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Fall 2016 85


February10, 2016

There probably aren’t a lot of

people who recognize the name Jim

Travers. But everyone recognizes

TRACO Engineering, one of the best

known engine shops in southern

California in the 1950s, 1960s and

1970s. Travers was half of that team.

His long time partner, Frank Coons,

was the other half. They supplied

race engines to elite competitors in

the USRRC, Trans-Am, Can-Am and

Formula 5000 who dominated these


Like a lot of the individuals who

eventually found their way into the

upper levels of automobile racing in

the U.S., Travers lived in Los Ange-

les and went to high school in the

1930s. He naturally gravitated to-

wards cars — and building hot rods.

Right after the attack on Pearl Har-

bor, he joined the Army Air Corps

hoping to become a pilot but he

failed the eye test. He went back

later and was accepted to be trained

as a crew chief. He was sent to the

Pacific theater and flew from air-

fields on some of the hardest fought

islands like Saipan, Tinian, Okinawa

and Iwo Jima.

After returning from the war he

went back to racing, starting with

midgets. He teamed up with a

friend, Stu Hilborn, and they exper-

imented with fuel injection. Travers

fabricated and machined parts and

components and soon they were

building Hilborn/Travers fuel injec-

tion systems. They began selling

these systems and initially did well on

circle tracks but on dirt tracks there

were problems. Engines would go lean

and burn pistons and sales suffered.

Travers bailed out to find another

source of income and joined up with

Swede Lindskog to race midgets. Lind-

skog was killed in a racing accident at

Gilmore Stadium and Travers was

then hired by Eddie Haddad. They

were soon working on cars for busi-

nessman Howard Keck. Keck decided

to race at Indianapolis. He would

eventually sell his company to Socony

Mobil and never experienced financial

worries again.

Travers’ focus was Indianapolis

from the 1950s to 1960s. Howard Keck

decided to get out of racing in 1956.

When Travers and Jim Coons got

the call they quietly packed their

tool boxes and walked out of the

shop they had been coming to for

the past seven years, leaving be-

hind the cars they were working

on, tools, machinery and parts.

They did some consulting work and

got a call from Ford, wanting them

to develop a new race engine. At the

meeting, one of the Ford executives

asked them what the name of their

company was. Travers thought

quickly and said, “TRACO.” And

just like that, TRACO Engineering

was born. One early project was

building a Formula 1 engine for

Lance Reventlow.

Travers and Coons began

building race engines based on

Chevy’s new V8 for USAC circle

track cars. GM used their engines

in the Grand Sport Corvettes, re-

sulting in the beginning of the