Funny Car showman "Jungle Jim" Liberman dies

Reprinted from the Sept. 23, 1977 issue of National DRAGSTER

NHRA extends its deepest sympathies to the many fans and friends of Russell J. "Jungle Jim" Liberman -- racer, innovator, promoter, showman and rebel --who was killed Sept. 8 in an early morning traffic accident near his West Chester, Pa., home.

Liberman, who would have been 32 years old last Monday, was fatally injured when his late-model Corvette collided with a city bus. Considering his impact on drag racing in general and Funny Car racing in particular, it is difficult to believe he was only 31.

A tireless match racer who was running an entire stable of cars as early as 1969 -- when Clare Sanders drove the "Jungle Jim" Chevy to victory at the Winternationals -- Liberman had campaigned as many as three different cars the last two seasons and had planned to add a rocket-powered Funny Car to his entourage in the near future.

Despite his popularity with drag racing fans from coast-to-coast, Liberman did not get to the finals of a major NHRA national event until 1974, and didn't win until 1975. He was runner-up at the '74 Summernationals at Englishtown, N.J., when his car went into a power wheelstand in the finals. He came back to win the same race the following year.

Always considered something of a free spirit, it was Liberman who almost single-handedly stole the show in the film short "Vrooom!" with his enthusiastic endorsement: "Drag Racing is Far Out!"

Outlaw or superstar; flakey or fantastic, whatever one's personal opinion of "Jungle Jim," the sport will not be the same without him. He's gone before his time, perhaps even before his prime. We all will most certainly miss him. But as long as there are Funny Cars, we won't forget him.

His is a name that is synonymous with the Funny Cars simply because he did more than any other man to popularize Funny Car drag racing. The success that those hybrids now enjoy is "Jungle's" legacy. We are all indebted to him for it.

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