Jimmy King: New England Top Fuel and Funny Car Racing Royalty

June 2, 2016

Still very comfy in the seat, Jimmy King is obviously enjoying his “ride” in the cackling King & Marshall Top Fueler. Jimmy King and the late Don Marshall were dominating in TF and also kings of the Funny Car match race circuit on the East Coast.

Story By Jim Hill

The story of 2015 East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame inductee Jimmy King reads much like that of many other 50’s and 60’s era teenagers. For Jimmy King, his hometown of Warren, Rhode Island was also home to his many-years racing partner, Don Marshall. King and Marshall became friends at an early age, sharing a common interest in hot rods.

King found employment at the East Providence, Rhode Island Ford dealership of Bob Tasca. Tasca Ford was one Ford Motor Company’s strongest dealerships in the region, and Tasca’s personal contacts at Ford headquarters, in Dearborn, placed him on the inside for special considerations. Jimmy King quickly became involved with Tasca’s Ford factory backed race team and drag racing in the New England states. Tasca’s Ford dealership, one of the most successful in the east, fielded the nationally famous “Mystery” series of fast Ford Mustang Funny Cars. These were driven by Bill Lawton, tuned and prepared by John Healey. While at Tasca Ford Jimmy King gained considerable experience in preparing professional level drag race cars. It was knowledge he would call upon often in the future.

In 1967 King teamed up with Don Marshall. Together they built a front-engine, 392 Chrysler hemi powered Top Fuel dragster. In ’68 they were able to acquire a state of the art dragster chassis built by famed California builder Don Long. Long had built cars for many of the top pro’s, including “The Old Master” for engine building legend Ed Pink. The new King & Marshall car had a full body and lacked for nothing in either appearance or performance potential.

Running mainly New England and Northeast tracks, the King & Marshall team gained momentum and soon a national reputation, running consistent mid six second ET’s at 230+ mph. The team’s success and consistency led them to become one of the booked-in regulars in the AHRA Grand American Series, traveling to AHRA events across the country. AHRA’s program guaranteed up-front cash to those in the Grand American Series, and attractive cash purses once racing itself commenced. They also ran NHRA events whenever scheduled permitted.

King & Marshall team was one of AHRA’s core TF cars in the early 1970’s. Here at Detroit Dragway Grand American, Jimmy King lights left tire only as K&M car launches.

Seeking an early end to another of New England’s long, cold winters, they towed to Gainesville, Florida in March 1971. Jimmy King’s driving and Don Marshall’s tuning first put the team in the qualified show, and then in the winner’s circle at the ‘71 NHRA Gatornationals. It was their first NHRA major event Top Fuel Eliminator win.

By the mid 1970’s they had decided to field a Funny Car, to take advantage of the lucrative match race bookings that had become scarce for all but a handful of the Top Fuel Dragsters. Spectators demanded Funny Cars, and track promoters complied. King & Marshall responded with a Plymouth Duster Funny Car. The car sported a stretched and sectioned Duster body considerably more aerodynamic than the boxy stock version. Problem was, NHRA’s rules did not permit the modifications they built into the car, and they could not enter it at NHRA events.

NHRA events were “open”, requiring entries to qualify for the sixteen car field. That made it easy to spend a lot of cash trying to make the field, and then lots more trying to win it. Such actions were sure to quickly create a negative cash flow chasing event win dreams, so the K&M Funny Car operation was fortunate that their FC entry was rules prohibited.

Their Funny Car did prove itself a hot commodity on the match race circuit, and they kept busy running dates all during the season. By 1980 the K&M plastic fantastic show had acquired a Plymouth Satellite body. The new body and the entire car went up in a cloud of black smoke when King experienced a massive engine explosion and fire that burned the car to the ground. Like many contemporary Funny Car drivers, Jimmy King suffered nasty burns. That once was enough and he never again drove a fuel Funny Car.

More than just a driver, Jimmy King still knows his way around a nitro 392. Here he turns wrenches on Ray Helger’s beautiful restoration of the K&M car, now a regular at nostalgia events.

During their grand years, the King & Marshall team had obtained sponsorship from the New England Plymouth Dealers Association. They were considered a premier New England regional and Top Ten operation on the national scene. The K&M race team ran open competition events or match race bookings at all the New England and eastern tracks: Connecticut Dragway, at East Haddam, CT; New England Dragway, at Epping, NH; New York National Speedway, at Center Moriches, L.I., New York; Maple Grove Dragway, Maple Grove, PA; Lebanon Valley Dragway, in PA, and trips to the east coast national events of both NHRA and AHRA.

King & Marshall was considered as one of the east coast’s best and most successful teams, and during their years collected many national event wins and a loyal legion of regional New England drag racing fans. In 2003 the King & Marshall race team was inducted into the Don Garlits International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, at Ocala, Florida. Jimmy King was named Grand Marshal of the 2013 New England Hot Rod Reunion, held at Epping, New Hampshire.

The East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame is proud to include Top Fuel and Funny Car driver Jimmy King as a 2015 member.