Chattanooga Motorcar Festival President Jim Pace dies from COVID-19

Jim Pace is seen at the 2019 Chattanooga Motorcar Festival. / Chattanooga Motorcar Festival photo

Jim Pace, race car driver and president and chief operating officer of the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival, died from COVID-19 on Friday, according to a news release from the festival.

Pace and his longtime friend and former racing competitor, local developer Byron DeFoor, worked together with Chattanooga city leaders to create the festival, which debuted in October 2019 along the 21st Century Waterfront. Pace said that often during their travels together to places like Paris and Pebble Beach, California, DeFoor would say, "We can do this in Chattanooga."

Pace, an IMSA GTU champion and overall winner at the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, also served as the chairman of the time trial event last year.

DeFoor said in a statement that "we are saddened and heartbroken by the untimely loss" of Pace.

photo Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter/ Race car driver and festival representative Jim Pace, right, looks on as Corky Coker speaks during a press conference announcing the launch of the Chattanooga MotorCar Festival at the Westin Hotel on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The race will feature three main events — Time Trials Between the Bridges, High Jinks Rallye: Experience the Landscape, Concours D’Elegance — and will take place Oct. 11-13 at various locations downtown, including along Riverfront Parkway.

"Jim was my dear friend and racing partner with the Fifty Plus Racing Foundation that helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Alzheimer's research. Not only was he an outstanding race-car driver, he was one of the nicest, most gracious gentlemen in the sport and car collector world. His expertise and knowledge were invaluable in the creation of the Festival, and he will be missed."

Pace was considered to be "a strong, vibrant and healthy man," according to DeFoor, who stated that COVID-19 "is a terrible disease that should be taken seriously."

"Our hearts go out to his family and to his longtime partner and love of his life, Celeste LaChapelle."

photo Jim Pace rides on the 2019 Chattanooga Motorcar Festival Time Trials course with Corky Coker in the 1912 Nyberg Speedster, the first car built in Chattanooga. / Chattanooga Motorcar Festival photo

Pace was born in 1961 in Monticello, Mississippi. When he was younger, he had decided to become a doctor. He studied pre-med at Mississippi State University, then entered the University of Mississippi Medical School in 1983. After three years and three days into medical school, he decided that racing cars would be his life and career, the release states.

His racing career began in the Barber Saab Pro Series in 1988, and he soon moved to sports car racing and won the GTU class at the 1990 24 Hours of Daytona. Along with co-drivers Scott Sharp and Wayne Taylor, he drove the Riley & Scott Mk III to victory in the 1996 24 Hours of Daytona. Later that season, he competed for the same team in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

After years of only driving at the Daytona 24, in which he'd competed 18 times, Pace returned to regular drives in the Rolex Sports Car Series GT class in 2007. In 2008 he drove a Porsche 911 for The Racer's Group and in 2009 drove for Farnbacher Loles Racing.

Pace resided in Ridgeland, Mississippi, at the time of his death, according to the release.

The Chattanooga Motorcar Festival, which was originally set for October of this year, has been rescheduled for next year.