John Paul Jr., a two-time Rolex 24 at Daytona winner and winner of the 1983 CART race at Michigan International Speedway, died Tuesday at the age of 60.
Paul had been in a long battle with Huntington’s disease.
In his racing career, Paul started 58 major open-wheel races (USAC, CART, Indy Racing League) from 1982 through 2001. In addition to his success at the Rolex 24 (wins in 1982 and 1997), Paul finished second at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1984.
His win at the Rolex in 1982 was part of a co-driving effort with his father, John Paul Sr.
Paul Jr. even made two NASCAR Cup Series starts in his career.
John Paul Jr. retired from racing in 2001 when symptoms of Huntington’s Disease began to affect his driving.
“John Paul Jr. succumbed to Huntingdon’s disease, which he’d been battling for a number of years. His spirits were always high and so many of his friends surrounded him with love and support right up to the end,” said three-time IndyCar champion and 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, who raced against Paul. “John was an outstanding race-car driver whose talent and attitude always shone above the cloud of his father’s dark past. He will always be remembered as an enthusiastic, fun and strong competitor whether he was racing at the Indy 500 or at an SCCA National race.
“His goal was always to do his best, and that’s what he did.”
So sad to hear of the passing of former @IMSA champion and @IndyCar race winner John Paul Jr. on Tuesday afternoon. He put up a courageous fight against Huntington’s Disease, and dedicated himself to finding a cure. RIP, champ.
(Editor’s note: Below is the story of John Paul Jr., written by contributor Steven Cole Smith and published on Autoweek.com in 2019.)
The beyond-infamous John Paul Sr.—and we make that distinction because this story is really about his star-crossed son, John Paul Jr.—lives on his yacht off the coast of Central America, ready to set sail the second he gets wind of any interest from various law enforcement agencies who would love to talk to him.
John Paul Sr. also lives in Indonesia, a spot he always enjoyed, in part because the 17,000 islands there make it easy to get lost. And John Paul Sr. also resides in Thailand, where he is married to an oceanographer, and recently had a heart attack at age 79. Or so those are the rumors.
Sebring 1982, when John Paul Jr. became the youngest driver to win the #Sebring12.
RIP JPJr. pic.twitter.com/xLHS0N2pBt
That’s what you want to know, right? Where is John Paul Sr.? The Rolex 24 at Daytona-winning driver disappeared in what is arguably motorsport’s most nefarious mystery, rivaled only by the actual location of actor James Dean’s death Porsche 550 Spyder, called “Little Bastard.” John Paul Sr. has been called that and worse. Wherever he is, he left—literally—a trail of tears in the wake of his sailboat.
Senior’s reputation for a hair-trigger temper followed him throughout his career, and it may or may not have been rooted in his need to survive during his impoverished childhood in Holland. His father was a doctor and sent him to college, and eventually Senior earned an MBA from Harvard. He went to Wall Street, made millions, and got an ulcer.
Career Plan B was to smuggle in marijuana, perhaps 200,000 pounds or so, according to the government. Senior was 19, his girlfriend 16, when John Paul Jr. was conceived. Junior’s parents stayed together for 10 years, then divorced. Junior and his brother and sister bounced between parents, but he ended up with Senior because it was warm where he lived—Georgia and Florida—and because Junior wanted to race like his dad.
Junior had a wonderful, horrible racing career. Wonderful because he won a lot of sports car races and the 1983 Michigan 500 IndyCar race, horrible because he crashed often—and hard. At 6 feet 4, half a head taller than Senior, Junior’s long legs were broken more than once. It did not help that Junior always ran wide open whether he needed to or not. It also did not help that right at the peak of his career, he spent 28 months in prison because he refused to testify against his father. Which, he says now, he would do over again if needed.
That was strike one against Junior.
The second was even worse: He inherited the gene that causes Huntington’s disease from his mother. Before they all turned 55, it killed her, his grandmother, his aunt, and his sister. It will kill Junior. Odds are 50/50 that you will get the disease if you inherit that gene. Junior got it. His brother did not. “50/50” is an appropriate title for a new biography of Junior, written by Sylvia Wilkinson, a longtime family friend and former racing correspondent for Autoweek.
Much like Junior’s career, it’s a beautiful, awful book. Huntington’s is a horrible disease. The most notable person to die from Huntington’s, which affects the nervous system, was folk singer Woody Guthrie, who passed away in 1967 in a hospital in New York that was built by the State Commission in Lunacy. He was 55. That’s longer than you usually last; his daughters with wife Mary both died at 41. Junior is 58. He has a son and a daughter. He does not yet know if they have the disease.
Longtime sponsor Bobby Hogg, a Miller distributor, is one of the people who has stuck by Junior and made it possible for him and his girlfriend to live near UCLA, a top Huntington’s research center, where Junior spends every day he can volunteering for research projects. His goal is to find a cure before his kids can get sick. He insists the experts are close—they’ve located the gene, they just need to know how to fix it.
For a brilliant man—self-admitted, but brilliant nonetheless—Senior did a lot of stupid things. He once approached fellow racer and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Don Whittington, one of the similarly infamous Whittington brothers who allegedly made money the same way Senior did. He came up to Whittington after a race in which Senior did not like the outcome, and he hit Don so hard it broke his own arm. (Brother Bill Whittington was sentenced to 18 months for tax fraud last October, incidentally. The other brother, Dale, died in 2003.)
After Senior was arrested—which happened multiple times, but this was after he shot an informant three times, which was in 1983—he was in a Florida prison when he tried to escape by squirting a small shampoo bottle filled with hot water, Pine-Sol, black pepper, and hot sauce into the eyes of the guard watching over the recreation yard. Senior then ran for the fence—and ostensibly for the stolen truck sitting in the parking lot, keys in the ignition.
Unfortunately for Senior, the guard was wearing glasses. He took the glasses off and fired a shot, missing Senior. Senior barely made the base of the fence before assuming the position. Once, after he was paroled, he needed a job as one of the conditions, and Swap Shop owner Preston Henn, another Florida racer who won the Rolex 24, gave Senior a job at Henn’s flea market. Senior did not much like it, but what really drove a wedge between Henn and Senior was when Henn rented him a house.
Senior became convinced the cable TV was spying on him and took an ax to the cable box, the wiring, the wall of the house, and other presumed spy equipment.
“Was Senior as big an asshole as I’ve heard?” I asked Henn shortly before his death in 2017. “Oh, no,” Henn replied. “Bigger. Much bigger.” After less than a year of marriage, his second wife, Chalice—they were married in 1980 in the infield of Lime Rock Park, after which Junior and Senior went out and won their first IMSA Camel GT race together—simply vanished. In 1982, Senior divorced Chalice in Haiti so he could marry third wife, Hope, who was racer Hurley Haywood’s sister. They divorced, and Senior, the accomplished yachtsman, set sail with girlfriend Colleen Wood in Senior’s 55-foot schooner. She was never seen again.
Then Senior himself disappeared one last time, in 2001. Junior says he has not heard from his dad since.
For Junior, every day is a struggle. He can speak, haltingly, some days. On one of the days he could, he told author Wilkinson: “Huntington’s is like a bad dream. Like in a nightmare when you are trapped and you can’t run. Then you realize you aren’t trapped in anything real. But I’m not trapped in the hot bed, sweating in the sheets. It’s trapped in me. “Just thinking about the disease,” he said, “can almost make you crazy.”
Source: Read Full Article