A New Year at Brooklands

2015 Brooklands New Year
The gathering at Brooklands on New Year’s Day grows ever bigger – over 1,100 cars turned up within its sacred borders! The weather stayed dry this year and amidst the rows of tedious MGBs, MX-5s etc., there were, as usual, some real gems for the true enthusiast to enjoy:
2015 Brooklands New Year
A.C. cars were very active on the Brooklands track during the Twenties, scoring many successes and setting many speed records. It was, however, John Weller’s superb overhead camshaft 6-cylinder engine which forged A.C.’s reputation, this unit staying in production for some forty years. Here we see one of the final expressions of the vintage 2-litre A.C. Sixes before the Hurlocks took over the company in 1930, ushering in a new era.
2015 Brooklands New Year
The M.G. 18/80 was introduced at the Olympia Show in 1928 but so was the first M.G. Midget. And it was the Midget line that would go on to create a future for M.G. The 18/80 was the first to use the traditional M.G. radiator and was a dignified model with many Morris mechanicals beneath the surface including a 6-cylinder overhead camshaft engine. The big M.G. came in Mark Ι and Mark ΙΙ forms and there were even five Mark ΙΙΙs, the Tigresse model. One of these, in Cecil Kimber’s favourite cream and brown colours, tackled the 1930 Brooklands Double Twelve race but it was soon clear that the heavy car was no opposition to the Aston Martin and Alfa Romeos. It mercifully faded early on, not with the advertised carburettor problems, but with run bearings. And that spelt the end of the 18/80 as a serious competition car – it was all Midgets from then on.
2015 Brooklands New Year
One certainly does not expect to see a Borgward 2400 at Brooklands! This is thought to be the only one in the country. Carl Borgward introduced this bigger model in 1952 to compete with the Mercedes 220 and Opel Kapitan. It had a 2337 c.c. 6-cylinder engine with hemispherical combustion chambers giving 80 b.h.p. and came with either a 3-speed box or the Hansamatic transmission which was to cause serious problems. Originally the car, a full 6-seater, had a sloping back but a fully booted version was introduced in March 1953. Sales were small with only 1132 made of which 356 were the second series with a 2240 c.c. 100 b.h.p. engine. The model was withdrawn in 1958.

2015 Brooklands New Year
One of these cars took a fine 3rd in the over 2-litre class of the 1953 Italian Sestrière Rally driven by Count Von der Mϋhle and former Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix team driver Hans Hugo Hartmann who was to take charge of Borgward’s competition department.
2015 Brooklands New Year
And one also does not expect to find a New York taxi at Brooklands! This is one of the ubiquitous Ford Crown Victorias, for years the staple diet of the yellow cab fleets. It was an old-fashioned body-on-frame design. In 1992 it was given a 4.6-litre overhead camshaft V8 and in 2003 it had an all-new frame with re-designed front suspension and rack and pinion steering. The last one made came off the line at St Thomas, Ontario, Canada in September 2011.
2015 Brooklands New Year
A Riley once more on the Members’ Banking! Rileys were among the most competitive cars at Brooklands in the Thirties; this one wasn’t born then but the RM series carried on in many ways the company’s fine tradition in the early post-war years. They offered either a 1.5 or 2.5-litre version of the splendid high-cam 4-cylinder engines and boasted torsion bar independent front suspension unashamedly cribbed from Citroën’s Traction Avant.
2015 Brooklands New Year
During the Fifties Dick Jacobs was a familiar participant in British motor sport, invariably involved with M.G. cars for which his Mill Garage in Essex were dealers. He purchased this YB 1.25-litre M.G. saloon to enter for the 1952 Silverstone Production Car Race where its chief opposition came from Jowett Javelins especially that of Bert Hadley. In the race Jacobs managed to tuck in behind Stirling Moss in the big Mark VΙΙ Jaguar while being lapped and this slip-streaming brought the M.G. nearer Hadley whose Javelin then started to emit steam – thus Jacobs managed to win the class. In 1953 he did it again and in 1954 he won the class for the third time! This car is therefore special in M.G. racing history but soon was put back to family duties
2015 Brooklands New Year
To understand the weird Trojan it is necessary to appreciate some of the ideals of its designer Leslie Hayward Hounsfield. He had strong views about the place of the car in society and believed that speed was a bad thing for all concerned. He also disliked the idea of a car indicating social status, believing that style and fashion should have no place.
No danger of his contrivance conveying status! This odd machine has an under-floor engine, a twin-cylinder (with two pistons per cylinder) two stroke which drove through an epicyclic transmission with a big flywheel. The output was 11 b.h.p. at 1,200 rpm with exceptional low-end torque. He originally planned to have no bonnet, Lanchester-wise, but was advised that no one would buy a car without a bonnet, even though it was empty!

2015 Brooklands New Year
But they did buy them, some 25,000, and these were made for Trojan under licence by Leyland Motors from 1922-29 in their Kingston-on-Thames factory where Sopwith planes had formerly been made. And a Trojan stood alongside the big new Leyland Eight on the company’s stand at the 1922 Motor Show. Which of the two was most successful?

2015 Brooklands New Year

The Alvis 12/50 was an ever present part of the Brooklands vintage racing scene. C.M. Harvey used a special racing version to win the JCC 200-mile race in 1923 whereas the normal production car scored notable victories at the track including best on handicap at the 1927 Essex Six Hour race and winning outright the JCC 4 Hour Sporting Car Race that same year.

2015 Brooklands New Year

Here is a superb example with the duck-back tail treatment; the other is the beetle-back version.
2015 Brooklands New Year
It is indeed appropriate to see a Bentley Brooklands at Brooklands! Bentley produced two distinct models: a full-size luxury saloon replacing the Mulsanne (1992-1998) as shown here, and a fixed head version of the Azure, first seen at Geneva in 2007.

2015 Brooklands New Year

Just 550 of these were built up to 2011.
TAILPIECE
2015 Brooklands New Year

How can anyone suggest that Jaguar’ current F-type is prettier than this XK 120 Coupé?

2015 Brooklands New Year

David Blumlein, January 2015

Dockland Express

In automotive terms, if not in other aspects, 2015 is off to a great start, especially here in London with the first London Classic Car Show. Who better than ace snapper, Simon Hildrew, to bring us a peek at the riches on display? Put a date in your diaries for 2016, 18-21st February, you know it makes sense.

The Price of Freedom

Kerry Morse dropped me these lines regarding the murderous deeds that happened in Paris yesterday. I am currently bound for Maastricht and unable to access my archive. However, his words need publishing and I will add more photography in due course.

wolinski_porsche

 

 

 

Any tragedy is driven home when one has the slightest memory of an individual.

One of the twelve murdered in Paris was Georges Wolinski, aside from being a brilliant artist, he was responsible for several art cars that ran at Le Mans among
other venues. The GT2 that was one of his most recognizable canvases is among the most loved of all Porsche models.
Wolinski’s art will always be remembered……
Kerry Morse, January 2015

The McLaren of Jane Austen – or The Pie, The Bull and other things…

The events that led to this fine story took place a few years back, when my friends Lizett Bond and Kerry Morse paid a visit to the UK. As usual when Kerry is around things get a little out of focus, nevertheless this tale is worth repeating and New Year’s Eve is as good as any time to do so. And it is also an appropriate time to remember those who are no longer here to celebrate a New Year, one such individual was Jim Bamber, the great cartoonist and artist who passed away in the summer. He is greatly missed by his friends.

So to those who persevere with this site, may I wish you and yours a happy and healthy 2015. 

John Brooks, December 2014

2013 General

Think of Jane Austen country. What comes to mind? Landed gentry, leisurely strolls through verdant pastures, sheep, cattle and, of course, the horses? Yet, might there be horses of another type hidden in those peaceful, green hills? Sense tells us this is prime horse country, what if sensibilities were interrupted by the roar of something that travels on four “legs” of a different kind?

I love horses. I cut my teeth on “National Velvet”. One of my favorite daydreams consisted of riding The Pie across a pasture, wind whipping my short hair. In this daytime fantasy, Mi coached from the fence line.

Imagine how I jumped when the opportunity arose to actually spend some time in the English countryside. When I discovered that the village of Bentley, my destination, was in Jane Austen territory, I adjusted, trading in Mi and The Pie for Colonel Brandon, Mr. Willoughby, and romance.

2014 JB General

Jane Austen country, so steeped in history, was soon to provide some modern surprises, and the contrast between historical and modern would prove pretty striking.

2014 JB General
There were several reasons to be in Jane’s neck of the woods.  First, the MP4/3 McLaren.  A Formula One racecar with historical significance and modern interest, I would have the privilege of observing the shakedown of this fine steed at the famous Donington Park racetrack.

2014 JB General

The second was to spend time with a Jaguar XJ and a bright yellow Porsche 997 Carrera. These fine carriages, provided by the manufacturers, awaited our arrival at Heathrow Airport after a flight from Los Angeles on Virgin Atlantic.

2014 JB General

Our destination was the Bentley Mill Inn. Cars aside, during my visit I wanted to meld into the community and meet the locals. I wanted to belong, if only for a short time.

2014 JB General

It was dark as we rolled into the outskirts of Bentley, and after an unplanned tour of the small village, we found our lodgings.  Ann and David Hallett, proprietors of the converted mill, proved the quintessential English hosts. A cross between English country gentleperson farmers and extremely cultured, worldly travelers, we were welcomed into their home.  In spite of the comfort and quaint ambience of this establishment, there was an air of quiet refinement, as one would expect. A paper mill, originally built in 1640, the Bentley Mill sits virtually atop The River Wey.

2014 JB General

And there were more delights to follow. A short walk from the Mill sits the Bull Inn. The classic English Pub, right down to the fireplace, the locals and the atmosphere, The Bull Inn serves breakfast, bar snacks, drinks and dinner.  Oh, heaven!  If I wanted to experience another world firsthand, I’d found it. Or as Ms Austen would say, “one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other”. The regulars at the Bull Inn are right out of a PBS Masterpiece Theatre production.  Sandy, an occasional bartender at the Bull, is the perfect character to stand behind said bar, a lot of fun, and “Sex In the City” has nothing on her. One would expect an old curmudgeon, but instead, the owner of this establishment is an ultra modern sophisticate, driving a Porsche and vacationing in Vail, Colorado.

2014 JB General

Feeling as if this was now my local, dinner at the Bull became a nightly ritual. One special evening at the Bull was topped off by dinner with renowned race cartoonist and artist, Jim Bamber and his wife Sally.

How could one resist the urge for further exploration? In order to access the hamlet of Bentley from the Mill Inn, one has two choices; get in a car and trek the A31 or, the best to any traveler, stroll right out the front door, turn right on the narrowest country road ever and hit the footpaths through the pastures.  Bentley was meant for ambling and the juxtaposition of historical cottages and new mansions was marked as I sauntered along.  The imagination is well exercised with a pasture promenade and, like Jane Austen, I preferred “taking a turn in the shrubbery”.  I fancied an encounter with Miss Steele as I traveled the footpaths to the little village of Bentley.

2014 JB General

Another day trip included a visit to Austen’s home in Chawton, where she resided for the last eight years of her life and penned some of her best works.  The house is now a museum.

An excursion to the city of Winchester also provided some timeless contrasts. Being December, the weather was quite chilly and rather dreary, but a Christmas Market at Winchester Cathedral, along with street musicians and the aroma of assorted treats, set the mood. I was transported to another century. Walking into Winchester Cathedral, I was struck by the presence of the humanity who had trod these floors before me.

2014 JB General

However, leaving Winchester in the comparative safety and luxury of a new Jaguar XJ jolted me back to modern times.

However, speaking of centuries past, The Bishops of Winchester inhabited Farnham Castle in the village of Farnham, for over 900 years. Bentley is just a stones throw from Farnham.

2014 JB General

Since my countryside reverie was about to be interrupted, combined with, or attached to, a trip to Farnham, I began to wonder just what this little escapade would bring to the table.  How could it possibly compete with Bentley, and Ann of the Mill, or Sandy of the Bull Inn, of sheep in the pasture, or ancient bibles, and, well, all of it? But seriously, as the purpose of the trip was car stuff, what could complete this trip more than a visit to the “shop” of a major historic racecar player?

2014 JB General

Once there, the contrast took my breath away.  Obviously a horse and cattle operation in times past, the fantastic barn had been restored to its original splendor. What was behind those wooden doors?  How about a fantastic collection of vintage racecars.  Vintage, in Jane Austen country, is a relative term.  What constitutes a vintage car?  Well, cars are a relatively new creation and Ms. Austen would not have known them, so we are modern/historical in a relative sense.  Our prejudices are just challenged. But I digress.

2013 General

The purpose of the visit is a photo shoot. And not just any old vintage racecar either; a McLaren MP4 Porsche powered F1 rolling stock. To record the event, eminent racecar photographer John Brooks is on hand, with all his paraphernalia, along with racecar historian Kerry Morse.  Their goal, to photograph the McLaren, in the mist, in the cold, in the historic setting, to express the essense of the car and the people who influence racing.

2014 JB General

But, wait, there’s more! Did I want a ride in an F1 GTR McLaren?  The ex Ray Bellm 1996 F1 GTR still in Gulf Oil colors?  Of course!  Did I realize what I was getting into?  Of course not!  This fabulous looking McLaren rolled out of the shop, still wearing those championship Gulf colors of blue and orange. It was, well, romantic and loud and full of horsepower. It was Colonel Brandon and I was in Jane’s countryside. It was The Pie and a steeplechase. I wanted to cut my hair short and pretend!  Did I turn down the ride? Of course not.

2014 JB General

I pried myself around the roll cage and into a tiny racing seat located to the left of the driver, as the McLaren is a center steer. Strapped into a seat that allowed for NO movement, I decided my safety was in the hands of my driver.  “These cars are built for catastrophe,” I told myself, and, “Hey, this guy knows what he is doing”. I plastered a quivering smile on my face and we were off. Nothing compares to a drive through the English countryside in a McLaren “street legal” racecar with a proficient driver.  Behind us, yet another McLaren F1 followed, this example being of the production type. Bringing up the rear came Brooks and Morse, in the yellow Porsche 997, trying their best to keep up with the McLaren duo.

2014 JB General

I could scarcely turn my head, partly out of fear, and partly out of, well, the inability to turn my head in such tight seating.  Feeling a bit like Plato’s workers in the Allegory of the Cave, I was aware only of what was going on directly to the front of me.  Conversation with my intrepid driver was impossible.  He couldn’t hear my silent screams, and his reassurances would fall on deaf ears. Not that he seemed to feel any need to comfort me.  I could see, in my peripheral vision, people staring at the ride. I focused on the road ahead, foot mashing an imaginary brake pedal.  Seriously though, is there anything cooler than traversing speed bumps, in front of a school full of teenaged students, in an extremely rare and fast car?

2014 JB General

As we sped into the countryside, cows, horses and sheep grazed quietly in a pastoral setting, not even raising their heads at the roar of the McLaren. I was able to see these creatures, sort of…they went by so fast!  I felt as if the cows were tigers about to be churned into butter.  Finally, we pulled into what appeared to be an upscale dairy.  Upscale, indeed. We’d arrived at a warehouse chock full of historic racecars.  Let’s see, historic racecars in a modern warehouse in the middle of land that makes me think that all creatures are truly great and small.   Old, new, old…wow, forget Mi and Colonel Brandon, even Mr. Darcy…bring me Mr. Firth, bring me Mr. Rickman!

2014 JB General

Eventually, I had to come back to reality, to my own half of the world.  I had to say goodbye to Ann and David of the Mill, Sandy of The Bull Inn and to Brooksie….the ‘other half’ of SportsCarPros.  A confession; the countryside, the Jag, and the sightseeing took precedence over Donington. While the intrepid crew of SportsCarPros was shooting away at the track, I was tooling around in that beautiful black Jag or in my own black riding boots, which doubled as walking boots.  After all, as Jane once wrote, “Why not seize the pleasure at once, how often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation?”

Lizett Bond, December 2006

The Spa 24 Hours A History

spa_24hrs_history_d_blumlein_01a

A new book has just been published, The Spa 24 Hours A History. Its author is David Blumlein, a regular on this website and an automotive historian of note. The subject matter is a comprehensive review of one of the world’s greatest endurance motor races, the Spa 24 Hours. It is the first such history written in English.

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This year marked the 90th anniversary of the classic race and the book traces the events down the decades and illustrates the changes that the Spa-Francorchamps has gone through from the earliest days.

1986Spa1

The chapters are arranged in a logical fashion to cover the races that were run to common regulations as the event has changed from Le Mans-type sports cars to Touring Car and now to GTs.

1989Spa1

Each chapter is enhanced by a selection of “Further Facts” which give detailed background information that might otherwise be missed. Similarly the photography seeks to show the more unusual aspects of the race such as the Ferrari Mondial of Keke Rosberg in 1989.

One of the successful Škodas at Eau Rouge in 1948. (Chpt 6)

There is a comprehensive set of Appendices detailing such subjects as those who lost their lives at the race, a profile of some of the more important Belgian drivers and, of course, the results. The author is candid about the conflicting records on the lower placed finishers and has attempted to use the most reliable sources.

Moskvitches lined up before the start in 1971 (Results)

There are forewords from François Cornélis (President of the RACB), Stéphane Ratel (CEO of SRO Motorsports Group) and Belgian drivers Pierre Dieudonné and Eric van de Poele who have eight victories in this great race between them.

Here is the Peugeot 806 People-Carrier!

There can be very little left to be discovered about the Spa 24 Hours that is not covered somewhere in this book.

2004 Spa 24 Hours

I must disclose a personal connection as I have supplied some of the photos used including the one above of Lilian Bryner at dawn on her way to victory in 2004 driving the BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello.

1971_3937_27A

Furthermore I assisted David in this enterprise in a capacity of Project Manager, so it would be fair to say that I am not objective about the book.

A view of the daunting Burnenville section on the old circuit. (Chpt?)

When David and I set out on this journey it was agreed between us that we should strive to produce something that we could be proud about and in my opinion we have done just that. It is a good read and will be a valuable reference work in the years to come.

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The design is clean and elegant, just what you would expect from Marcus Potts. There are many others who given significant assistance along the way and when you buy the book you will read of them.

The Publisher is Transport Bookman Limited and the book can be found at the link below.

Chaters Motoring Booksellers

26 Murrell Green Business Park,

Hook, Hampshire
RG27 9GR 

UK

T: +44 (0)1256 765 443
F: +44 (0)1256 767 992

E: books@chaters.co.uk

Price £39.99 or €52 plus postage

 

John Brooks, December 2014

 

Going Round and Round – Part Four

2002 ALMS Washington

In August 2001 plans were announced to once again take the races to the fans, nothing if not persistent were the ALMS in this direction. The venues were to be a street race round the financial district of Miami and the Washington Grand Prix at the RFK Memorial Stadium Circuit in Washington DC, or rather in the car park of this former home to the Washington Redskins.

2002 ALMS Washington

A long-term contract was drawn up, ten years duration, between the ALMS and the promoter, with the City underwriting the whole affair. The benefits, or so we were told, would be tourism, prestige and anticipated revenues of $350 million, and these noble aims were much trumpeted. One element that encouraged the staging of the race was the potential bid for the 2012 Olympiad from the combined cities of Washington and Baltimore or such was leaked to the media. However this being Washington DC, the downsides soon began to surface. As was reported at the time, in the media  “On September 5 neighborhood residents shared serious concerns regarding safety, the environment, cost, and the livability of the neighborhood during the event. No environmental authority — not COG, nor the DC Department of Health’s Office of Environmental Health, not the Mayor’s Special Assistant for Environmental Issues, was consulted prior to the August 9 press conference, although planning for the project began in 1999. July, according to the Council of Governments (COG), is the worst month for air quality in the metropolitan region, with the most code-red health advisories because of high ozone levels. On code-red days, COG discourages all daytime driving and refuelling.”

2002 ALMS Washington

These legitimate concerns were amplified by the apprehensions of local residents about noise and the sheer inconvenience of the event and the proximity to their properties, as little as 100 yards in the worst case. Furthermore there was unease about the financial arrangements which involved public funds and were opaque to say the least.

Robert D. Goldwater, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission’s President and Executive Director, said those details will not be made public because the Commission considers the information proprietary. The only cost he has revealed is that of building the temporary 1.7-mile racecourse: $3 million, which will be split with the Grand Prix organizers.

“The policy we had is the policy we are following: We are not releasing financial information. . . . We need to negotiate private agreements,” he said. “The understanding we have with each of our promoters is such that the expectation they have is that we are going to keep financial information private.”

2002 ALMS Washington

That declaration was soon undermined as the Washington Post dug deeper into the affair.

“The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and the promoter of this month’s Grand Prix auto race are splitting the estimated $3.5 million cost of constructing a track, but the Commission is assuming the risk by putting up all the money — a contrast to Grand Prix deals in other U.S. cities that generally have avoided using public funds to finance the events.

The North Carolina-based promoter has the duration of the 10-year race contract, and possibly longer, to repay its share of the cost of the temporary track, receiving what amounts to an interest-free loan with no guarantor, according to interviews and documents obtained under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act. The promoter is supposed to make annual payments, the amounts of which have not been disclosed.”

2002 ALMS Washington

The rows over the event rumbled on with a great deal of band-wagon jumping by local politicians, community leaders and ‘activists’. A sound absorbing wall was promised and other environmental issues were declared as having been addressed. The promoters apparently offered free tickets to the locals and other incentives were suggested, some accepted, some rejected. Cadillac were persuaded to be the title sponsor and the United States Mint got in on the act announcing that the Golden Dollar would be the Official Coin of the Cadillac Grand Prix. Whatever anyone said as 2002 rolled by the tarmac was laid in the stadium car park and the track gradually took shape.

2002 ALMS Washington

So in July 2002 the ALMS circus assembled in the shadow of the RFK Memorial Stadium, along with the Speedvision World Challenge, Trans-Am and a celebrity support race, this felt like a proper motorsport event. The track, sinuous and short – 1.7 miles – was wide with passing opportunities and it would be possible to race even in these confines. July is not the optimal time to enjoy the banks of the Potomac, or the District of Columbia, being both hot and humid, no wonder everyone was so grumpy.

2002 ALMS Washington

Thirty-two cars would line up on the grid and it was clear, that barring unforeseen incidents, victory would be a contest between the two factory Audis and the lead Panoz, the latter now in a revamped EVO 2002 form. Embracing the patriotic spirit in the post 9-11 USA, the livery was composed of Stars and Stripes, and titled ‘Spirit of America’.

2002 ALMS Washington

The Cadillac team were a vast improvement on their 2001 effort but in the background the long-term viability of the project was in doubt as GM management were starting to grasp the realities of engaging in a technological and budgetary war with Audi.

2002 ALMS Washington

Corvette was a happier GM ship, successive GTS wins at Le Mans will do that for a team. This project made more sense in achieving the marketing, brand building and fan satisfaction aims of Corvette than Cadillac’s venture into Prototype Land.

2002 ALMS Washington

In GTS the Vettes had some serious opposition in the shape of the Olive Garden Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello, they could not afford to relax their efforts.

2002 ALMS Washington

The GT class was an almost exclusively Porsche affair, as BMW had packed up their E46 M3 GTR campaign in response to rules on homologation being changed without notice by the ACO. The ALMS were furious, they had not been consulted, and this destroyed competition in the class and also hit revenues substantially. The BMWs ended up at the 24 Hour races at Nürburgring and Spa in the following years. So a solitary Bimmer was on hand to potentially disrupt the Porsche Parade – it did not.

2002 ALMS Washington

One major difference that the DC race had over the other expeditions into Oval Land was spectators, and in numbers. So when the Audis blasted off at the start there were plenty on site to witness the enthralling contest between them and the Panoz. Post race claims of 70,000 attendees over the three days were perhaps true, certainly it was busy. Maybe for a while the ALMS though it had enjoyed its “Garlic Bread” moment, post event criticisms would cause any such feelings to evaporate.

2002 ALMS Washington

The adjacent Stadium-Armory Washington Metro station no doubt contributed to this popularity, not that I got to experience it personally. The top notch photographer, world class pfaffer and local resident, Regis Lefebure, generously provided a chauffeur service during my stay in his nation’s capital. His technique behind the wheel was certainly different, probably more suited to the roads in the proximity of the Tiber than the Potomac.

Whatever…………….

2002 ALMS Washington

The Champion Racing Audi struggled to match the pace of the factory cars, not helped when it was hit by the Capello car while being lapped, Dindo got a stop/go penalty for that indiscretion. Neither Johnny Herbert nor Stefan Johansson were happy with the R8 all weekend, this was not a normal state of affairs, quite puzzling.

2002 ALMS Washington

The Audis and the Panoz traded the lead, rarely more a few seconds gap from first to third, the crowd were certainly getting their money’s worth. Which was than could have been said by me. Looking back into the archive there is a big hole in the race, then it clicked, I remembered a microdrive had failed, as they regularly did, and I had not been bright enough to make a back up. Mind you from what remains on file it was clear that I lacked inspiration at Washington, a rather lacklustre performance all round.

2002 ALMS Washington

All three pit and engineering crews worked flat out to optimise their car’s performance, trading off taking new tyres against shorter pit stops and track position, gambles on Yellow Flag periods and fuel consumption. In the end fresh Michelins on the Panoz versus used ones on the Audis was the critical difference. When the Chequered Flag dropped the gap was .766 of a second, in the favour of Magnussen and Brabham, they had won!

2002 ALMS Washington

For Don Panoz it was his day of days, a car bearing his name winning in Washington, it really does not get any better than that. It was the final triumph for the rumbling mid-front engined car. Audi, as they always are, were gracious in defeat. They have learned that the value of their own victories is, in part, measured by the respect that they show and receive of the opposition.

2002 ALMS Washington

GTS went to the #3 Corvette of Ron Fellows and Johnny O’Connell while Alex Job Racing’s Porsche driven by Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr scooped the prize in GT.

And that pretty much is where the fun stopped, though I did get to buy Regis dinner as a thank you after the race and we were joined by the Great Dane, TK. A thoroughly agreeable way to end my only visit to the District of Columbia.

Ah yes, the hair pulling and name calling started almost before the engines went silent in the paddock. The media reported the antics:

“Cost overruns spilled into the millions, the promoters were fined for noise violations, and allegations of abuse of power were bandied about in the City Council.

City Inspectors found the sound wall constructed in the Kingman Park neighborhood measured only 584 feet long with sizeable gaps between some sections, and over the weekend, at least nine large panels were removed, in some cases for photography reasons.(My experience would suggest that this would be for TV rather than us humble snappers, as ever access was a big issue for us.)  District tests recorded during the event registered 93 to 105 decibels, far exceeding the city’s 60-decibel limit for residential areas.”

In August 2002, Washington Post columnist Colbert King blasted then-D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams for “the noisy, noxious-fume-spewing Cadillac Grand Prix that was insensitively and stealthily imposed on a stable, predominantly black North-east Washington neighbourhood over the residents’ strong objections.” Considering that I recall the Post being a partner to the event this was strong stuff.

In the face of all this controversy the race was cancelled in 2003 and there have been no attempts to revive it. How the money situation played out is also not clear, my guess is that the taxpayer got hosed and the lawyers got richer, plus ça change……….

The city race experiment has had limited success over the years, for every Long Beach there was a Miami or Baltimore, perhaps motor sport and metropolises do not mix.

That concludes my look back into ALMS history for now, more soon.

John Brooks, December 2014

 

 

 

 

Going Round and Round – Part Three

2001 ALMS Texas

The last visit to the territory of NoRight was for the first American Le Mans Series round of 2001. Arriving from the wintery UK and expecting a repeat of the sweltering heat previously encountered in September I got a shock. The conditions in Texas during March were more Donington than Dallas, damp, cold and grey.

2001 ALMS Texas

The series had lost the Vipers of ORECA, the BMW V12 LMR had retired and Schnitzer now had M3s to join PTG in the fight with the Porsches for the GT class. Overall the numbers were down, 34 entries had participated at Las Vegas, here in Texas four months later that was reduced to 22. Certainly the grid was not helped by the competition at Grand-Am who had 35 cars turn up at Homestead the same weekend. A big incentive was not having to take on the Audis or the Panoz, Dyson Racing could bring along the Riley & Scott to win, that would have been unthinkable in Texas. The vastness of the Texas Motor Speedway and the reduced car count gave a feeling that the ALMS was somehow losing momentum, in danger, perhaps, of stalling.

2001 ALMS Texas

On a positive note Champion Racing had acquired an R8 to give the Joest pair a run for their money, though they would take some time to get up to speed, including drivers who could take full advantage of the Audi’s potential performance.

2001 ALMS Texas

Perhaps most importantly, at least it seemed that way at the time, there was a new Panoz, the LMP07. In addition Doctor Don put his hand into his pocket and ran a pair of the old LMP1 cars to pad out the field at the sharp end.

2001 ALMS Texas

One thing that was familiar was the lack of a crowd and the lack of decent locations or backgrounds to execute my art…………..even the light deserted me until the race started.

2001 ALMS Texas

I do recall a few things about the second ALMS race at Texas Motor Speedway. The Australian Grand Prix was also running that Saturday evening after the track action had finished, time zones are a wonderful thing. So we all got in our rental cars and drove 50 miles (all journeys in Dallas are 50 miles or more, it’s the Law) to a sports bar where the Grand Prix was being televised. I had just acquired my first digital camera; it was powerful Juju back then, the ability to see your work instantaneously, no waiting for the film processors to do their work. Instant gratification, how very 21st Century?

I was sitting with Dindo Capello and Michele Alboreto watching another dull Schumacher/Ferrari procession when I piped up.

“Dindo, did you damage the car today, during Qualifying?”

“What do you mean, damage?” said the completely innocent Italian, butter would not melt, his eyes showing the hurt he just endured when such an outrageous suggestion had been aired.

“When you hit the chicane and scattered the poles”

“No, no that was not me”

“Well, how do you explain this?”

I flicked the back of the camera to show cart wheeling poles from the chicane that Dindo had driven over. It was a magic show, that Michele had been keenly observing as Dindo squirmed, his mistake now public.

Michele seized the moment, grabbed the camera and got all the Audi crew to see the evidence of his friend’s indiscretion. I recall it cost Dindo a round of drinks. From that point on Michele and I got on like a house on fire.

2001 ALMS Texas

Another new car making its début in Texas was the Callaway C-12 R, it was a handsome beast even if the results never reflected the potential.

2001 ALMS Texas

In real terms the race was largely settled before it began, the Pirro/Biela R8 had its pole position time disallowed as their Audi’s rear diffuser was 2mm higher than the rules allowed, so they would start at the back of the field. Dindo Capello led away at the Green Flag, he was joined in the Audi for 2001 by Tom Kristensen as Allan McNish had jumped ship to Toyota in preparation for their 2002 Formula One campaign.

2001 ALMS Texas

Most cars start slowly and develop but the LMP07 went the other way. The race at Texas was the only time that it looked like a winner, a late race stop for fuel denying a début win for Brabham and Magnussen, thereafter it was a dog. The team dropped the car after Le Mans, reverting to the trusty LMP1, a decision justified with victories at Portland and Mid-Ohio.

2001 ALMS Texas

Kelly Collins had a massive crash in the factory Corvette after a puncture, he was lucky to walk away after the heavy impact. The guys at Pratt & Miller faced some sleepless nights to get a new car built up for Sebring less than a fortnight later.

2001 ALMS Texas

GT was the property of Alex Job Racing with the paring of Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen overcoming the BMW challenge.

2001 ALMS Texas

Tom Kristensen brought his R8 home for yet another Audi 1-2 and the Panoz was third. Once more the crowds stayed away in droves missing another good battle and a tight finish. Plans to run again at Charlotte late in 2001 were quietly dropped and that was the end of the Roval experiment. And yet the ALMS had not finished with stadiums as we shall see in Part Four.

2014 Nurburgring 24

What went wrong? Why did ‘Takin’ It to the Streets’ not work? I can offer some thoughts………….

Simply that sportscar races held on these hybrid tracks were artificial, driven by TV and marketing demographics, planned by those who had little feel for what they were doing. We would all show up with the “Hey another day at the office attitude” and none of the anticipation that the mention of Le Mans or Nordschleife or Spa brings. Sportscar fans are usually amongst the sharper knives in the block and even the dumber ones could sense that this was ersatz racing, endurance lite and avoided it like the plague. If the real fans did not care why should casual spectators spend their time and money?

2002 ALMS Miami

This failure and the failure of street events such as Miami and Washington (for different reasons) pose a question. Is there a future for sportscars given the need to increase attendances to get greater coverage, to get more sponsorship $$$, to get greater coverage? Or should we just give up and admit that F1 and NASCAR have sucked the life out of the sport below their Augean stables? Perhaps the answer lies with a different question. Instead of chasing new markets
should we not just consolidate our existing strengths and concentrate on improving the show……….sort of “Build it and they will come” philosophy?

Blonds Have More Fun

Blonds Have More Fun

Well the numbers that attend Le Mans and the other classics attest to the popularity of the endurance form of racing……sometimes. There are many who would no more stop breathing than fail to turn up at their favourite event be it La Sarthe or Sebring; these folks would no more go to a Grand Prix or Daytona 500 than fly to the moon. Some of the more extreme cases plot their trips throughout the year and there are many websites run by the fans for the fans. Even the absence of a historical lineage is no obstacle to success as the instant classic status of Petit Le Mans proves.

Derek Pye

Derek Pye

Maybe that is it, in this age of hundreds of cable channels, the internet and all day drinking hours, for us to get off our backsides and go to a race meeting without the incentive of making a buck, requires that the venue/event has a sense of occasion, a promise of a place in history……….most of us Sartheophiles reference our personal index of the years by the who-what-why of 24 hours between 3.00 pm on
two days in June. I suspect the same is true of the guys on Sebring’s Turn 10, even for the most part, like the 60’s, if you can remember it you weren’t there.

2000 ALMS Laguna Seca

Our fables are not of dragons and wizards but of Ickx in 1969 or 1977 or Andretti in 1970 or of Pedro and Seppi just about all the time. In an age when almost everything is pyrite to find the genuine article is exciting and precious, so seeing a McNish or a Lotterer on a charge is the real deal but only given the right setting.
It would seem that the best hope for the healthy future is to learn from the past, successes as well as failures and go for fewer “classic” events at the remaining few real tracks. Quality over quantity……..F1 and NASCAR are on the opposite course, so that’s proof enough for me.

 

LMES…….this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

John Brooks December 2004

Excuse some of those conclusions, hindsight is a wonderful thing or a complete embarrassment. The answer would appear to be the FIA World Endurance Championship……………..

More in the final part.

John Brooks, December 2014

 

Going Round and Round – Part Two

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The landscape of the American Le Mans Series had changed significantly for the 2000 season with the arrival of Audi and their second endurance sportscar, the R8. This would blossom over the next six seasons to become one of the all time great race cars. The lessons of the shortcomings of the R8R had been absorbed so the R8 handled well, had good downforce and was quick in a straight line.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

However it would not be a push over for the newcomers as both BMW and Panoz had well proven teams and cars. In reality both were at a disadvantage with compromises that they had to make to conform to the new aerodynamic regulations introduced in the wake of the Mercedes-Benz flying accidents at Le Mans in 1999. In addition to that BMW stopped development on the V12 LMR before the season commenced and began focussing their attention on their upcoming return to Formula One.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

When the calendar was announced it contained three more visits to Oval Land……. the stadiums at Charlotte and Texas would join Las Vegas on the trail.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The first of these races was to be Charlotte in the heartland of NASCAR territory. The second round of the ALMS would be a tough event to sell to the Good ‘Ole Boys but the circuit itself was pretty good, a quick infield section with elevation changes, up to Daytona International Speedway standards other than the section taking the infield track back onto the banking at turn one and a silly chicane on the back straight.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The transition from infield to the banking caught out a few during the weekend, one of the first being Allan McNish in the Audi R8R, in the penultimate appearance of that car. The new R8 had crushed the opposition in the first round at Sebring but it was being kept in reserve for the Le Mans 24 Hours, so McNish had to push to the limit in the old car which he shared with Dindo Capello and Michele Alboreto. Spinning the Audi was bad enough but then seeing a grinning photographer with his 500mm lens lined up to record the indiscretion made things seem even worse.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Once we were all back in the paddock the Wee Scot forced a rueful smile when he confirmed that the wanker he had spotted with the camera was indeed yours truly, his description, not mine.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Charlotte marked the low point the Audi campaign in 2000, the R8R was just about able to run with the Rafanelli Lola but not BMW or Panoz. These two teams would battle along in the race with the #42 BMW V12 LMR just shading the #1 Panoz LMP-1 Roadster S.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Charly Lamm’s boys just about out fumbled the Panoz guys in the pits and in traffic but the result could have gone either way. JJ was pleased though…………….

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Brabham and Magnussen were just eight seconds down on the BMW lead car when the flag dropped with the Rafanelli Lola picking up the final spot on the podium.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The Audi of Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela could only manage sixth place, the return of the R8 to the ALMS could not come soon enough.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

GTS was reduced to a Viper parade, as Corvette kept their powder dry in anticipation of their first trip to Le Mans for the Test Day later that month.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The only opposition was a pair of venerable GT2 Porsches which were a long way off the pace, though troubles for #92 Viper meant that Zak Brown and Vic Rice Roock-entered 911 bagged runner up spot to Olivier Beretta and Karl Wendlinger.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The GT class had been invaded in 2000 by a horde of the new 911 GT3-Rs , nine examples of which were at Charlotte. Their début earlier in the season at the Rolex 24 had been marred by a series of engine failures, I looked at that race earlier HERE

2000 ALMS Charlotte

They were opposed by two PTG BMWs, the E36 version almost pulling off a shock win after the Dick Barbour Racing ‘werks’ 911’s both hit problems early in the race.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Eventually the Bob Wollek/Sascha Maassen 911 recovered to take victory for Stuttgart rather than Munich.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The crowd numbered in the hundreds rather than Nevada’s tens but in the confines of the huge auditorium designed to take the huddled masses of NASCAR fans this looked pathetic, a problem experienced at all of the Ovals visited. Signs warning “NO THROWING, You will be Removed” stencilled onto the wall were not required………apparently it is a local sport to lob fast food and the like at passing cops, photographers etc., during quiet periods on the track……..a sort of Agincourt Experience with half chewed wings ‘n B-B-Q sauce rather than arrows……..no one much cared about the few photographers stumbling around in search of inspiration, we remained largely safe, a danger only to ourselves.

2000 ALMS Texas

If Charlotte had been pleasant enough on April Fools’ Day then the furnace conditions encountered at Texas Motor Speedway in early September were not. Whoever signed up the circus to perform in this part of the world at the beginning of September kept a low profile during the weekend, if discovered he, she or it would have been lynched.

2000 ALMS Texas

Those of us compelled to work outside in temperatures of 110F looked like extras from Lawrence of Arabia and as for the poor sods driving front engined, closed cockpit crucibles such as the Viper and Corvette, words fail to describe the heroics required just to last the race.

2000 ALMS Texas

In recognition of the insanity of trying to run in the noon sunshine the race was timed to start at dusk…….about 2 degrees cooler………naturally not all Texans are mad despite what you may read and they stayed away in droves…….the rest of us were not so fortunate.

2000 ALMS Texas

The grid lined up for what seemed forever, certain drivers getting dehydrated as the various pre-race ceremonies dragged on. One problem for the photographers was actually finding anywhere accessible during the race to shoot the cars, hence taking to the stadium’s roof.

2000 ALMS Texas

The Audi R8 duo had the rest of the pack under control with McNish and Capello in search of a third win on the trot in the second part of the ALMS season.

2000 ALMS Texas

BMW had managed to paper over the cracks in their operation but Texas would see their first failure to grab a podium place since their appearance in North America at the 1999 Sebring 12 Hours.

2000 ALMS Texas

Even Jörg’s new style could not improve things.

2000 ALMS Texas

The challenge to the Audis was led by the #1 Panoz who were a lap down by the end of the race, a podium was their reward. No one had an answer to the R8.

2000 ALMS Texas

Lehto and Müller’s title aspirations were given a slight boost when the Schnitzer team ordered their sister car to crawl to the finish, letting #42 into a distant fourth.

2000 ALMS Texas

There were celebrations in the Pratt & Miller pit as the Corvette of Ron Fellows and Andy Pilgrim took the first win in the ALMS against the Vipers. One of the ORECA cars ran out of fuel, the other had a malfunctioning cooling system which cooked Wendlinger in the first stint.

2000 ALMS Texas

Similar stories were found in the GT class, I recall Rohan Skea staggering out of his Porsche after a single stint in a very bad way and being taken straight to Medical Centre. Most teams had personnel in and out of the doctors’ care, it was an extremely unpleasant place to be working at.

2000 ALMS Texas

The race went to Pirro/Biela in spite of the superior pace of the McNish/Capello R8. Two yellow flag periods taking over a minute’s lead from the #77 car, then a problem with the radio meant a mix up with the final pit stop, it was that kind of a race. Most of us could not get away from the place quick enough and there were no spectators to impede our exit.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Two months and three races later we returned to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to continue the lacklustre pattern of holding ALMS events at this kind of venue………..as usual the on track stuff was OK but there was little or no interest locally and few in the way of spectators to be seen. Even the promise of the Steve Soper Experience could not tempt the punters away from the tables and slots.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Actually some off track action WAS exciting as nearby Nellis Air Force Base played host to all kinds of foreign exotic warplanes on some sort of Top Gun event. The pilots, being gearheads, would circle low over the stadium on their final approach to the base, giving us something new to argue about. Those who had been to Vegas before had scant enthusiasm for the place, a little of that town goes a long way.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Even Morse getting me the loan of a Lincoln TownCar – Cartier Edition of course, with white-walled tires, gold stripes and blacked out windows could not lift the mood that we were all in the wrong place.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

It did however piss off David Price, who wondered how a low life like me got to ride around like a Rap Star or Vegas pimp, and he had to put up with some anonymous Camry, he grumbled to anyone who would listen………… P. Diddy Brooks anyone?

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

The event was the penultimate round of the series in 2000, there being a race scheduled in Adelaide on 31st December but Las Vegas still had an end of term feel with a few new entries joining in and some familiar faces about the leave. Tom Coronel impressing in Carsport Holland Viper he shared with Mike Hezemans.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

The BMW V12 LMR was making its final appearance as the was no desire from Munich to go Down Under. The car, a collaboration with Williams Grand Prix, had a great racing record over two seasons, victory at Le Mans and six ALMS wins, including Sebring. Quality. Regrettably it also brought down the curtain on the sonorous BMW V12 engine which aurally entertained those track-side since 1995. For 2001 BMW would be running M3s in the GT class.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Another great combination that was making its final ALMS appearance in North America was ORECA and the Dodge Viper GTS-R. After five seasons the French team was headed into the ranks of prototype racing with a Dallara chassis and MOPAR power. The list of the Viper’s successes is almost to long to contemplate.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Reflecting the improvement in the Panoz’ performance as the season progressed Magnussen jumped McNish and Biela at the start of what would be a chaotic and incident packed race.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

McNish restored the normal order of things but then the bumping and boring began…………..

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Both Panoz entries were in the wars as was Müller’s BMW and Capello in the #77 R8, there were several incidents.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

The upshot was a fortunate victory for #78 who had been largely off the pace, especially Biela, but you take the wins as they come.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

As was the custom that year GTS honours went to the Viper of Beretta and Wendlinger with the GT class win going to the Dick Barbour Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R of Bob Wollek and Sascha Maassen. It was their fifth win of the year and would Wollek’s final victory of his career, as he would be killed in a pointless road accident the following March while out cycling near Sebring. I have written about the mercurial Frenchman HERE HERE and HERE .

Another Roval, another failure to bring in the spectators, even someone with Don Panoz’ deep pockets would have to consider how long this strategy would be tried.

2001 would provide the answer and that is the topic for Part Three.

John Brooks, December 2014

 

Hal Thoms looks back on a racing desperado – Milt Minter

1969 PR photo

 

Long ago and far away Kerry Morse and I ran a small website, SportsCarPros.com . We didn’t post much but when we did it was generally the real deal rather than filler or press releases. We always knew when we were on target from the abusive outbursts from those we had called out. We also provided a platform for those who understood what the Right Stuff was. So ten years ago today the news came through that Milt Minter had passed away the day before. A month or so later there was a memorial service which Kerry and his buddy, Hal Thoms, attended and the upshot was this fine tribute to Milt courtesy of Hal. I am of the opinion that it is too good a piece of writing to moulder in a dormant website.

When I proposed running this piece as a mark of respect to Milt on his tenth anniversary Kerry suggested that he would update his introduction, of course this deadline was missed, and frankly, I would not have it any other way.

Apologies for the strange formatting, WordPress has a mind of its own some days, did Morse inspire it?

Compliments of the Season to one and all.

John Brooks, December 2014

you drive for me-with Vasek

A few weeks ago my friend Hal Thoms and I made a journey to the small town of Sanger, located just outside Fresno in the central valley of California. The purpose of this drive was to get together with several hundred people and to throwback a few beers and swap tales of one of the most original individuals to climb aboard a race car. Upon arriving, it was obvious that we were here for a party, not a weepy memorial. The choice was not a church or hall but a sound stage full of Americana and a large horseshoe bar located off to one side. But then that’s the way Milt Minter is and was. In today’s motor-sport world talent and ability are not enough, it is what one can bring in addition to the table. Milt Minter’s greatest asset was himself and nothing else. Hal Thom’s remembrance of the man is proof enough of that. Ironically there were several close friends of Milt that could not make the trip because it was the same weekend as the test days for the Daytona 24 Hours. Any guilt? Nah, Milt would have skipped his own party to be back in a race car.

Kerry Morse, February 2005

 

together again
Milt Minter – An American Driving Legend (Donkey Bop)
Milt Minter was a great race car driver. He had an immense fire and passion for racing, and was as competitive as they come. He could drive the wheels off of anything he drove. He “kicked ass” not only on the track, but also in life. He made many cars appear much better than they actually were with his smooth, aggressive driving style. More importantly, he was a true friend. Every one of us, who knew him, knew him as one of the friendliest, kindest, sincere people we have ever known. He always had time for everyone. He was one of the best storytellers ever. He is truly one of the last of a rare breed. We will miss him dearly. We lost Milt after his long battle with cancer on December 23 in his hometown of Sanger, Ca. He was 71.

Hal's first photo of Milt

 

Down by the River (side)
My friendship started with Milt in the summer of 1968. I had just graduated from high school, and attended an SCCA race at Riverside Raceway. Boy, was I into Porsches! I borrowed my mom’s Brownie Instamatic camera, and off I went. Nothing was sweeter than the sound of a 911S “on it” with the pure Porsche tunes being played out of a Bursch exhaust! I was truly awed by a bright orange 911S being driven sideways lap after lap through Turn 6. It was there that I clicked off the first picture of this 911S that I ever took at a car race.

We later ventured into the pits. There it was, that hot 911S! Beside it, it’s driver, Milt Minter. To our surprise, he asked us “How are you guys doin’?” Is he talking to us? WOW! We talked for nearly a half hour before an older gentleman came up and needed to speak to Milt. I need a photo before we go. Click. My second photo ever taken at a race. It was of Milt, and the older gentleman I would later come to know, Vasek Polak.

Soon thereafter, in January of ’69, I began a four year stint serving my country in the Air Force. I would miss, what I now consider, the “glory days” of Road Racing. Not only the SCCA races, but the Trans-Am and Can-Am wars. Thank God for ROAD & TRACK. I kept up with all the racing news. Among others, I read about that driver that had befriended us in the pits at Riverside.

check out Milt's t-shirt

 

P-O-R-S-C-H-E
In 1958, after service in the Navy, Milt began his racing career in his hometown of Sanger, Ca, when he traded in his VW Beetle on an MGA that he prepped for racing. He found it uncompetitive even though he finished 3rd or 4th in his class behind a gaggle of Porsches in his very first race.

Sam Caldwell of Foreign Motor Sales in nearby Fresno, where Milt had purchased his Beetle, also introduced him to those quick little Porsches. Milt was convinced Porsche was the car to have if you wanted to be successful in racing. After scrimping and saving his earnings from driving a school bus, be had enough to buy a very used 550 Spyder in 1960 for $5,000.00. It was a handsome amount back in those days. With fewer than five total races under his belt, he entered himself in the prestigious Pacific Grand Prix at Laguna Seca. The world-class event included drivers of the stature of Jack Brabham, Jimmy Clark, and Dan Gurney.

a Speedster in Stockton

He did well enough not to embarrass himself in his first professional outing. Unfortunately, the 4-cam engine blew before the checker flag fell. He soon found out that no one in the Fresno area would touch the complicated 4-cam engine. He had disassembled the engine but didn’t have the knowledge (nor did anyone else) to rebuild it. The 550 would sit in his backyard for over a year before he sold it for $4,000.00 to a local PCA crony, Warren Crumly.

Meantime, Milt’s first real patron in his racing career was another Fresno area native, Bob Rhodes. Rhodes turned his gorgeous concours winning Super-90 356 Coupe into a road racer. He installed a roll bar behind its drivers seat for Milt who would not disappoint as he would place second behind Harry Weber’s 356 at a race at Laguna Seca. In the pits between sessions, Rhodes would be wiping off his car trying to keep it in pristine shape. Milt didn’t put a scratch on it.

Harry Weber was so impressed with Milt’s aggressive, smooth driving style, that he hired Milt to drive for his own team. In 1963, Weber fielded Milt in a black Carrera GT belonging to Don Dickey, once again at Laguna Seca. Milt was having a tremendous race until the motor blew. Still impressed, Weber put Milt in his newly purchased red 904 at an SCCA event at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in 1964. This was the ride that boosted Milt out of production car ranks and into the sports racer elite. Even though Milt came within a length of beating Porsche guru Scooter Patrick, driving Otto Zipper’s 904, Weber withdrew his 904 “baby” from further competition after it had suffered minor collision damages in the contest. It would be Milt’s last Porsche ride for 4 years.

at Candlestick in a 904

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enter Otto, here’s Vasek and a no go for Ginther

After the Candlestick Park race, Otto Zipper convinced Milt to move to the L.A. area to become a mechanic for him. Zipper thought Milt had prepared Weber’s 904 for competition. He hadn’t. Even though he insisted he wasn’t a good mechanic, and that it was his great driving skills that had gotten him his second place finish, Zipper insisted on hiring him. As Zipper and his team, anchored by Patrick, departed for the 12 Hour race in Sebring, Florida, Milt was left behind to be in charge of Zipper’s Beverly Hills garage. “It was one of the saddest times of my life. Everyone went off racing but me.”

When Zipper returned and discovered that Milt wasn’t really a mechanic, he let him go to Vasek Polak who had also thought that Milt was a great mechanic, even though Milt continued to confess it was great driving skills that he possessed. After a short time, Polak also let him go.

In 1965 Milt drove a Lotus Super-7 fielded by another Fresno area patron, Clarence Matthews in many selected SCCA events. He had some great battles with yet another Fresno resident, Dick Smith, in his quick Carrera Speedster. Smith wound up taking the Division title, and later the National Championship in his Speedster. Once again beaten by a Porsche. Milt did have a fine season and finished up 6th in the Pacific Coast Division.

1966 saw Milt behind the wheel of the Universal Motors Formcar Formula-V. He went on to take 1st in the Southern Pacific Regional Championships.

By the time 1967 rolled along, Clarence Matthews offered Milt a ride in his new Mustang in the second year of the Trans-Am series. It was a successful year. In ten Trans-Am events where he finished, Milt never finished out of the top ten. Milt gained much experience ‘banging fenders” with the likes of Parnelli Jones, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Peter Revson.

Milt trashes his teammate

At the end of the season, Vasek Polak again entered the picture when he approached Milt and offered him a test drive in his SCCA Porsche 911. Milt jumped on the chance to pilot a Porsche once again. The test was conducted at Willow Springs. Milt passed with flying colors and was offered the ride for the upcoming ’68 season.

In 1968, the SCCA was the factory battleground for bragging rights in the sports car industry. The Porsche 911s were up against the heavy guns from Lotus, Triumph and Toyota. In the very first race of the season at Willow Springs, Milt had a race long battle with Scooter Patrick’s factory Toyota 2000 that damaged every corner of his Polak 911. Milt was victorious! Polak was ecstatic! The “farm boy” from
Sanger thought he had found a new home. Not so. Days later he was informed by his boss that Jon von Neumann made an offer to Polak for Milt’s services that he could not refuse. It was off to von Neumann’s Porsche Distributor team headed by Richie Ginther. He soon found out that he was expected to play “second fiddle” to the teams lead driver, Alan Johnson. Johnson had won the ’67 SCCA C/P National Championship at Daytona.

Richie Ginther with Milt

Milt’s status with the team created a major problem for Milt. “When it came to scrappin’ and we were back a little ways, I could run circles around Alan fightin’ for the lead.” Milt did confess that Alan was a much better frontrunner, and very hard to catch and pass while in the lead.

After two full seasons with Ginther and the team orders, it came down to the 1969 SCCA American Road Race of Champions at Daytona, and Milt had had enough. “I told Richie that the race was going to be mine, even though I knew it might cost me my ride.” He was told that if he won, he’d be fired. He drove to a convincing win. After the winner’s ceremony in winners circle, he was indeed fired.

how about a beer instead _

Milt’s driving relationship with Polak was quickly rekindled. The following year, 1970, he took Polak’s 906 to the BSR National Title. Milt also spent time behind the wheel of the Polak 904, which dated back to ’68, winning several Pacific Division A/P races.

Heavy Metal – enter Trans Am

1970 also saw Milt driving for Roy Woods Camaro American Racing Team again in the Trans-Am Series. In July, at the Donnybrook, MN round, Milt became the first independent driver to win a Trans-Am race.

10 at Laguna Seca

Other highlights of Milt’s career included 1972 when he drove a Jerry Titus Firebird to victory at Mid-Ohio, becoming the first driver to win a road race for Pontiac. He wound up 2nd overall in the season’s Drivers’ Championship. He also finished 2nd overall in the Can-Am Drivers Championship driving Polak’s 917/10. At the end of the season, Milt was flown to Stuttgart where Ferry Porsche awarded him the “Pedro Rodriguez Trophy” for most aggressive Porsche driver in
the 1972 Can-Am Series.

1973 was off to a quick start as he co-drove a Luigi Chinetti Ferrari to a fine 2nd in the 24 Hours of Daytona. That was followed up the following month with another 2nd overall in the 12 Hours of Sebring co-driving Michael Keyser’s Porsche Carrera RS.

Meanwhile back in the States….
Milt had accomplished quite a bit in his racing career. But he was not done. As I mentioned earlier, I was off serving my time in the USAF from January ’69 – January ’73. A great racing era. I missed it.

In October of ’73, I was off again to Riverside Raceway for the Can-Am race. The Can-Am Series was in its final glory that year. Porsche 917s had been totally dominating that year as well as the previous two. Mark Donohue in Roger Penske’s 917/30 was all conquering in ’73. Porsche’s dominance would lead to major rules changes the following year, as the Can-Am would eventually die off a few years later.
A days
Milt was not driving a 917 for Polak. That was left up to Jody Scheckter and Brian Redman. Instead, Milt was driving once again for an old friend, Otto Zipper. He had a great race finishing 5th overall in Zipper’s little 3-liter Alfa Romeo. On Friday, cruising the pits, I once again came across Milt as I had back in ’68. “How’s it goin’?” he asked me once again. I told him “Great!” I told him of our previous encounter and explained I was now attending College and was taking up photography. I was armed with my new Nikon 35mm camera, and I was shooting
my very first rolls of B&W film for my first assignment for my first photography class. I clicked off a few shots of him and his Alfa. After a nice chat, he wished me luck in my photography endeavors. It made another long-lasting impression on me. Unfortunately, over time, I have misplaced those first rolls of B&W. They were the first rolls of film I ever developed myself, and the first prints I ever printed
myself, ever. I got an A in my class. I would later attend Brooks Institute, School of Photography in Santa Barbara, CA, where I would later obtain a BPA degree in photography.
Milt wins in the #81 Toady
More racing laurels were obtained by Milt in 1974. He came in first in Toad Hall’s Carrera RSR at the IMSA Camel GT race a Laguna Seca, defeating Peter Gregg and a very large and talented field. Throughout the ’74 IMSA season, Milt drove three different cars. Later in the season, at Talledaga, he would win driving John Greenwood’s Corvette. Going down to the wire of the IMSA season, Milt was locked in a tight battle with Peter Gregg, previous multiple IMSA driving champion.
In the series finale, a 250-mile race at Daytona, Gregg lead Milt 98 to 96 in points. Milt jumped once again in the Toad Hall RSR and led the race until the engine disintegrated. Greg went on to win the race, and the championship.
getting Paul Newman sleepy
1974 also saw Milt’s first appearance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans where he co-drove an RSR with Michael Keyser. They experienced several problems during the race, but still managed to finish 20th.

The remainder of the ‘70s saw Milt in action as a “hired gun” by several
professional race teams. He competed for Ferrari Teams several times at the 24 Hour Daytona race. In 1977, he finished 5th in a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona co-driving with Elliot Forbes-Robinson and Paul Newman.
co driving with Ted Field
In 1979, Milt and I would have another chance meeting. This time, I was now a professional photographer working for Rapid Pace, Inc., and shooting for Ted Field’s Interscope 935 team. Danny Ongais, Fields usual co-driver, was off at Indianapolis for the 500, so Milt was hired as Fields co-driver for the Riverside 6-Hour event. I was very surprised, to say the least, when I entered the Interscope pit area – THERE WAS MILT! I made my way over to him and he asked me “How’s it
goin’?” NO WAY! We once again had a great chat. He was very impressed that, after hearing about our earlier encounters, I was now a professional photographer. He was very happy for me.

I got a Nikon camera, I love to take photographs…. It would be another 5 years before Milt and I would meet up again. By now I had been earning my living as a professional advertising photographer for several years. I had become good friends with Carl Thompson and Vasek Polak. Carl was Head of the Polak Competition Department, which had moved into historic racing. I had done a lot of product/race photography for Vasek Polak’s magazine ads. When I had spare time, you could find me hanging out at Polak’s race shop in Torrance, Ca.

In 1994, Polak & Thompson were ready to begin running one of the Polak 917/10s in vintage racing. Who better to drive it than Milt! It was VARAs (Vintage Auto Racing Association) Porsche/Alfa Challenge being held at Willow Springs that September. Friday afternoon, it was getting pretty late. “Where’s Milt?” Finally, in rolled an old green pick-up truck and out jumps this crazy guy with a goatee – it’s Milt. “How’s it goin’?” he asked.

That weekend he hung out with us. I now had a motor-home and several of our 356 racers would use it as a base at the vintage race event. Beer was in order and a BBQ followed by hours of Milt’s great story telling. He made several new friends that weekend.

Desperado
After many vintage races, and a few years passed, VARA planned to revive Pomona’s glorious road course of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s through the L.A. County Fairgrounds. An initial race was run in 1995. For it’s second race at this historic venue in May of ’96, VARA was looking for something great to promote the race. I suggested to Dan Verstuyft, VARAs President (and excellent Speedster racer!) and to Carl Thompson an idea I had. “How about having the race in honor of Vasek?” After some discussion with Vasek himself, it was decided that is what we would do. The race would be a Tribute to Vasek Polak. I was very honored to have lunch with Mr. Polak several times, and other meetings with him, and got to know him quite well.
Monterey Historics 1998
After 6 months of planning, over 65 vintage Porsche race cars would show up to pay homage to Vasek. Cars included 550, 550A, RSK, 356 Carreras, 911s, 904, 908, RSR, and 962 examples. Vasek brought out three 917s, a 908/3, a 2.1 RSR Turbo, and the very first 935 ever produced. Drivers in attendance included Milt Minter, Jack McAfee, Jon von Neumann, Joe Playan (550 Spyder driver), Max Balchowsky (Ole Yellar fame), John Morton and George Follmer. It was quite a weekend indeed. Drinking beer and hanging with Vasek and Milt one evening
was quite an experience. Who was the most popular storyteller? Why, it was Milt of course.

Milt would also visit our camp-sites at Laguna Seca for many of the Monterey Historic weekends. That man could stay up all night drinking beer and telling Bill Doyle, Steve Schmidt, Gary Emory and me his stories as only he could tell.

the 356 outlaw
Speaking of Gary, he built a 356 “time-bomb” racer called Desperado in the early ‘80s. Desperado was so radical, it could only be raced in the POC (Porsche Owners Club) events in an experimental class. The body fenders were flared, the front fenders had “917-type” design, and the body was painted in Gary’s favorite Porsche 908 Flounder paint scheme. Eventually, Dean Polopolus needed a radical car to place his newly developed 911 engine into, so he talked Gary into installing it into Desperado. Dean’s engine was a 3.2-liter, 911 6-cylinder engine,
with the middle two cylinders cut out, producing a 2 litre, 4-cylinder configuration. “It ran like stink!” said Milt, who was the cars primary driver. Milt would go on to set several fast times of the weekend in POC time trials.

Gary once decided he would like to drive Desperado at an event at Willow Springs. Milt was Gary’s instructor for the weekend. In an early practice session, Milt was riding shotgun as Gary was familiarizing himself with the track and the car. After a few laps, Milt was getting bored. “Come on Gary, Goddamn it! You’re driving like an old woman, lets get goin’!” Gary quipped that he was going fast enough, thank you. Well, the next thing Gary knew, as they were approaching the
“sphincter-tightening” turn 9, Milt took his left foot and stomped Gary’s right accelerator foot down to the floorboard and grabbed the steering wheel with his left hand, “Come on Gary, we can go twice as fast through this turn!” For the next half lap, Milt was driving from the right hand seat, and Gary had one of his thrills of a lifetime!

Fast lap and the final lap
Milt had his biggest battle the last few years of his life. He battled cancer. It was a gallant fight. He would never complain. You wouldn’t expect anything but that from Milt. I saw him drive Ray Stewart’s ex-Ginther 914/6 at Willow Springs last October. Guess what, he still could kick ass and won the race. It would be his last.

stephane-rat-639

I had been telling him for quite some time that I wanted to come up to Sanger and see him because I wanted to do a story about him. A few weeks later I finally made the trip to see Milt and Melissa. What an afternoon we spent. His good friend Dean Polopolus was also there. Milt had his passion for great story telling in full gear sharing many great tales with us. Nobody could tell a story quite the way Milt could. After another most memorable afternoon, it was time for me to head back home to Southern California. He gave me a huge hug, and with a
twinkle in his eyes, he told me he wasn’t doin’ too good. He looked into my eyes and told me we’d be friends forever. He passed away about a month later.

I am a lucky man. I have a wonderful wife, Marilyn, and two wonderful daughters, Tricia and Traci. I have been very blessed. I have gotten to pursue my passion in life that I have totally enjoyed. How many people can get up every day and look forward to it and the work they are involved with?

No one else in my life inspired me to pursue my dreams of being a race
photographer than my encounters with Milt did. He was a great driver, but a greater friend. I only know one thing, when I hopefully reach the Promised Land, he’ll be one of the first ones to greet me, “How’s it goin’?”
Hal Thoms
Tustin, California
February 2005

Going Round and Round – Part One

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

I wrote the majority of this post ten years ago this month, some of it came to pass, some did not. Who could have predicted that a decade later the business models of both Formula One and NASCAR would be under threat, both suffering falling audiences and both appearing to lose connection with the younger generations? In F1’s case, the sheer amount of revenue that is leaving the sport is undermining the very existence of half of the grid, that is not sustainable. The lack of an obvious successor to Bernie Ecclestone is another issue that needs to be addressed sooner than later, even BCE cannot turn back the clock, there will be no settling a $100,000,000 deal with Father Time.

2014 Le Mans 24

Endurance Racing has more hopeful signs than it did a decade ago, the rules package for the LM P1 category is a reflection of the technology driven solutions that we will all have to use in this era of reduced energy consumption and emissions. The FIA World Endurance Championship now has four manufacturers in its premier category, with others supposed to be in the wings, all pushing different solutions to the hybrid technology question. The Le Mans 24 Hours remains the pre-eminent event in motor-sport and the alliance between the ACO and FIA is working as well as can be expected. The question of how to fuse GTE and GT3 remains tricky, with a few vested interests keen to maintain the status quo and therefore undermining any progress, but the day will come, driven by budgetary considerations as much as common sense.

2014 Spa 24 Hours

GT3 in Europe, under the leadership of Stéphane Ratel, continues to grow, with the Pirelli World Challenge in North America rivalling the Blancpain Endurance Series in terms of numbers of competitors.

2014 Rolex 24 Hours

The Tudor series endured more than a few hiccups in its inaugural season but in the longer term it was the only possible solution to the ALMS/GrandAm schism, I remain optimistic that the problems will be ironed out.

2000 ALMS Texas

So let’s go back in time, when we were anticipating the Le Mans Series and reflecting on a cul-de-sac that the American Le Mans Series took in their early days. I have updated and corrected the text where necessary.

But before we do, I would like, on behalf of my loyal correspondents and myself, to wish all the readers of this little blog, Compliments of the Season. Roll on 2015.

John Brooks, December 2014

2001 ALMS Texas

Do you remember the time that we sports-car folks were sampling the delights of racing at Super Speedways or Rovals, as they became known? Seems like another era.

2014 Rolex 24 Hours

OK the first flaw in this statement is that we still go down to Florida every January for the Rolex but that somehow feels different, nearly 50 years of 24 hours races on the Tri-Oval will do that. Frankly during the era of Daytona Prototypes the race was largely irrelevant in the eyes of the endurance community. Now, since the take over of the American Le Mans Series by NASCAR, there appears to be a way forward to bring some form of unity in regulations, technical and sporting. There is a way to restore the Rolex to its former glories.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

The ALMS visited these temples of NASCAR/CART (remember them?) Korporate Racing some five times over the 1999-2001 seasons. This odd direction for a pure road racing series was part pragmatism, part opportunism. Pragmatic in that some of the traditional arenas for endurance racing in North America (Road America, Watkins Glen, Lime Rock and Mid Ohio) were signed up for the successor to the defunct USRRC Championship, Grand-Am. Opportunism came from two rich and powerful barons of motor-sport, Don Panoz and Bruton Smith; Don needed venues to give the ALMS credibility with the manufacturers that had embraced his series, back in 99 they already comprised of BMW, Chrysler, Corvette and Porsche with plans for others such as Audi, Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz to tap into the wallets of the North American sports-car fan base. The ovals with their vast capacities and demographic friendly locations seemed to be a ready made answer. For Smith it was a potential revenue goldmine getting into the wine and cheese crowd at no risk (Don no doubt underwrote the affair).

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

This sequence of races kicked off with the final round of the 1999 ALMS season when we headed for the Nevada desert and the city of Fear and Loathing, Las Vegas. At the time some of us expressed the hope that when aliens finally land on this planet that do not commence their exploration by starting at The Strip……..others felt that the aliens were here already and Area 51 is just down the ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’ and that is how Vegas came into being, but I digress.

I remember making the trip down to Las Vegas via LAX, as there were no direct flights back then from London. Picking a Ford press car courtesy of Morse I headed out into the desert, destination Barstow of HST fame, I would spend the night in some grubby motel. It became clear why Thompson kicked off his masterwerk thus:

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Well none of that kind of misbehaviour for me, no siree,  I was on my way to the races, this was serious business. There was a title to be won or lost, and that was the main story. Veteran Elliot Forbes-Robinson in the Dyson Riley & Scott versus David Brabham and Eric Bernard in the Panoz. E F-R had ‘retired’ several seasons ago and was driving a car that had completed over 45,000 racing miles, at least that is what the press were told, who knows, Pat Smith might have been pulling our legs.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

There should have been another contender in the shape of JJ Lehto in the BMW V12 LMR but a failure to complete the necessary paperwork at Sebring back in March meant no points from that victory and no possibility of the title. The Finn was not happy, grumbling to anyone who would listen.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

There was an end of term feeling with many teams running their cars for the last time, Wayne Taylor would be leaving Doyle-Risi Racing and the Ferrari 333SP behind, bound for the factory Cadillac project.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

The DAMS Lola would also be having its final outing as the French team would represent the European arm of the Cadillac deal.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Champion would run its Porsche 911 GT1 EVO in Las Vegas but was planning for a Porsche-powered Lola in 2000. 

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Lola was also the chassis that Team Rafanelli would adopt in 2000, though with Judd engine, similar to the power-plant they used in their modified Riley & Scott Mklll. 

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

There were two other titles to be decided at Las Vegas Motor Speedway GTS was almost in the hands of Viper and Olivier Beretta.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

A late season charge from Cort Wagner in the Alex Job Porsche GT3-R had left him with the GT class title almost in his grasp.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

The Panoz team looked to be strongest, especially after Steve Soper destroyed a BMW while testing and the two Braselton-based roadsters monopolised the front row.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

The title looked to be heading the way of the Panoz lead pair but with under 30 minutes to go their engine cooked itself and that was the end of their hopes. E F-R was Champion.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

David Brabham reacted in a sporting fashion, congratulating his rival despite his own disappointment, typical of the man. The race was won by the BMW of JJ Lehto and Steve Soper from their teammates Bill Auberlen and Jo Winkelhock………..Beretta and Wagner took their crowns as expected, the American Le Mans Series first season had come to a close. Everyone agreed it had been a roaring success.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Las Vegas Motor Speedway was better than anticipated, even if from a photographer’s perspective it was crap location to shoot at. That would be a common thread running through the ALMS’s visits to these stadiums. However the tiny crowd lured from the flashing lights of the slots meant that the event was on balance a failure. The lack of interest shown by the punters in the ALMS was illustrated by the findings of noted chassis plate fondler and author of the legendary endurance racing encyclopaedia, Time And Two Seats, Janos Wimpffen. During the race he ended up sitting with the few spectators that did show up to the facility on the day and discovered that most of them were patiently waiting for the sports cars to finish so that they could enjoy a ride in the Richard Petty Experience……..

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Morse and I agreed they would have done better with the Steve Soper Experience…………

More later in the week.