WOODLAND HILLS, Calif. — Noted sports car and Indy car racer John Paul Jr. died Dec. 29 following a long battle with Huntington’s disease. He was 60 years old.
A native of Muncie, Ind., John Paul Jr. got his first taste of racing working for his father John Paul’s JLP Racing operation. While he started by working on engines, he later attended the Skip Barber Racing School. In 1980, he was added to the team’s driver line-up and he won the first IMSA race he entered, co-driving with his father in a Porsche 935 at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park. Paul Jr. continued to win IMSA races, including co-driving to victory with his dad during the 1982 Rolex 24 At Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring.
He won the IMSA championship that season at the age of 22, becoming the sanctioning body’s youngest title winner.
Paul began competing in the CART Indy Car series in 1982 and made 21 starts in the series through 1985. His lone victory in the series came at Michigan Int’l Speedway in only his fourth start in the series in 1983.
Paul’s career screeched to a halt in 1986 when he was sentenced to five years in prison because of his involvement in a drug trafficking ring with his father.
He served two-and-a-half years in an Alabama prison and was released in 1988.
After his release, he returned to racing and competed in IMSA and made five Indianapolis 500 starts between 1990 and 1994.
He jumped from team to team in IMSA competition but returned to victory lane with Dyson Racing in 1996. The following year, he helped the team win the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
The Indy Racing League created a new opportunity for Paul and he raced in the series in 1997 and ’98. He picked up his lone IRL victory at Texas Motor Speedway in 1998. He also made his seventh and last Indy 500 start that season.
In 2001, he was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease.
In 2018, Paul and writer Sylvia Wilkinson published his life story in “50/50, The Story of Champion Race Car Driver John Paul Jr. and his Battle with Huntington’s Disease.”