Jim Zakia poses with his 2016 East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame Inductee plaque following the ceremonies, October 16, 2016, in Henderson, NC. Zakia’s involvement in very competitive drag racing dates to the early 1960’s, and always with top-flight Gassers.
Jim Zakia is a respected, well-liked veteran racer from Niagara Falls, NY. His racing career includes numerous class and eliminator wins at tracks across the eastern U.S. Unfortunately for Zakia, his entire life has been decided in many ways by the fact that his last name, Zakia, begins with the very last letter of the English alphabet. Since our world revolves around an alpha-numerical system, alphabetically, everything and everybody starts with the letter “A”. So, to contradict an inflexible system that has relegated Jim Zakia to beginning last in everything, I’ve decided to reverse this discriminatory process and publish Jim Zakia’s story first… Numero Uno!
Story by Jim Hill
Gasser great Jim Zakia hails from Niagara Falls, New York, just across the border from Ontario Province, Canada. That geographic location of course means weather abbreviated racing seasons followed by cold, dark winters and long nights in a well-insulated, heated garage.
During a many-decades career, Zakia has made good use of those long, cold, dark months to carefully craft some of the nation’s most recognizable, and fastest Gassers. During his years of racing Zakia was always known for fielding pristine race cars that were show quality, and consistently record-breaking fast.
Beginning with a ’55 Chevy 210 sedan, Zakia made an early impression. With Hilborn injected, small-block Chevy power, and a well-shifted manual four-speed, Jim’s C/Gas ’55 pounded NHRA’s National Records and was a consistent threat to win class and Street Eliminator.
The urge to go faster struck and Zakia opted to build a ’33 Willys coupe and then a ’48 Anglia two-door sedan for A/Gas. For power he stepped up to an injected 427 big-block Chevy, and was once again an immediate, serious threat whenever he rolled the car off its trailer. The Anglia made its mark in the lightweight, 5 lbs. per CID A/Gas class. In typical Zakia fashion, the petite English import was just as show worthy as it was fast!
Like Zakia’s ’55 Chevy and ’33 Willys, the Anglia never lacked in performance. During the short racing seasons Zakia would put his off-season exploration to the task, tweaking and tuning to quicker ET’s, faster speeds and more Eliminator wins. Back home, in winter, he worked at isolating new possibilities to go even faster. During those seemingly endless upstate New York winters Zakia constantly improved and updated the Anglia, chopping the top, for improved aerodynamics, and molding dual headlights into the little sedan’s fiberglass front cap.
So, why should an all-out, 150 mph race car have headlights? The answer was simple if not bizarre. NHRA rules required a few pointless “street legal equipment” items. These reflected the days when Gassers were considered “dual purpose”, street and strip cars. Such absurd items as headlights were required, along with wipers, taillights and even an exhaust system!
Such archaic rules were eventually deleted, but not before racers were forced to tack-on items that were often dysfunctional, just to satisfy the uninformed Rules Gods in the NHRA Technical Department. Zakia’s original headlight compliance came in the form of a pair of small auxiliary lights. They evolved into the molded-in dual illuminators that were sort of modern, but certainly far more aero friendly.
The Zakia & Clark Anglia, in its last configuration, was slick, fast and attractive, again with flawless, bright red paint, lots of chromed components and carefully engineered suspension. In spite of its short wheelbase, Zakia’s formula for front-end geometry and alignment prevailed and the little car was well known for its consistently shoestring-straight runs. That much treasured consistency was not often found in high-powered, scary-fast, upper-class Gassers.
Zakia also followed the path to improved consistency and winning when he installed an automatic transmission and high-stall converter. That calmed the little car down even more, eliminating violent chassis reactions on upshifts.
The ’48 Anglia was a huge crowd pleaser and one of the most photographed cars of the Golden Era of classical Gassers, the 1960’s.
Zakia’s next project paid homage to the need for ever more top-end speed via improved aerodynamics. After carefully pondering the issue Jim settled on what he thought was the smoothest, smallest body shape for A or B/Gas class. He settled on an Opel GT, the second incarnation of GM’s interesting little German import.
Opel Division’s first was the Kadet, a short, small but “boxy” little two-door sedan. The sleek GT was anything but “boxy”, with a laid-back windscreen and smoothly aerodynamic front end that hugged the ground beneath a low front air dam. The only downside to the new GT was its short rear deck. GT’s exhibited an unnerving tendency to unload the rear wheels at high speeds. Such behavior did not bode well for 150-155 mph jaunts down the drag strip. Jim’s keen mind went to work, and he took careful notice of the rear wing airfoils being used successfully by 220 mph Funny Cars. After conferring with others with experience he settled on a design made from aluminum. It extended the car’s rear deck, redirecting air onto the wing. The added downforce improved traction and stabilized the little car on its fast path.
The Open GT proved to be a smash hit for the Jim Zakia Racing Show. Running first in A/Gas Zakia’s GT was tough as nails in class and Modified Eliminator.
As expected, the Opel GT displayed Jim’s considerable car crafting skills, with perfect red paint, chrome and all the details associated with Zakia’s reputation for race car perfection. The GT’s performance was up to the task as well. Zakia was easily the fastest and quickest A/Gasser and then, with more added ballast, B/Gasser in his Northeast Division of NHRA, a consistent major event and World Championship Series Divisional winner.
Like many dedicated Modified racers, Jim Zakia’s intensity and desire waned after NHRA dumped Modified at the end of the ’81 season. Only recently has he recreated the famed Opel GT, complete with 426 Hemi power and all the trimmings that made it a show stopper. Jim Zakia & Family are now once again seen regularly on Northeastern tracks, now running in suddenly popular nostalgia Gasser events. His current eye-scorching red GT is also one of the most popular cars in the series.
The East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame is proud to welcome Niagara Falls, New York’s favorite A/Gas racer, Jim Zakia, to the Class of 2016.