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a remembrance by Berserko Bob Doerrer

Originally published September 9, 2002 - Nitronic Research

Photos by Norman Blake, Dave Milcarek, John McCartney,
Bob Plumer, Jeff Tinsley, Vince Mele

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He was born Russell James Liberman but was known quite simply as, "Jungle Jim."

Drag racing's master showman was pronounced dead as the result of an auto accident early in the morning on September 9, 1977.   It was on that day that the sport of drag racing lost the most popular funny car driver it had ever seen.

"JJ" burst onto the Northern California drag racing scene in the mid-60s, racing cars he built himself. During the next 15 years he built his reputation and a dynasty, putting on the wildest Funny Car show drag racing fans had ever seen. A fire burnout and smoke to the finish line was Jungle's trademark and the fans ate it up.

There are a million stories to tell about Jungle, one wilder than the last and most of them true. His life has been chronicled in magazines such as Hot Rod, Super Stock and others, detailing his career, the ups and the downs, the alcohol and drug abuse and his skirt chasing.

But there was another side to Jungle. The side the fans saw. Here was a guy who would take time to talk to anybody while he was working on his car, hang around him long enough and he'd serenade you with a harmonica solo. Meet him at the local watering hole after the races and have a beer with him. That was the Jungle I knew.

I wanted to remember my friend in a special way, so with the help of some of the sport's greatest photographers, and his family and friends, here are some photos (some never before seen) and rememberances of the late, great Jungle Jim Liberman.

R.I.P Jungle...

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A long strange trip...
by "Jungle" Bobbie Liberman
bobbiebob.jpg (40K) When JJ worked for Goodies he once put a 427 chevy into a Jag XKE, I swear. It took a lot of fabrication but he did it. It had short Hillborn injectors on it and they took the hood to a body shop to have the natural bump down the hood made taller to allow for the injectors. Before the guy picked it up we took it out on First Street in San Jose on Friday nite a few times. JJ would follow me in another car and watch me blow the guys off at the green light. It was hard to keep on the ground, had WAY too much horsepower and torque for the little car. It did shit and get tho, once you got the front wheels back on the ground. When JJ and I first met he had a black '57 chev with a 427.
Unfortunately, he did not have a driver's license, so, fortunately for me, I got to drive it to high school. I would go out to Coffin Road in Sunnyvale after school and street race. When he found out I was racing it he unhooked the linkage to the second 4 bbl carb. I then learned to hook it back up. Then he took it off completely. I went and bought my own. He started his racing career with that car. We would go to Vacaville or Fremont and race it. When we got married he still did not have a license, so I drove us from the wedding to the reception in that car, in full long wedding dress and veil. What a long strange trip it has been.

by Pat Foster

At Atco, NJ. In about '72, we were supposed to race Jungle in a match race deal. First round went down at 8:00 p.m. sharp! Well, its 7:45 and still no Jungle (hard to believe huh)?
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The track lines up some local leaker and says to me, "Run this bozo and maybe he'll show by the second round." We pull up and I'm dressed and just getting in, everyone in the joint stands up and begins chanting "JUNGLE! JUNGLE! JUNGLE!" All eyes are on the highway that goes by the track. The starter starts yelling at my guys "Get him in the car! Get him in the car! I look where everybody is looking and here comes Jungle, strapped in, motor lit and sending flames above the roof, driving that bitch from where they unloaded it out by the highway, past the gates and the ticket booth, through the parking lot and one end of the pits, right out onto the starting line, and then through the water for a huge, smokey burn out! And the crowd went WILD! I had time for one squeaky little chirp behind the line, they booed us. Then we blaze the tires against Jungle and again the crowd goes INSANE!! Tough gig running the Jungle man in his part of the country or anywhere else for that matter; Jim was the King, hard ass racer and a great showman! R. I. P., my man.

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towcar.jpg (41K) In 1971 Jungle got hooked up with Briggs Chevrolet in South Amboy, NJ who gave him a new Camaro to paint up identical to his race car. As you can see it turned out really cool. Jungle used this car for the 1971 season then turned it back in. Danny Zack, former owner of the dealership, still has this car in his collection.

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In 1976, Jungle ran both a blue and a red Monza in Funny Car while good friend Ron Attenbury campaigned this Top Fueler under Jungle's colors. atteburytf.jpg (67K)

monza.jpg (49K) The blue Monza is shown here at Maple Grove's annual mid-summer Funny Car race in 1976 and the dragster shot is from the same year at the NHRA Winternationals.

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Here's a shot of Jungle's Romeo Palamedies built 1972 Vega from Englishtown in the spring of 1972. This was one of Jungle's favorite cars and he reluctantly sold it to "Nitro" Nick Boninfante to raise money to pay for a new car coming. Boninfante changed the nose of the car to make it a '74 Vega and ran it for a few years. This car currently resides in Don Garlits' museum and has been beautifully restored. The infamous "Mr. J", who originally lettered the car during the winter of '71, re-lettered the car 25 years later and said it was like "vuja-da."

jjmax76.jpg (25K) Wednesday night - under the lights at Englishtown running the Blue Max in 1976.

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73vega.jpg (22K) Burnouts were Jungle's signature at drag strips all across the country, here's a shot from Englishtown of Jungle doing what he did best, put on a show.

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Here's the final round of Funny Car from the 1975 NHRA Summernationals. Jungle in his red Vega up against Tom Prock (father of current John Force tuner Jimmy) driving Fred Castranova's "Custom Body" Dodge. This was an unusual final round as it was run on a Tuesday morning around 1 a.m. after the Summernationals were deluged by rain since Sunday. Jungle won his first NHRA National event title with a 6.49 - 220.04 as Prock couldn't hook up. 75final.jpg (29K)

wheelie.jpg (38K) When you drive a Nitro Funny Car and your name is Jungle Jim you'd better be prepared for any eventuality. Whether on fire or wheelstanding to the sky, Jungle had it under control.

As a surprise for Jungle on his birthday at a mid-week test session at Englishtown I decided to freak him out by taking Pam's place by pouring the water for the burnout and backing him up naked. There are other photos of this day but are not suitable for the faint of heart. Needless to say Jungle couldn't believe his eyes. (Berserko Bob) naked.jpg (25K)
I first met Jungle in June of 1970. I was fresh out of the Marine Corps and was working at my Dad's flower shop and part time at Englishtown every time the track was open. Raceway Park had scheduled the first, of what would become many, Wednesday night races featuring the hottest Funny Cars from the all over the country so I went to the track early to check out the scene. Pulled into the pits about 11 a.m. and there were two of the Funny Cars I had only read about in magazines but never seen in person, Lew Arrington's "Brutus" and "Jungle Jim." I parked, and a little in awe, walked over to see what was going on. Jungle had the engine apart, stuff was spread out all over and Bobbie (Jungle's wife at the time) was sorting laundry on the back of the ramp truck. Jungle looked up, asked me if I knew the area and where he could find a Laundromat and someplace good to eat. I suggested he take a ride into Old Bridge, about 5 miles away, he responded by saying why don't you take us? So we all hopped into my Chevy wagon and off we went. We hit the Laundromat, then went to the legendary Cantore's (now Vitale's) Bar & Grill for lunch. So there I was with Jungle, his wife and crew, Lew Arrington and his guy, eating lunch, joking around and having the time of my life with two guys who I considered heroes of mine. We finished lunch, picked up the laundry, went back to the track and Jungle and Lew finished up buttoning up their engines for the night's festivities. After the races, we all, along with a couple of other Funny Car teams and a whole lot of fans went back to Cantore's and closed the place. On the way out to the parking lot Jungle asked me if I'd like to go on the road with him for the next couple of weeks on his east coast tour. I freaked out! Told him I'd be ready in an hour, follow me. We went to my apartment, I packed my shit, called my Dad at 3 a.m. and told him that I wouldn't be at work for a while (he wasn't too happy about that) and hopped into Jungle's ramp truck and I was on the road with the "Jungle Jim Funny Car Show." The schedule was Connecticut Dragway Thursday night, Napierville Canada Friday night, New England Dragway Saturday night, Sunday at York Dragway and Monday at Cincinnati, an unbelievable schedule for anybody else but Jungle. That wild week was the start of my friendship with Jungle, we shared a lot of laughs and good times and the following 2 winters I spent on tour with him are some of my fondest memories. Going to the west coast with Jungle and running at places like Orange County, Irwindale, Ontario, Fremont, Carlsbad and other legendary tracks are experiences I'll never forget. Jungle and I remained good friends up until his untimely death and I miss him a lot. I'll always remember Jungle saying "Drag Racing is F-A-R O-U-T...."

75wc2.jpg (22K) Jungle in the Winner's Circle at the 1975 NHRA Summernationals after the final round was run at about 2 a.m. on a Tuesday morning after the race was rained out on Sunday and Monday and Tuesday...

Winston's Richard Dilworth joins Pam, Wally Parks and Jungle in the winner's circle. 75wc.jpg (34K)
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77rmonza.jpg (24K) This is the '77 red Monza that was Jungle's next to last car.

Austin Coil once remarked in 1975 that, "Jungle had the best two rides in drag racing." pam.jpg (47K)

rainout71.jpg (34K) A rainout at Englishtown found Jungle and John Bateman's "Atlas Oil Tool Special" Maverick on the popular (at the time) ramp trucks everyone used back then in 1971 waiting out the weather.

In 1975 one of the most popular draws in Funny Car match racing was Jungle & Shirley, shown here in the staging lanes at Maple Grove. jjshirley.jpg (38K)

mbdhjj.jpg (58K) The meeting of the minds.
Big Mike, Dick Harrell, and Jungle.
R.I.P. guys.

Jungle racing Shirley's Top Fuel car at a Wednesday night at Englishtown in 1977 jjvshirley77.jpg (25K)
orangemonza.jpg (97K) The last car.
John Force Has Got Nothing On Jungle... Do you think John Force was the first to have a three-car Funny Car team? truck.jpg (51K)
Wrong...Jungle had an armada of Funny Cars (as many as four in 1975) chris-crossing the country match-racing up a storm with drivers such as Clare Sanders, Pete Williams, Jake Crimmins, Russell Long, Roy Harris and many others running the match races Jungle booked but couldn't (or didn't want to) make.
etown71.jpg (25K) Jungle's 1971 Camaro at Englishtown with the legendary "White Peter" Pete White, directing.
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This must have been the very first year that Jungle went back East to race because he still had the shop in Philly and had not moved out to West Chester yet. Well, he and the boys got hold of a mini bike, which folks used to use to run around the pits at the races, and decided to "fix it up". JJ built a header pipe on the exhaust and they tricked up the little engine to run on alcohol. It was really fast and ever so much fun as long as you had it under power; if you let up on the throttle a big flame came straight up out of the exhaust pipe and set the back of your shirt on fire. JJ got on it one afternoon and zoomed off up the street by the shop and right smack dab into a telephone pole. As I remember he had many stitches in his knee and could not bend his leg for a while; we would actually use silver tape and tape his right foot to the accelerator pedal in the race car and he raced this way for some time that long ago summer. It was at this same shop that the police came once to speak to them about the homemade cannon they were using to fire full cans of beer up into the sky which then were landing in people's yards... JBobbie

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77lastfc.jpg (31K) Here's Jungle at Englishtown from August of 1977 in the last car he would ever drive. This was the first public apperance of the orange car with 7-11 livery. He was killed about 10 days after this shot was taken.

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Beserko Bob asked me to write a few paragraphs about my father, the late 'Jungle' Jim Liberman. But, I must be truthful to the racing world, I really never got the opportunity many of you had to get to know or see my father. As many people know, my parents separated when I was young (3 years old), and we lived on the west coast while he lived on the east coast. From the time my parents separated and my father's car accident I only recall seeing him twice. Once as he was passing through southern California for a race (I was 7-8), and once before we moved to Oregon from Kentucky (I was 9). Most of my memories I have are from the stories people have told me throughout the years. The few I do have, I have decided to keep my own. Not to sound selfish, for I would love nothing more than to share them as people have shared theirs with me, but for me they are something I hold on to dearly. As one would with something (material item) they had gotten from a parent who had passed away. I hope everyone can understand this, and by all means, if you run into me and want to share a memory I would love to hear it. Nothing makes me happier in finding out how my father "touched" people's lives. In closing, I do have one request, if you have a son/daughter, take a minute and give them a hug and tell them how much you love them. And make some time for them, trust me, nothing will make them prouder than to have mom and dad their watching them, that all important business meeting can wait. For us older kids who have some broken fences to mend, you know who you are, take 2 minutes out of your day and give the folks a ring...even if just to say hi. And upon my own advice, MoM, are you free for dinner? Lets mend our broken fence. I wish everyone peace and good health.
James "Randy" Liberman
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