of the early Toronto Indys, on my way to the photographers meetings. About 7 a.m., I would hear:

“GOOOOOOOOOOOD MOOOOOORNING TOOOOOOORONTO, just like the Robin Williams Good Morning Vietnam movie.

“It was good ‘ole Jim waking up the couple of fans in the seats and testing out the sound system.

“Great guy , big loss.”

N. H. (Nate) Salter, motorsport historian, car and racing buff:

“As one who knew Jim Paulson from both my involvement with racing as well as my involvement with the old car hobby, his passing was a tremendous shock.

“The Thornhill Cruisers Car Club held their 13th annual awards dinner on Monday, Feb. 12, 2007 at the Mandarin Restaurant on Woodbine Avenue in Markham. One of our honoured guests was Jim Paulson. During the evening, the writer along with Mike Filey did a live telephone cut-in on AM740 with Jimmy describing the event to the listeners.

“Jim was one of those who had been an integral part of our success, not only when he worked with us in conjunction with AM740, wherein he would visit our Monday events and join with our fellow member, Mike Filey, to do live cut-ins, but he would attend as an individual who came out to just be a part of our classic and hot rod car shows.

“Jim Paulson was one of us. He was the voice of The Thornhill Cruisers and he truly loved the old car hobby. We often talked about his desire for a ’59 Impala hardtop, and in fact he had been involved with a long-term, ongoing price negotiation with one of our members who had two identical ’59s and was considering selling one to Jimmy.

“Jim Paulson made everyone he met feel good. His relationship with the club was something we were all proud of and, indeed, when we received the email on Tuesday, we were really stunned as on Monday night he looked well.

“While it is too soon to be able to finalize our plans, Jim Paulson will be memorialized in some significant way within our club’s award program and we truly will miss him as he was one of us.”

Ken Graham, retired racer, friend:

“I have known Jim for many years. Jim chummed with Bob McAllister, Craig Hill and myself (all of us being BIG RACE FANS). We would get together and watch the Daytona and Indy 500s, and at Christmas/New Year’s.

“We have spent many weekends at Mosport with Jim and Kitty when he was the race announcer.

“Jim was, without a doubt, the nicest person you would want to spend time with . . . gentle and kind and always the perfect gentleman. A memorable greeting when he arrived at our home was to take our picture as soon as we opened the door! This was a unique idea and truly reflective of Jim’s thoughtfulness.

“Over the last few years Jim, McAllister and I have attended quite a few funerals within the racing community. Jim would say, ‘Kenny, when is this going to stop?’ Well, it has stopped for him – way too early!

“We will miss him dearly.”

F. David Stone, retired auto executive, race photographer:

“Jim Paulson was always positive.

“We all have some sadness in our lives but even with the sadness in his life, Jim always had a joke because he liked to make people happy. He never seemed to want to be the centre of attention but he usually was.

“In the 40 years I knew him, no matter what went wrong, I never saw him down because he always had a snappy one liner that turned things around with an impish smile and a twinkle in his eyes.

“He was indeed a rare individual and we’ll miss him.”

John C. Bassett, TV auto racing producer:

“I sometimes thought that there was no way that Jim could be that nice, sincere and true. But the longer I knew him, the more I came to know that that was what he truly was.

“I think he will be most missed by people the next time they’re at a track and they realize his presence, either through his voice on the PA, a hello and a shake of the hand, or his humour, aren’t there any more.

“He’ll be missed as much around Ontario racing as Tom Carnegie will be missed at Indianapolis this coming May.”

George Webster, racing writer, producer of www.racefantv.com:

“Jim was always the biggest booster of the racing at Mosport. He could make a boring race sound exciting and a miniscule crowd a sellout.”

Craig Manning, former race announcer, consultant:

“The thing that struck me about Jim was the quality, depth and warmth of his voice. It perfectly matched his personality and who he was as a man. I found him very soothing to be around.

“But I have a story. At the Molson Indy, I seemed to be the mainstay in the booth, with (announcer) Chris McClure coming and going and changing his clothes as he did his Molson and ESPN responsibilities. Jim would be in and out of the booth, making appearances and going to the podium to do ‘live’ interviews with event sponsors, government officials and celebrities.

“He played a pretty big trick on me. He had me convinced that he was doing all of these interviews ‘live.’ I couldn’t actually see him because the booth was at the outside of the final turn and the podium was way down just before turn one.

“In truth, some of the interviews were pre-recorded and shown on the big screens later. So mid-morning on Saturday, I hear the producer Ed Milliken in my ear telling me to ‘throw to’ Jim Paulson at the podium for an interview.

“I passed it over to Jim, who started the interview. I was watching the interview on a monitor screen thinking it was ’live’ but Jim must have been waiting right outside the booth’s back door.

“As the interview concluded, Ed was in my ear, ‘Cue the booth in 5,4, 3, 2, 1 . . . and I started with something like, ‘Thanks Jim. Good morning again everybody, you’re listening the the Molson Indy at 95.1 FM’ and at that moment Jim burst in through the door huffing and puffing like he’d just run the whole length of the Exhibition grounds in, like, half a second!

“I truly don’t know how I finished my sentence and of course the great entertainment for him was watching me attempt to maintain my composure with many thousands listening, when I was ready to burst at the seams with laughter looking at him grinning that silly grin at me!”

Sid Priddle, auto racing publicist, event manager:

“One time, I had the account for a housing development. We were going to launch it by planting a tree that was to arrive hanging from the bottom of a helicopter. I had Jim as the MC.

“Well, just as the helicopter was coming in, the winds came up and the pilot had to back off. Jim was already talking and now the tree was late. In all my years of event management, I have never seen anyone stretch things out like he did that day. He just kept talking until the helicopter landed and the tree arrived.

“He was a master.”

Craig Hill, retired national driving champion, executive:

“They’re going to have a memorial service for Jim and about the only person I can think of to host it would be – Jim.

“You know, it’s too bad he didn’t put something in the can . . .”


wheels@thestar.canmcdonald@thestar.ca

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