James Edward Vasser, a longtime car dealer and father of Jimmy Vasser, former CART driving champion and current team owner in IMSA sports cars and Indy cars, died Saturday July 24 in his California home. He was 82.
A Seattle native nicknamed “Silverback” by his friends, Vasser opened his first car dealership in Morgan Hill, where he discovered a passion for hot rods and racing that continues in his family today, before moving to Napa in 1998, where he operated Jimmy Vasser Toyota and Jimmy Vasser Chevrolet from an office filled with racing memorabilia.
An avid hot rodder and car collector, Vasser also won the 1974 “Best of Show” award at the Grand National Roadster Show, the most coveted custom car competition in the world, with a 1914 Ford Touring car.
He also helped his son, Jimmy, begin a driving career that spanned 15 seasons at the top level of American motorsports and led to a Championship Auto Racing Teams driving title in 1996.
The elder Vasser had a reputation as a spectacular storyteller and, before settling in Napa, led a swashbuckling life to back up his tales, including two harrowing escapes from the Iranian Revolution.
Vasser, who enjoyed his car collection, black jellybeans, dogs, designer clothes and adamantly picking up dinner tabs, also enjoyed spending time at V-12 Vineyards, the family-run winery on Soda Canyon Road.
Vasser is survived by his wife of 32 years, Sharon, brother Mike Daley, children Patrick, Candice, James Jr. and Victoria, as well as seven grandchildren.
A celebration of a life well-lived to the fullest will be held on January 21, 2022 — what would have been his 83rd birthday.