Jerry Tillman

Highland resident Jerry Tillman holds a photo of him, in his winning Chevelle, and an official raceway program, with his face on the cover, in 1976, five years after he won the championship at the Orange Show Speedway Race Track.

If you are a race car enthusiast and have lived in the Inland Empire, you are familiar with the weekend racing events at the Orange Show Speedway Racetrack, in San Bernardino.

Highland resident, Jerry Tillman remembers it quite vividly because he championed the track, twice, in less than 10 years.

The stock car bug bit Tillman in 1970. Tillman had done some work on a hobby car for his cousin, and now he was hooked.

Tillman ended up building a car from scratch, with a used engine.

The hobby stock car division was a beginning class of stock car racing.

The cars had a six-cylinder engines, and they used smaller tires than in other divisions, according to Tillman.

“I got really interested in it, and it was really fun,” said Tillman.

Tillman mostly raced at the National Orange Show, on dirt.

“It was really muddy,” said Tillman. “There was a lot of drifting, a lot more.”

On his first try at racing in the hobby stock car division, Tillman became a champion.

"We won the championship at the Orange Show in 1971, in the late model division. It was my first race,” said Tillman “I built a brand-new car from scratch. I put the motor in it.”

“After I won the championship, they [the officials] wrote a letter telling me that I couldn’t run in the hobby division anymore,” said Tillman. “They said that I was now in the sportsman division.”

“The trophy they gave me for being rookie of the year was bigger than the championship trophy,” said Tillman with a smile.

Tillman did not race professionally. It was a hobby for him.

“It was in my blood,” said Tillman. “Racing was all that I thought about.”

At that time, Tillman was married with two children.

Five years later, in 1976, Tillman made the cover on the official program for the Orange Show Speedway Stock Car Races.

“We had a lot of fun,” said Tillman.

Now in the sportsman division, Tillman would race at the old Irwindale track on Sundays, as well as the Orange Show Speedway.

The cars in the sportsman division had wider tires, according to Tillman.

“They out-powered me over there,” said Tillman.

“I was running a little 302 engine, in a Ford Fairlane. You’re now in the sportsmen V-8 class.”

According to Tillman, the Orange Show ran street stock car racing, along with the hobby stock and the sportsman division.

In 1980, Tillman showed his racing prowess, again, by winning a second time. Only this time, Tillman was triumphant in the sportsman division, in the V-8 class.

Tillman was driving a Chevy Chevelle, with a 350 V-8 engine.

The car belonged to Tillman’s friend, Don Harkey.

“I was driving a Ford Fairlane, until midway through the season,” said Tillman.

“I switched to the Chevelle. I had to borrow his (Don’s) car (to compete). He wasn’t driving then.”

Tillman helped build the car that won the race.

“Boy, we just barely won it at the very end,” said Tillman. “It was down to me and another guy, and I had to place 13th, in order to win the championship. It was a close one.”

Tillman recalls not winning a lot.

“I won about two or three races,” said Tillman. “I was always in the top five.”

Full time racing, however, was not in the cards for this champion racer.

“We didn’t have any money, and we were on a shoestring [budget],” said Tillman. “I had to give my car because I was having mechanical problems, when the engine would blow.”

As time passes on, race car buffs will always remember weekend racing at the “Action Track” Orange Show Speedway, in San Bernardino.

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