Sharp was Texas oil man who had the means to indulge his passion for Formula 1 and drove in six Grand Prix on the North American continent in the early sixties. He was heavily involved in the Chaparral sports car project and drove one to victory at Sebring with Jim Hall in 1985.
James R "Hap" Sharp was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Nicknamed 'Hap' due to being born on January 1st, as in Hap of Happy New Year, he was involved in the oil-drilling business with his company Sharp Oil.
His love of cars started in 1949 when he rented a MGTC while on holiday in California. He bought his own soon after and then bought more and more powerful cars until he ended up with an almost full race Corvette. After seeing the AC Ace he decided he wanted one and went to the local AC dealers, Jim Hall and Carol Shelby, to order one. Thus began a friendship that would later see Hap involved in the development of the Chaparral sports car project.
He started out racing in boats, driving in the C Hydro class in the early 1950s, eventually winning the US National Outboard Racing Championship.
In 1957 he went to a racing driver school at Hourglass Field, San Diego, on the advice of a friend, and decieded to take up racing cars. He had the means to indulge his passion and by 1959 he had taken on a full-time mechanic and was racing a Cooper Monaco with a 2-litre Climax FPF engine. Underpowered, he replaced the Monaco's Climax FPF engine with a 2.3 liter Maserati four, going on to win against strong opposition during the Bahamas' Speed Week and at Road America.
In Formula 1 he drove a Cooper-Climax in the 1961 and 1962 US Grands Prix and Reg Parnell's Lotus-BRM in the 1963 race. He also drove the Lotus to a career best seventh in that year's Mexican Grand Prix, just failing to score a point. The following year he again competed in the US and Mexican Grand Prix in one of Rob Walker's Brabham-BRMs.
In sports cars he won the 1962 Road America 500 in a Chaparral 1 and the 1962 Stuttgart SCCA National in his Cooper.
In 1964 he won the Mid Ohio USRRC race in the Chaparral 2 and was fifth overall in the final standings. He also won the Nassau Trophy driving with Roger Penske.
The following year, 1965, his last full season, he won the Sebring 12 Hours with Jim Hall, the 1965 Continental Divide, the Mid Ohio and Road America USRRC rounds, as well as the 1965 Bridgehampton 500, the 1965 Riverside Times GP and the 1965 Nassau Trophy race again. He finished runner up in the USRRC.
Hap only drove occasionally after 1965. Later he took up polo and was a regular player at the Milwaukee Polo Club. He also continued to work in the motorsport industry for many years.
At the time of his death he was running a cattle ranch in Argentina. He had been suffering from personal problems and tragically committed suicide after being told he was terminally ill. It has been sugested that this was an incorrect diagnosis making his death even more sad.