Top sports car racer in the 1980s and 1990s and manufacturer of the Kudzu sports prototype, Jim and his brother in law,Dr Robert Hubbard, founded HANS Performance Products, the originators and manufacturers of the internationally renowned Head And Neck Safety (HANS) Device.
Downing’s love affair with fast cars began in the 1950s as an 11-year-old racer in a Soap Box Derby. "I built a racer with the help of some of the mechanics at my father’s auto dealership."
In 1967, Downing began racing sports cars in amateur competition. He quickly ascended the ranks, driving open-wheel Formula Vee cars and lumbering American sports coupes like the Ford Mustang. In 1974, Downing decided to race professionally. He closed the doors of his auto-repair shop, bought a retiring racer’s Mazda MX-2 and joined the fledgling International Motor Sports Association. He worked out of a backyard shop for several seasons until he secured full Mazda factory backing and formed Downing/Atlanta, a name synonymous with Mazda racing in the United States.
In the 1980's, Mazda RX-7's dominated the IMSA GTU and Camel Lights classes. From its series inception, Jim won three consecutive Camel Lights championships.
Jim later began building his own race cars with Mazda powerplants under the Kudzu name.
In 1989 he founded HANS Performance Products, the originators and manufacturers of the internationally renowned Head And Neck Safety (HANS) Device, with with his brother in law Dr Robert Hubbard.