Joel E. Finn, author, racer and computer industry pioneer, died January 28 in Charleston, South Carolina. He was 78. The son of Barney and Alice (Abrams) Finn, Joel was born in Carthage, New York, and raised in Syracuse. Upon graduating from Syracuse University he served in the U.S. Army as a Ranger and paratrooper before beginning his career at IBM and subsequently serving as chairman of several start-up companies in the computer industry.
Finn’s automotive involvement began at age 10 when he got his first car, and continued throughout his life as he pursued vintage racing for more than half a century at various tracks around the USA and Europe. He was known for his success in Cooper (above), Chevron and Lotus cars, and for his meticulous restoration of legendary Mercedes and Maserati racecars. In recent years, he enjoyed touring scenic America in early Brass Era cars, including Simplexes and Fiats.
Beyond his driving exploits, Finn became one of the country’s foremost historians of motor racing and a prolific author, among whose dozen published works are: American Road Racing; The 1930s; Bridgehampton Racing: From the Streets to the Bridge; Sunshine, Speed and a Surprise: The 1959 U.S. Grand Prix of the United States: and American Road Racing 1948-1950: The Sport Revived.
His book on mid-century racing in Cuba, Caribbean Capers, won the prestigious Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot Award for Outstanding Book of 2010 from the Society of Automotive Historians. He served as the president of the Harrah Auto Collection in Reno, Nevada, during its transformation from a private collection to a public facility, the National Automobile Museum.
Finn’s collection of historic automotive archives, photos, pennants, posters, periodicals, books and memorabilia will be preserved in The Revs Institute at the Collier Museum in Naples, Florida. A celebration of his life will be held in Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina, on Sunday, May 21.
He is survived by wife Ann (Smith), two daughters, Heather Marney of Danville, Pennsylvania, and Steffanie Finn of New York City, as well as two granddaughters and two sisters, Linda Bergeron and Donna Price, both of Florida. To them as well as to all his friends in the sport, Vintage Racecar, extends its sincere sympathies.