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Vasser living a content, peaceful life
Shortly before 10:30 a.m. Monday after Champ Car’s season-opening Vegas Grand Prix, Jim Vasser walked down the center of the Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 headed from Las Vegas to Sacramento.

We made eye contact, and he seemed headed to the empty aisle seat across from mine. If you sit there I’m going to talk (interview) to you,” I warned.

He sat anyway. Vasser and I go back to the early 90s, when his son Jimmy Vasser and I went to the 1992 Indianapolis 500. It was the first time for both of us.

Thanks to Jimmy’s dad, himself a legend among California car customizers — including winner of Most Beautiful Hot Rod in the early 1970s — Jimmy went karting while growing up in Morgan Hill.

Eventually, Jimmy clinched the 1996 Champ Car championship at the season finale at Laguna Seca. But as a 22-year-old rookie at Indy, he qualified, got bumped and then roared back to set a track record. Unfortunately, he crashed halfway through, breaking a leg.

During our flight, Jim reflected on his son’s career and continuing passion for racing.

Here are some of the highlights:

No “Goodbye Tour”: Jimmy’s last stint behind the wheel came at Long Beach last year. He said no to any festivities marking his retirement. “It just wasn’t his style,” dad said.

Moving on: In his early 40s, Jimmy is enjoying being co-owner of PKV Racing and tutoring two rookie drivers. For example, he made the call at Long Beach two races ago to keep Tristan Gommendy out of the pits to gain experience leading laps and media exposure for the team and sponsors.

Other Interests: Besides his teaming duties, Jimmy is having fun helping run his many business interests, which include a couple of Bay Area car dealerships and Nevada commercial properties — such as an office tower in Las Vegas that recently won an architectural-design contest. “He really got a kick out of that one,” Jim Vasser said.

More to come: Like Jeff Gordon and Mario Andretti, Jimmy bought land near Napa and had wine grapes planted. His 40 acres are expected to bear fruit by the end of this decade. Expect a red vintage with a name like Vasser Family Vineyards.

Yep, Jimmy has enjoyed racing, and dad admits he worries less now about his son’s safety, adding wistfully: “If only Jimmy started a family...” The Californian.com

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