Legendary racing safety pioneer Jim Deist died today, March 9th. Details of his passing are unavailable at the time of this writing.
Deist was one of the absolute originators of the racing safety industry, founding Deist Safety in 1958, almost 20 years after learning about engines and building his first car in his Dad’s gas station. Jim’s racing roots started at Muroc dry lake, where his friend Al Miller ran a modified Model A, but it was the job he took in 1948, at Irving Air Chute, that would shape his future. It was at Irving that Deist learned the parachute manufacturing business.
While the details are sketchy, it is believed that Abe Carson had the first dragster to use a ‘chute to stop, and that this ‘chute was provided by Jim Deist thanks to some encouragement from Mickey Thompson. With Thompson’s encouragement, and some testing in Long Beach, it wasn’t long before Deist was selling his ‘chutes commercially. His parachutes were found on everything from Fuel dragsters to the original Batmobile and he is widely recognized as being the first guy to ever build a drag race specific ‘chute.
Later safety developments such as his aluminized silver driving suits, worn universally by drag racers in the ‘60s and ‘70s, catapulted the company to the forefront of the racing safety business. And while their were others pursuing ‘chutes and fire suits, Deist was making them specifically for racing. In 1966 George Hurst even commissioned Deist to make a custom fire suit for “Gentleman Joe” Schubeck that looked like a tuxedo! His products worked, were comfortable, and provided the safety that drag racing needed. Gone were the days of surplus aircraft parts, as Deist made seatbelts, and developed the integrated breather-can facemask which resulted in one of the most iconic looking pieces of safety gear ever created.
For decades, Jim Deist has also been present at land speed races from El Mirage to Bonneville, usually driving his signature ancient brown van.
Our condolences, thoughts and prayers go out to the Deist family and the employees of Deist Safety during this tough time. The racing community has lost an icon. The next time you pull the ‘chutes, think of Jim Deist. We will.
We will bring you more details as they become available.