Born : February 19 1960
Deceased : December 29 2020
Biography John Paul Jr.
John Paul Jr. was born when his parent were only teenagers. He was conceived when his father John Paul Sr was just 19, his mother was only 16. His parents divorced when Paul Jr. was a little boy of 9 years old. At first, the young man kept moving between his both parents. In the end, he choose to live with his father. The warmer climate in Georgia and Florida looked more appealing to John Paul Jr. And it would allow him to follow his father in his footsteps, as the young John Paul loved racing too.
At hat time however, he was not aware of 2 facts. First that he inherited the Huntington disease from his mother. And second that his father financed his race-career by smuggling drugs. In 1979, John Paul Jr had his first legal troubles when he and his father were caught while loading marijuana in a truck and carrying drugs-money. In court, they pleaded guilty to marijuana possession charges. They where placed on three years’ probation and fined $32,500.
Race career of John Paul Jr.
After graduating from high school, John Paul Jr. started working for his father’s team, JLP Racing. He learned the ins and outs of a racing team. John Paul Jr. became a jack-of-all-trades within the JLP Racing Team. John Paul Jr. wanted more however. He enrolled the Skip Barber Racing School. Initially described as “hopeless” by a professional driving instructor, John Paul Jr.’s driving career began in 1979 driving Formula Fords.
In 1980, he joined the driver line-up of the JLP Racing Team. In his first race, the Coca Cola 400 at Lime Rock, father and son took victory in a Porsche 935. Only 3 months later he won the Road America Pabst 500. 3 more second places in the same season secured a 4th place in the final IMSA GTP standings.
In 1981, the JLP racing team faced strong competition from the LOLA T600. Brian Redman was the man to beat that season. The Lola T600 turned out to be that dominant that John Paul Sr. decided to buy a car like that too. That same season, the father decided to be the team manager instead of an active racer.Fro then on, he would only grab the wheel in endurance races.
Daytona 24H and Sebring 12H victories
The Pauls started the 1982 season perfectly with back-to-back wins in both the Daytona 24 Hours and the Sebring 12 Hours. For the Daytona race, they were partnered by , Rolf Stommelen. At Sebring, they coped with a gearbox failure. However they overcame and won the race over the March 82G, with Bobby Rahal at the wheel. That same season, Paul Jr. took victory in Brainerd and Portland at the wheel of a Porsche 935 JLP-4. Another victory at the Mosport 6 hours, and some 2nd places that same IMSA seaon crowned John Paul Jr. to champion of the IMSA GT Championship at the age of 22. He became IMSA’s youngest ever GTP champion.
In 1983, John Paul Sr shot a witness that wanted to testify about his illegal activities. He was arrested but he fled while out in bail before trial. With the disappearance of John Paul Sr, the money stream for the JLP racing team stopped too. The team-members saw no other solution than to dismantle the racing team. Henn’s Swap Shop Racing hired John Paul Jr. for both the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Road America Pabst 500 but these resulted in two DNFs.
From IMSA he moved to CART racing. In 1983, he won the Norton Michigan 500 after only competing in 3 Indycar races before. In 1984, John Paul participates in the Le Mans 24H in a Porsche 956. He shared the wheel with Jean Rondeau for thr Preston Henn’s T-Bird Swap Shop. He also finished 2nd in the Six Hours of Watkins Glen, this time driving with Bruce Leven in his Bayside Disposal Racing Porsche 962.
1985 was a race season that Lady Luck was not John Paul Jr’s companion. He started in 11 IMSA races, but could not end one single of them.
In 1986, John Paul Sr, who had been arrested in Switzerland, and extradited back to the USA, had to appear in court. He pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder and received a sentence of twenty years, later changed to 25 years after additional sentences were added. In May 1986, Paul Jr himself had to appear in court too for drug-trafficking. He was sentenced to five years in prison, for his involvement in a drug trafficking ring with his father and subsequent refusal to testify against him. He served his time in a high security prison in Alabama where he was released after 2.5 years of imprisonement.
Return to the track
After his release from prison, he returned to the race track, racing Indy races and in the IMSA championship. In his 1st year after his return, he particpated in 6 races for 5 different teams. In 1990, Jim Busby offered him a seat in a Nissan GTP ZX-Turbo. The following years, he drove several different cars for quite a lot of teams. He accepted an offer from Gianpiero Moretti to race at Watkins Glen, where the pair finished 6th in a Joest Racing Porsche 962. However, he never experienced the best results of back then, despite racing for teams like Gunnar Racing or Joest Racing. The best results were a victory at the Sebring 12H in 1992 and a victory at the Rolex 24H of Daytona in 1997.
In 2001, John Paul retired from professional racing, after he was diagnosed with the Huntington Disease, a neurological disorder. In 2018, author and racing journalist Sylvia Wilkinson published a book about Paul Jr., titled 50/50, The Story of Champion Race Car Driver John Paul Jr. and his Battle with Huntington’s Disease.
John Paul Jr. died from the Huntington Disease December 29 2020
Pictures courtesy unknown