Gene Hightower 08/05/1931 - 03/27/2011

Curtis Guise

I am posting this for Kirk Kontilis.

Off Road Racing History

Gene Hightower

Off Road Racing has lost one of the early pioneers, Gene Hightower was born in Glendale AZ September 5, 1931 passed away March 27, 2011 in Blythe CA. He was a purple heart Korean War veteran. Gene loved God his family and country.

Gene loved building and racing Jeep’s, he once said, “I can not get enough of off road racing”, he truly loved the thrill of racing. Gene’s first experience with jeeps was during the Korean War where he drove the under powered 4 cylinder and was always getting stuck in the mud. He bought his first jeep after returning from the war and immediately put in a small block Chevrolet 265 motor for more horsepower. In the 60’s he was sanding dragging at Glamis and Pismo Beach . In 1966/67 he bought a SS 396 Chevrolet car that was wrecked and put motor and munice 4 speed transmission in his CJ 5 made his own adapter to bolt the Muncie to the t-18 transfer case, raced that year at Pismo Beach and won top eliminator in the jeep class. About that time Ed Pearlman was starting up the Baja 1000 in 1967. Gene entered and won with a time of 32 hours, he and Ed Venable drove his jeep from Blythe CA, to Tijuana, Baja CA for impound, slept in sleeping bags next to the jeep that night got up the next morning to start the race. Raced 32 hours to win his class, put the jeep on the ferry to the mainland of Mexico and than drove his jeep all the way back to Blythe. In 1968 he and Ed Venable raced the same jeep again and was out in front of their class, broke the frame in half about 800 miles into the race but finished 2ndin class. In 1970 he was racing for Brian Chuchua driving a Jeepster with Sandy Cone as co-pilot they won their four wheel drive class with a fast time of (19:02). After the 1970 Baja 1000 Gene went back on his own winning a few races, 1972 he built a new jeep with a fiberglass body and a 283 chevy motor set back with jeepster rear spring front and back with a lot of travel, his idea was go light weight. His first race with the new jeep was the 1973 Parker 400 two laps in CA and two laps in AZ. He was on his last lap in CA and out front with only one buggy ahead of him, but broke a right rear axle which put him back in class but he was able to finish. The next race for the new jeep was 1973 Baja 500 which he won his class in a time of 13.46 which was good for 5thoverall he out ran Rod Hall by 1:10 minutes. Parnelli Jones was 1st(12:18), Walker Evens 2nd(13:06), John Johnson (13:21), Mike Patrick (13:31). Gene won the Parker 400 the next year 1974 class 4 modified 4-wheel drive. Gene won just about every off-road race there was ( Baja 1,000 , Baja 500, Parker 400, Mint 400 ) he enjoyed racing with his two sons Allen and Kirby Hightower which have also won a few races of their own. Gene was sponsored by American Motors for many years and was involved with the Jeep Celebrity race, the celebrities he raced with was Dick Smothers and Patrick Duffy. Had a celebrity race win with Dick Smothers. Gene’s racing career span was about 18 years, with his last season in 1985 starting with a win at the Parker 400 / the year it snowed, he won the majority of the races that year and the class 3 championship.

Gene will be greatly missed by all.