Jimmy Phillips was a Southern California rider who became one of the best TT Steeplechase riders of the 1950s. Phillips earned his greatest achievement in 1951 when he won both the 45- and 80-cubic-inch TT national championships in Peoria, Illinois. He was also a consistant performer in the Daytona 200. Phillips finished third on the beach in 1952 and was runner-up in 1955.
Born on September 1, 1926 in Hawkersville Oklahoma, Phillips was raised around motorcycles in Sanger, California, and began riding a big Indian four-cylinder at the age of 14. While still a teenager, Phillips became one of the top performers in Southern California field meets. A young Joe Leonard became a fan of Phillips after watching him perform in a field meet in San Diego. At the time, Phillips was a Navy sailor stationed near San Diego. Leonard ran the number 98 because that was the number Phillips ran when Leonard first saw him race.
Phillips began racing professionally for the famous Johnson Motors Triumph team after World War II. Phillips came to prominence in 1948 when he won the amateur portion of the Riverside (California) National TT Championship and finished a very credible eighth in the national.
In 1949, Phillips won several Pacific Coast titles and became a top road racer at the Torrey Pines circuit.
The years of West Coast TT racing experience paid off in a big way in 1951. That year, Phillips travelled to Peoria, Illinois, and, riding a Triumph, swept both AMA TT Steeplechase championship races. Only two other riders, Tommy Hayes in 1937 and Roger
Soderstorm in 1950, had previously held both TT titles in one year. Peoria became Phillips' favorite race. He continued to be a top runner there for the next several years, earning podium finishes there until 1955, but coming up just short of winning again.
In 1955, Phillips contested nearly the full season schedule in the AMA Grand National Series despite running a motorcycle dealership in California. He earned podium finishes at Daytona, Peoria and Langhorne, Pennsylvania, that year and finished in the top 10 in every race he entered. He finished the year ranked fifth in the series.
The Daytona 200 was a race that Phillips nearly won several years, but never quite managed to have the luck to put it all together. Nevertheless, Phillips was one of the most consistent Daytona performers of the 1950s, earning four top-10 finishes during his eight appearance on the old beach course.
Phillips tragically lost his life after a crash in Gardena, California, on June 27, 1958. He was 31 years old. He was known as one of the true gentlemen of the sport, and the Ascot Park TT National was for years afterward named in Phillips' honor. He was survived by his wife, Barbara, a daughter, Andrea, and stepson, Tony. Barbara and Andrea are active in the Trailblazers Motorcycle Club and help to coordinate activities for the club that honors old-time racers.
Inducted in 1998