Saddlemen

William James Thornborough Memorial: Celebration of a Life

| 5 May 2015 12:34 pm

William James Thornborough Memorial
Olive Lawn Cemetery

Story and Photos by Howie Zechner
LA MIRADA, CA, APR. 29, 2015

Jim Thorn – known as “JT” – loved Speedway motorcycle racing. It was his joy, his passion, his obsession, his addiction and his business.

It was his legacy.

William James Thornborough, a.k.a. Jim Thorn – but best known as simply “JT.”

William James Thornborough, a.k.a. Jim Thorn – but best known as simply “JT.”

His camera work was extraordinary. Back in the dark times before digital, when film was king and good equipment was expensive, he would work the Speedway circuit, selling pictures to the riders, fans and promoters. He never made enough at it to get rich, but JT couldn’t have cared less.

“Shooting pictures from the infield is the best seat in the house,” Jim told me. “Hell, I’d work for nothing just to be here.”

That was obvious. JT would walk the pits, handing out pictures. ‘Hey, Billy Bob, here’s one from last week. No money? Hey, that’s okay. Sure, you can pay me next week, or month, or never.’ Running his company, “Back It In Photos,” was a joy more than a business.

A photo of speedway racer Buck Blair taken by JT in 2013.

A photo of speedway racer Buck Blair taken by JT in 2013.

JT sold photos through his company, Back It In Photos.

JT sold photos through his company, Back It In Photos.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Jim’s pictures are top-notch. On the infield piping and down low or at the start/finish line or capturing a victory wheelie, JT had his camera where it needed to be, and the pictures prove it. How he didn’t get seriously injured was a mystery, because more than one Speedway rider tells stories of brushing against Jim as he blurred the line between infield and racetrack. Sidecar guys have even more harrowing tales of hard contact.

A photo of Kelly Moran with Mike Faria in the background, taken by JT in 1985.

A photo of Kelly Moran with Mike Faria in the background, taken by JT in 1985.

The decades flew by. JT was everywhere, at all the tracks and at all the after-the-race places. Time went from being a friend to becoming an enemy. There were aches and pains from those times when that up-close action shot was too close. They took their toll. Then, about a year ago, JT had a stroke.

Still, Jim felt blessed. Several years before, he had moved in with his son Mick Thornborough and Mick’s wife, Chantal, and the grandkids, and JT loved being there. Family life agreed with him, and Jim embraced it. It was a new and welcomed chapter in the life of William James Thornborough.

JT (at right) at Christmastime with his family – his son Mick and daughter-in-law Chantal and the grandkids.

JT (at right) at Christmastime with his family – his son Mick and daughter-in-law Chantal and the grandkids.

Then the tables turned. Doctors found clogged arteries. Jim needed a quadruple bypass. Scheduled for March 20, 2015, the doctors said he was a good candidate for the surgery. But he wasn’t. They claimed he would make a full recovery. But he didn’t.

The early-morning surgery at St. Bernardi Hospital in San Bernardino, California, was considered successful, but at around 8 p.m. the bleeding started. Jim had a massive stroke and never regained consciousness. His son Mick had to make that hardest decision any son has to make. They would take him off life support on April 1, to correspond with the date that Jim’s dad had died years earlier.

William James Thornborough was buried next to his mother and father at the Olive Lawn Cemetery in La Mirada, California, on April 29, 2015. Those who were dear and near attended.

JT’s son Mick and his wife, Chantal.

JT’s son Mick and his wife, Chantal.

2015 0429 CA JT Meml PHOTO G

2015 0429 CA JT Meml PHOTO H

2015 0429 CA JT Meml PHOTO I

The Memorial was packed with friends who wanted to say goodbye. When asked if any would like an opportunity to speak, many did. Bobby Schwartz, Charlie Venegas, Brad Oxley, Eddie Castro, Howie Zechner, and others told stories of adventures and events they had shared with JT. The atmosphere was zenlike, as the mood changed from a Memorial to a Celebration of Life. JT would have been proud.

Eddie Castro.

Eddie Castro.

Charlie Venegas.

Charlie Venegas.

Speedway rider Bobby Schwartz (left) and announcer Terry “Ike” Clanton.

Speedway rider Bobby Schwartz (left) and announcer Terry “Ike” Clanton.

Tim McGrath, Ronald Davis, Eddie Castro and Howie Zechner.

Tim McGrath, Ronald Davis, Eddie Castro and Howie Zechner.

2015 0429 CA JT Meml PHOTO N

2015 0429 CA JT Meml PHOTO O

And so it was that tears of grief and joy reminded us that we only go around once, and we need to embrace it. Thank you, JT, for reminding us of that.

We will miss you.
– Howie Zechner

[For more fond tributes to Jim Thorn, please see “Jim Thorn, R.I.P.” by Dorcey Wingo, Tom Corley and Terry Clanton… Editor]

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