SEFFNER — James "Big Jim" Bargo stayed true to his family's tobacco-farming roots, and to an era when deals were done with a handshake and your word meant everything.
He tithed 10 percent to his church. He refrained from drinking, smoking and gambling.
He did have a passion for fast cars. Mr. Bargo and his 1979 Ford Mustang drove at racetracks around the state, winning at least 100 times.
More than two dozen trophies lined his desk, bookshelf and office windows at Bargo Auto Sales, his used-car dealership.
Everyone who knew Mr. Bargo knew these things, because Big Jim was a social connector happy to share his success stories in business and racing.
In commercials and around town, Mr. Bargo referred to himself as the "walkin' man's friend."
Colleagues at the Greater Seffner Area Chamber of Commerce and around town had their own name for him: "mayor."
Mr. Bargo, a longtime Seffner fixture, died Monday at Brandon Regional Hospital, of kidney failure. He was 76.
As part of unincorporated Hillsborough, Seffner has neither a city government nor an "honorary mayor" civic designation used in neighboring communities.
"He was just kind of anointed that because he's always been around and seemed like the elder," said Rory Weiner, 48, president of the Seffner chamber.
And when the chamber's own finances looked bleak a few years ago, Mr. Bargo came to the rescue with a donated car to be raffled.
"Big Jim" Bargo (6 feet 5, 250 pounds) was a teenager in 1952, when he moved from rural Kentucky to Cincinnati to drive semitrailer trucks. He started buying, fixing and selling used cars in 1962.
Mr. Bargo moved with his wife, Rosetta, and two sons to Brandon in 1972, and started a used car business in Seffner the next year. Today his son runs the business at 11808 U.S. 92.
He spent weekends at Sunshine Speedway in Pinellas Park and other area tracks. In 1990, an announcer at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton acknowledged Mr. Bargo as the "mayor of Seffner."
"That was the first time we heard it," said David Bargo, 55, Mr. Bargo's son. Before long, he said, Seffner residents began calling Mr. Bargo to report annoyances, like that problem traffic light on Parsons Road.
The mayor, meanwhile, had thrown himself into racing around the same time, and could be found squealing into turns and barrelling down straightaways at 100 mph.
Mr. Bargo, who suffered Alzheimer's disease in recent years, entered his last race three months ago. "Nobody could believe it," his son said. "I said, 'Hey, let him drive.' "
He came in second.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.