If it had a motor and it was a sport, J.C. Agajanian was interested in it. From the 1930s through the 1960s, Agajanian was involved in numerous forms of motorsports, both as an owner and a promoter, though he is most closely associated with Indy Car racing.
Agajanian (pronounced Ag-uh-jane-ian) was a California native and founding member of the United States Auto Club who owned two cars that won the Indianapolis 500. But he also promoted motorcycle and boat racing, and he was one of the first west coast organizers to embrace stock car racing.
“He had a very broad interest,” said Agajanian’s son, Cary. “He loved anything with speed, and he loved the promotion business and the ownership business of racing cars. He just loved every aspect of the motor racing business, no matter what it was.”
In honor of his dedication to all forms of motorsports, Agajanian has been named to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame induction class of 2009. Joining Agajanian in this year’s class are NASCAR Cup driver Donnie Allison, seven-time NASCAR Modifieds champion Jerry Cook, longtime NASCAR team owner Bud Moore and NASCAR pioneer and car owner Raymond Parks.
The induction ceremony will be held Thursday, April 23 at the SPEED Channel Dome adjacent to Talladega Superspeedway.
“I’ve been aware of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame for a long, long time and have been through it before. I was always hopeful that they would recognize my dad,” Cary Agajanian said. “So this is a great honor. When you look at the inductees over the years, you know it’s a very prestigious and honored roll call. So our family has great pride in them taking my dad in. It’s a great thing.”
The son of Armenian immigrants, Agajanian was born in 1913 in San Pedro, Calif. His birth name was Joshua James, but an aunt who did not speak much English kept calling him Jessie instead. Jessie eventually evolved into J.C., and the nickname stuck.
Agajanian initially wanted to be a race car driver, but his father disapproved because of the dangers involved in the sport. So Agajanian became a race car owner and promoter. While still in his 20s he was named president of the Western Racing Association.
After World War II, Agajanian became heavily involved in Indy Car racing and made the trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500 every year from 1948 through 1971. During that time, his cars won three pole positions, set four tracks records and picked up two victories, in 1952 with Troy Ruttman as the driver and in 1963 with Parnelli Jones behind the wheel.
“That was without any doubt the pinnacle of his career. It was the ultimate,” Cary Agajanian said. “He looked at it as his greatest accomplishment. It was really a great, great thrill in 1963, to do it a second time. He had other great finishes through the 60s and into the 70s, but ’63 was the height of it.”
J.C. Agajanian’s father, who had prevented his son from pursing a career as a driver, was a strong supporter of Agajanian’s other racing interests.
“Once he knew my dad wasn’t going to drive a car and be at risk, he was very supportive of it,” Cary Agajanian said. “He really encouraged and helped my dad in the racing business. He took the train from L.A. to Indy every year and walked around like the proud owner.”
Agajanian also tinkered with the mechanical side of the sport. With the help of his crew members, he came up with several technological and safety innovations, including the creation of the air jack.
Agajanian died in 1984 at the age of 70. Since his death he has been inducted into a number of hall of fames, including the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame and the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame.
About the International Motorsports Hall of Fame & Museum
Opened in April of 1983, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum is dedicated to the preservation of the history of motorsports. Each year, the annual International Motorsports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is held on the grounds of the museum to honor those men and women chosen for induction from among the greatest names in all of motorsports.
The 2009 ceremony will be held April 23rd, at the SPEED Channel Dome, adjacent to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Individual tickets for the evening are $125 and a table of eight may be reserved for $1,000. Tickets and tables are available by calling 1-256-362-5002 or logging on to www.racetickets.com.