William James Thornborough Memorial - Celebration of Life

Words and Photos: Howie Zechner

Jim loved Speedway motorcycle racing.  It was his joy, passion, obsession, addiction and business.   It was his legacy.

Called JT his camera work was extraordinary.  It was the dark time before digital when film was king and good equipment was expensive.  Working the Speedway circuit he sold pictures to the riders, fans and promoters.  Never making enough to get rich JT 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 walked the pits handing out pictures.  Hey Billy Bob here’s one from last week.  No money hey that’s ok. Sure you can pay me next week or month or never.  It mattered less.  Running “Back it in Photos” was a joy more than a business.

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 owns the pictures to 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 race track. Sidecar guys have even more harrowing tales of hard contact.

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

Still Jim felt blessed.  He had moved in with his son Mick, wife Chantal and the grandkids several years before and 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.

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.

Early morning surgery at St Bernardi Hospital in San Bernardino was considered successful but around 8pm the bleeding started.  Jim had a massive stroke and never regained consciousness.  Son Mick Thornborough had to make that hardest decision any son can make.  They would take him off life support on April 1st 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 that were dear and near attended.

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.  The atmosphere was zen like as the mood changed from a Memorial to a Celebration of Life.  JT would have been proud.

And so it was.  Tears of grief and joy reminding us that we only go around once and need to embrace it.  Thank you JT for reminding us.  We will miss you.

--Howie Zechner

More pictures on the Speedway America facebook page



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