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Published: Thursday, 6/5/2014

James F. Thornton; 1937-2014: Engineer known for drag racing

Thornton Thornton

James F. Thornton, an automotive engineer and business owner who was a drag racing legend, died Monday in his Springfield Township home. He was 77.

He had an autoimmune disease and a rare cancer, his daughter Renee said.

“He had such drive and purpose and single-minded determination. He approached his illness with the same determination,” his daughter said. “He was an engineer. He had to fix the problem.”

He was a 1960 graduate of the University of Missouri with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering when he was hired by Chrysler Corp. into a work-study program. He received a master of automotive engineering degree from the automaker’s engineering institute and graduated into work at Chrysler’s steering suspension lab, said Mike Buckel, a colleague.

Early on, Mr. Thornton got to know the Ramchargers, a group of company engineers — and drag racers. He designed the racing vehicles known as “funny cars,” Mr. Buckel said, and was a winning driver as well.

“Jim was the spark plug of the Ramchargers,” Mr. Buckel said. “He was the leader. He was an extremely creative engineer. Everybody in the sport knew who he was.”

Mr. Thornton later worked for Rupp Industries of Mansfield, Ohio. At Jeep Corp. in Toledo, he became director of Jeep product engineering, retiring in 1986. Afterward, he was a co-founder, vice president, and treasurer of Applied Technologies Inc. in Toledo. His mechanical expertise aided him as an owner of a self-serve car wash business founded in 1978 with his sons.

He was born Feb. 26, 1937, to Agnes and Ira Thornton and grew up in Richmond, Mo. He was an Eagle Scout, star athlete, and valedictorian of his high school graduating class.

He and Margaret “Marg” Randolph married Sept. 6, 1959. He became her primary caregiver as her muscular dystrophy worsened. She died Nov. 11, 2006.

Surviving are his sons John R. and David Thornton; daughters Jama Millar and Renee Rathke; brother, John R. Thornton; nine grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

Visitation will be from 3-8 p.m. today in the Walker Funeral Home, Sylvania Township. Services will be at 10 a.m. Friday in the mortuary.

The family suggests tributes to a charity of the donor’s choice.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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