Tag Archives: Kerry Morse

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Party Like it’s 1999

Malcolm Cracknell was one of the pioneers of sports-car racing media on the internet as the World-Wide-Web was known in those innocent times. SportsCarWorld,TotalMotorSport and finally  DailySportsCar  were the introduction for most of us to the concept of paperless information in real  time rather than on a weekly cycle. I joined Crackers on this journey at the start and now as we head  for the winding down laps we spend time looking back as well as forward. 

1999 is the target this time round for the Tardis……….

John Brooks and I are quite proficient at nattering away on the telephone.  We call it “living in the past”, because we always return to discussing racing in a previous era.

For various reasons, I’ve been thinking about 1999 recently.  Conveniently that’s two decades ago, but with the state of my brain, I’ve inevitably forgotten things that I wish I could remember – so I’ve had to consult the reference books (and video highlights).

What I do remember is that in late ’98, I was planning a trip to the season-opening Rolex 24.  Presumably, finances dictated that it was either the Rolex or the Sebring 12 Hours (in early ’99). I have no idea why I chose the first of the two endurance classics): perhaps it was simply a desperate desire to escape the British winter for a few days?  I’m guessing that I hadn’t absorbed how the maiden Petit Le Mans in ‘98 was going to set the tone for US endurance racing in years to come.  Had I had any clue, I would have undoubtedly chosen Sebring.

But I certainly didn’t regret going to Florida in January.  The first person I met after stumbling into the Speedway was Andy Wallace.  Oddly, I’d not yet met Andy: our paths simply hadn’t crossed.  But I was encouraged to find that he knew who I was and that he’d seen the last news item I’d posted, before dashing to Gatwick.  That was an image of the new BMW prototype, which would make its debut at… Sebring.  Andy and I were both a little perplexed by the BMW’s single, pointed roll hoop: the governing body was trying to mandate full width roll hoops, but BMW (and others, subsequently) had presumably found a way round the wording.

I loved Daytona!  It was relatively straightforward to cover the race, live and single-handed, on the internet – by dashing to the nearby pit-lane every hour or two to grab a pitstop photograph and, hopefully, a comment from a competitor, then rushing back to the media center, to pick up the threads of the race.

I was delighted when Dyson Racing took the overall win (AWOL, Butch Leitzinger and, appropriately, the way the season would evolve, EF-R) – and also with Brit David Warnock being part of the winning GTS crew in Roock’s Porsche.  This was the event that saw the debut of the Corvettes, and thanks to a fortuitous bit of timing, I managed to grab 15 minutes with Doug Fehan, before the track opened.  He talked me through the technical aspects of the car – and immediately planted a soft spot for the Corvettes in my brain.  They weren’t race winners yet, and anyway, I always liked to see privateers beat the factory cars, which is just what the Roock Porsche managed.

Years later, James Weaver told me what he thought of the power output of the (restricted) Ford V8s in the Dyson R&Ss.  ‘You can come past the pits (at Daytona) flat out, take your seat belts off, stand up, turn through 360 degrees, sit down, do your  belts up – and still have time to brake for Turn 1’, was the essence of his complaint!

170mph+ was nowhere near fast enough for James.  He wanted to reach at least 190.  My only conversation with James during that Rolex meeting was a snatched “Stu Hayner has binned it (the #16) at the chicane,” at some point during the night.

Right, I’m getting near to the point of this piece now: the 1999 ALMS season, and the influence of one (great) man.  I’m not about to review the whole ’99 season: I’m just going to refer to Sebring, the Road Atlanta sprint race and the finale at Las Vegas.

I think I’ve already told you that I finally ‘discovered’ youtube last year: I moved house, had to buy a new TV decoder thing, and really by accident, found that I could watch youtube on the TV (I can’t look at a laptop for any length of time, because of my illness).  And there on youtube are highlights of all the ALMS races!  Brilliant!

Sebring in ’99 was clearly an epic event, and I should have been there.  A huge crowd, a fantastic entry (58 cars) – including van de Poele / Enge / Saelens in that gorgeous Rafanelli R&S Judd, a car that Eric vdP described somewhere (at the time) as, paraphrasing here, ‘the best car I ever drove’.

The admirable Belgian leapt into the lead at the start, and kept the BMWs at bay for 11 laps, before pitting with a misfire (it eventually retired after 185 laps).   BMW tried to ‘shoot themselves in the foot’, which enabled the EF-R / Leitzinger Dyson R&S to stay in touch with the surviving factory entry of Lehto / Kristensen / Muller – which set up a great finale, with Weaver plonked in the R&S to try and chase down TK.  He came up short by about 17 seconds at the flag.  Great race!

Audi finished third and fifth with their original R8s – and a year later, the ultimate R8 would transform prototype racing.  Porsches took the GTS and GT classes – as Corvette Racing continued to develop the C-5Rs.

I’ve no recollection of how (as it was then) sportscarworld.co.uk covered that Sebring race, but for the Road Atlanta event in April, the site had the benefit of Philip XXXX’s reporting skills.  Alas, I can’t remember Philip’s surname, even though we have since been in touch on Facebook.  How frustrating!  Sorry Philip.  But what a classic race you saw that day!

Andy Wallace led from the start for Dyson (the BMWs were absent as they prepared to win Le Mans), but was called in during the first caution period, which turned out to be the wrong move. vdP and David Brabham (this was the debut of the mighty Panoz roadster) started well back, after some kind of ‘qualifying times withdrawn’ nonsense – and while the Panoz was a handful during its first run ever on full tanks, the Rafanelli entry was going like a dream.  vdP picked his way through virtually the whole field and took the lead, which set up a conclusion in which partner Mimmo Schiattarella saw off Didier Theys in the Doran Lista Ferrari, to win by 25 seconds.

The V12 Ferraris seemed handicapped by their restrictors in ’99, in ways that the V10 Judd-powered R&S wasn’t.  The commentators (rather unfairly) suggested that the V10 might fail in that last stint – but it was as simple as an over-filled oil tank blowing out the excess.

I wonder if Dyson Racing ever considered converting their cars to Judd power?  Kevin Doran eventually did just that with his 333 Ferrari, creating the famous ‘Fudd’.

EF-R / Leitzinger finished third, as their points tally grew steadily, while Don’s LMP Roadster S finished a fine fifth on its debut.

The Schumacher and Snow Porsches had a great race in GTS (the former just winning), while PTG won GT – with none other than Johannes van Overbeek partnering Brian Cunningham.  Is Johannes the longest serving driver in the series?

Don’s series.  That was a sad day, back in September last year, when we learned that Don had passed away.  The greatest benefactor that any series has ever had?  Did he ever get annoyed if his cars didn’t win?  To my knowledge, he never did.  He genuinely seemed to simply love a great event, his event, attended by huge numbers of fans.

I know how much he loved it when the orange, Lawrence Tomlinson, Panoz Esperante won its class at Le Mans: when his bellowing (prototype) monsters beat the Audis, he was clearly thrilled – but he didn’t seem to demand race wins, the way others might.

My Don Panoz story came a few years later, in the spring of 2004.  For the full story, you’ll have to wait until my book is launched (I think enough years have elapsed for the tale to be told), but in essence, Don was grateful for a story that I didn’t write.  Don and Scott Atherton approached me in the Monza press room (it was the ELMS race), and Don expressed his personal thanks to me.  I was touched!

Incidentally, I’m hoping the book will be launched at Brands Hatch on May 25.  Anyone who reads this is invited to attend – and I’m sure you’ll announce it on DDC nearer the time, once it’s confirmed.  Thanks in advance for that!

Right, back to 1999.  Don’s cars took a 1-2 at Mosport (Tom Kjos had taken over reporting duties – and what a great job he did over the years), won again at Portland, lucked into the win at the second Petit Le Mans (that man Wallace joined regulars Brabham and Bernard), lost out at Laguna Seca – and all the while, EF-R had been racking up the points.

The proposed San Diego race didn’t happen, replaced by a fanless Las Vegas – and I was determined to be there.  With the help of Brooksie, Kerry Morse and Cort Wagner, the trip was on.

The TV highlights of that race don’t match my memories in one, significant respect… Having qualified eighth and ninth, the Dyson entries experienced very different fortunes.  AWOL and Butch in #20 were out after just 22 laps with gearbox trouble, but James was EF-R’s ‘wingman’ in #16.  In the opening exchanges, my memory is James really going for it – but the highlights on youtube don’t really show that.  I can still picture the Riley & Scott on a charge, its driver all ‘elbows out’ as he battled to give Elliott a chance of the title later on.  Jean-Marc Gounon was almost as boisterous in the DAMS Lola: it was fantastic entertainment.

But #16 then suffered with a fuel pressure problem, and it looked as though the Panoz drivers (B & B) would be title winners – until their engine failed with 17 laps left. BMW finished 1-2, but EF-R limped home sixth and he was the drivers’ champion.

I surprised James Weaver by appearing in the pit-lane wearing his old, ’96, BPR Gulf overalls (lent to me by Kerry Morse – I’ve no idea how he got hold of them).

“You’re wearing my overalls!” said an otherwise speechless James.

Oh, the Rafanelli R&S was first retirement, unfortunately, with overheating.  Was it the right move to park that car and race a Lola in 2000?

Cort Wagner was the champ in GT, while Olivier Beretta took the honours in GTS, in an ORECA Viper, a car that I haven’t mentioned in this tale (Le Mans was the initial priority).  Wagner and Muller won their class at Las Vegas, with the red and white Vipers 1-2 in GTS.

My last thought here is connected to youtube, again.  Something I’ve been getting interested in is the whole 9/11 thing.  I’m not going to ram my thoughts down your throat – but I would like to suggest that you look up Rebekah Roth, Christopher Bollyn, Barbara Honegger and / or Richard Gage, and listen to some of their views on what really happened in September 2001.  The more you find out, the more extraordinary that tale becomes.  If you find that lot interesting, you might also consider looking up ‘Operation Mockingbird’.

Now, I’ve got to go and look up my favourite ALMS race on youtube: Laguna Seca in 2005.  I think that was the one when John Hindhaugh ‘did his nut’ when the overall leaders came up to lap the scrapping Corvettes and Aston Martins.  Great memories (or just plain “living in the past”).

Crackers out.

This One Is For Bob Carlson 1948-2008

Scanning social media while enjoying a glass of red on a Friday night is a largely pointless exercise, mostly involving dog, cat or toddler videos or folks getting worked up about the latest idiocy from Trump or Hillary (a plague on both of their houses). My attention was caught by a post from Deborah Kay Carlson, the widow of the late Bob Carlson, marking the seventh anniversary of his passing. Being a Brit I did not really know Bob that well but my man, Kerry Morse, did, and wrote a fine piece at the time. I am posting it again as a tribute to Bob and a small attempt at bringing comfort to all those who have suffered a bereavement at this difficult time of the year.

 

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I didn’t see any of the Daytona 24 Hours but I was certainly surrounded by the emotions of what the Porsche victory meant. A late dinner that Sunday evening in a large room of a new hotel in Sicily and PCNA’s head PR honcho, Bernd Harling kept leaving the table to escape the masses of journalists who made the trip to drive the new Boxster around the roads outside of Palermo.

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Aside from sneaking outside to have a smoke, Harling was keeping in contact with his PR ilk at Daytona on the status of the P-cars. He would return to the table  and give me the updates. My feelings towards the proto-turtles of Grand Am hasn’t changed and it’s doubtful if it ever will. But David Donohue is one of the genuinely good people out there and he has come close, very close, so many times in so many events. I was there the last time a Brumos Porsche won the 24 in 1978 and then there is the matter of time loving a hero as David’s father won Daytona 40 years ago. The recent passing of Bob Snodgrass, who for so many years was a major force behind both Brumos and Porsche, was also present with us all. If David Donohue could go from Pole to Victory Lane, well… who wouldn’t cheer a story like that?

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Harling vacated once more for the cool air of Sicily and my mobile buzzed as dessert was being served. It was Mr. Brooks who proceeded to describe the final lap and the scene from the Brumos pits. Harling returned, stood up, gave a short speech and then a toast all around. Thousands of miles away in victory circle a whole different set of emotions were on display. David Donohue made it certain that Bob Snodgrass got his due but also for one who had been responsible for what has kept Porsche Motorsport so visible in the U.S.

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Bob Carlson was always in motion. Until cancer finally overtook him, it wasn’t his style to complain, he always was thinking ahead. He spent the last quarter century of his life pulling the levers and oiling the squeaky wheel behind the scenes of public relations of Porsche in America. It may seem like a dream job but this was a time of transition for Porsche and Bob put in a lot of long hours getting such mundane tasks as the “details” done correctly. The man stayed out of the public view and never cared for being in the spotlight, he was far more comfortable being the lighting director and getting that spotlight trained on the task. He never overshadowed his subjects, the cars, the drivers or the company. To Bob, it was Porsche first and foremost.

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Bob Carlson was born and grew up in San Jose which meant that Laguna Seca was his “home” track. He covered motorsports for the town paper, got a fistful of degrees from SJSU and eventually the road led to a full time gig with Porsche Cars North America and in a “I can’t believe my good fortune scenario”, was put in to racing PR. This was the time of the late, great Al Holbert and the 962 era. I can still picture Bob at Daytona during the 24 hour race, running back and forth from the official Porsche truck to the Holbert pits, gathering his notes. He was always energetic while a pack of us burned out hacks would sneer and wonder aloud why we kept coming back year after year. Bob carefully maneuvered through the PR minefield of the Porsche Indy experience, putting the best face possible on a series of missteps and mishaps and then the tragic plane crash, which claimed the life of Al Holbert.

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Porsche was having it’s own internal struggles and the sales slump that hit in the early 90’s stretched the bounds of credibility. Bob Carlson caught a lot of flak from many of us in the business, but it was always in a behind the scenes, good natured but with a point, manner. He caught a break because even within the boundaries he was honest and forthright and while many of the answers were considered off the record, that bond was honored. One must remember, he was a gringo working for a German company. For many, that thought is a migraine in progress. As the company rebounded, both in sales and the overall product, a move for PCNA to Atlanta, gave Bob the springboard for creating some new ideas to modify the dreaded ‘arrive and drive’ staple that most automotive company invites had become.

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My personal favorite was in 2000 and quality seat time aboard the new 911 Turbo. The event was based in Reno which offered up ample opportunity of making the best of a route that covered several hundred miles, the highlight was the chance to make timed runs out in the desert region of Black Route. This was a true USAC sanctioned record run through a series of timed stages. Weather had a lot to do with the overall times, that were set, ground condition, wind direction, just like the real world but it was a great experience and one befitting the car.

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Later that evening at a historic house near Carson City, the after dinner entertainment was Mark Twain, or about as good as you are going to get to the real Mr. Clemens. That was Bob Carlson, eclectic in his choices, but always memorable. Being a hockey fan, he would check to see if there were any games, even in the minor leagues, on any number of press trips. Picture this, a game with so many penalties that there were only two players remaining for each team as the rest had been ejected. Bob leaned over and said, “You think these guys will get to the bigs?”

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Bob Carlson wouldn’t want a tribute, that wasn’t his style but it looks like he has left something that will continue to be a tribute to what he worked for. After the 50th Anniversary of Porsche in 1998 that was a first class bash at the Monterey Historics, Bob hit on the idea of having a get together of like minded Porsche enthusiasts and their race cars every few years instead of waiting for ten years or longer. Support for the idea was tepid at first but after the success of the original Rennsport Reunion held at Lime Rock in 2001, the planning for an even larger event to be held at Daytona in 2004 was put in place. This time, many of the great names of not only the drivers, but the engineers, were to be honored.

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And then again in November of 2007, a gathering of 917’s were the highlight of Rennsport III. Bob Carlson, although thin and suffering the effects of treatment for cancer, happily wandered through the maze of people and cars, smiling and taking it all in. And then the 2009 edition of Daytona and it’s 24 Hours for Brumos, for Porsche and for David Donohue. It’s what Bob Carlson would have wanted and more importantly, deserved.

Kerry Morse, February 2009

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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

Hal Thoms looks back on a racing desperado – Milt Minter

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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

Milt 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

Vasek Polak again entered the picture at the end of the season 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(see the reply below from Harry Quackenboss)  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
Milt and I would have another chance meeting in 1979. 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.

Monterey Historics 1998

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.

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

Buy the ticket, take the ride……………………

1999 12 Hours of Sebring

A few hours will pass and the American Le Mans Series will be just a memory. The final flag will drop appropriately enough at Road Atlanta, motorsport’s Georgia Peach. Although the first ALMS race was Sebring in 1999 as seen above, the spiritual home is, and always will be, Braselton.

1998 Petit Le Mans

Fifteen years ago the world of endurance racing was turned on its head with the alliance of Don Panoz and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest and the first Petit Le Mans. For the most part this has been a successful partnership, though not without its issues. New management has arrived, let’s hope that they can build on the heritage of the past.

1998 Petit Le Mans

I sit here on a grey, soggy afternoon in Surrey I recall the races and places and faces…………….however I don’t think I can add much to my thoughts written 12 months ago on the way to Georgia HERE

2002 ALMS Washington

God Speed American Le Mans Series, and thanks…………….without you I would have missed out on seeing some fantastic racing and, much more importantly, missed out on meeting some amazing people. Too many to list but you know who you are……………let’s hope for a safe race today on both sides of the world, there have been too many reminders of our shared mortality this year.

Ciao…………….

John Brooks, October 2013

I Can Carry a Toon

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I recently exchanged emails with the great Jim Bamber, who tells me that he has been under the weather recently. Very unfortunate as he is in a class of his own when it comes to illustrating motorsport and its shortcomings and absurdities. I have been lucky enough to feature in a small way in one or more Jim’s Toons. Here I am riding the bomb bound for Sebring in a reprise of the classic Major T.J. “King” Kong role, of course Morse gets to be the hero pilot. Ah well, Hollywood looks after its own.

John Brooks, August 2013

Dreams Amelia – Dreams and False Alarms

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Sebring is good excuse to meet up with old friends and for me none was more important than hooking up once more with Kerry Morse, a sort of “putting the band back together”.

Yesterday he sent me the above image, a reminder of the first ALMS race back in 1999, it all seems so far away now, another century. Will we ever see such times again?

EDIT:

My mind drifted back 40 years to my English Literature studies, Percy Bysshe Shelley might have had Sebring in mind when he wrote these lines……………

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”

 

John Brooks, March 2013

Banditti of the Plains

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As promised in the last post, I have a story to tell regarding chassis 288 from Tom Walkinshaw Racing, it was put together by Kerry Morse a few years back when we ran SportsCarPros together. Typical of Kerry’s work, it is too good to molder in the archives of a dormant website. Why now? Well the car was one of the stars of the Retromobile on the Hall & Hall stand, more on that topic later.

Kerry and I both have a personal connection to the story and 288. I was shooting with Keith and Mark Sutton at the time and had introduced them to Castrol, which led to work with Jaguar and Silk Cut, so we were busy at Le Mans in 1990. If you have five minutes visit their archive HERE you will soon lose an hour or two with all the amazing photography. It is with their permission that I use these images. Kerry’s connection is that he arranged the purchase of this car for a client a few years back. Plus we both hold Tony Dowe in high regard, this is really his tale……………

John Brooks, February 2013

There are winners and there are WINNERS. Tony Dowe obviously belongs to that
second group of selected individuals. John Brooks and I want to thank Tony for all his efforts over the years of getting great performances from the teams he has been involved with. He makes our job a lot more interesting. What was it that mean old Ron Dennis once said to a gathered group of hacks. I think it was something along the lines of “ We make the history, you only report it”. Tony Dowe has made and continues to make history.

Kerry Morse, February 2005

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What it takes… Tony Dowe on winning at Le Mans with Jaguar

I worked for Tom Walkinshaw Racing from 1987 until 1998 as Managing Director of TWR USA. During this period one of my “duties” was to supply a couple of cars as part of the massive TWR/Jaguar effort at Le Mans. Unfortunately it was always made clear, never by Tom Walkinshaw of course, that the “American” cars were only there to support the real effort that was run from Kiddlington. Obviously this became a bit “second hand” and so after being the supporting act in 1988 and 1989 I gave some serious thought as to how to:

a) Win the race
b) Circumvent the restrictions placed on my U.S. team because of the supporting role we were expected to play.

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The Rules of the Game
Let me say here that you should only undertake such an action if you’re sure that you can carry it off! Because to achieve anything less than the win is to open one’s self up for a very long period looking for a new job! Of course, if you win, then most of your sins are forgiven!

I always felt that TWR USA were a better race team than the UK team for no other reason than by the time Le Mans came around we had done a 24 hour race, a 12 hour race and a couple of sprint races. The Group “C” team had probably only done a single race and some testing. We were very sharp by 1990. We had finished 1st and 2nd at the Daytona 24 Hours that year, 1990, and had had such a better team we had each car race each other the whole 24 hours. It was a fantastic race.

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TWR USA also had a couple of very good engineers, Ian Reed, recently head of development at Penske, and Dave Benbow, recently with Prodrive. Ian and Dave were very good in their respective areas. Both were and are lateral thinkers and complemented each other very well. Ian was, as now, very good with the suspension and we were running dampers, for example, that were much ahead of the ones used by the UK team. We had briefly used a pair on the rear of the car in 1989 when Davy Jones led the race in the early stages. The biggest problem that had to be overcome was that, along with most of the other team cars, we were only allowed a single engine for both practice and the race. The only team car that had a qualifying engine was the one that was lead by Martin Brundle.

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As we were now running the V-6 turbo cars on a regular basis in the IMSA series, we were able to take one of our V-12 cars out of the mix and prepare it with a lot of love and care. We used chassis 288, which had won our first ever IMSA race in the USA back at the 1988 Daytona 24 Hours. The lead mechanic was Winston Bush, still in Indianapolis, and he did a super job of building a car to the exact same specification as the UK cars!

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Dowe Chemicals
Now we get to the interesting bit!

The week before we had to leave for Le Mans we were racing at Lime Rock Park. Super place and made better when John Nielsen and Price Cobb won with a turbo car for the first time, exactly a year after we had début of the first TWR Jaguar turbo. There to see the car win was the head of TWR engines, Allen Scott. Allen is now back in New Zealand enjoying his retirement and rallying a Mazda. After the race we had a super night at a very nice local restaurant run by an English guy called Terry. Lots of drink, etc. After the meal I took Allen to one side and asked him why “my” car could not have a qualifying engine for Le Mans? Allen, now very “mellow” told me to use common sense, “It’s just not going to happen”.

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I then asked what would happen if we had a mis-fire at the end of qualifying that
could not be found. Allen said, “obviously there would be spare engines for such
an eventuality.” Allen was booked on a flight from Kennedy the next morning back
to the UK. I then played the trump card. I produced an envelope from inside my
jacket and told Allen that inside was a ticket for the next morning’s Concorde flight
to London. It was his if he found a problem with our engine after Le Mans qualifying. After a moment of hesitation Allen looked around and then took the envelope and put it in his jacket pocket. The game was on! Only Ian Reed was aware of what I was planning. And he was like a kid when I told him the bait had been taken. The now finished “vanilla” 288 chassis was sent to the UK for painting and, I suppose inspection to see that we had built the car to the decreed spec.

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We then set about putting together a “care package” of our IMSA “goodies” for fitting when we got to Le Mans. We had different roll bars, front and rear. Different shock absorbers front and rear. But the biggest item were some very special one piece (Billet) brake calipers that Ian had designed and we had built here in Atlanta. They were made to accept a much thicker brake pad than standard, Performance Friction made the pads for us. So now we could also go further than the UK cousins without a pad change. We had also had “Rabbit” (A legendary fabricator who still lives in the Georgia mountains) build us some really trick pad changing tools. The gearbox was built with a limited slip differential. This was quite different from the UK cars because the thinking was that with a “spool” fitted if a drive shaft failed you could get back to the pits! Well, unbeknown to the guys in England, we had Kenny Hill of Metalore (they now make most of the F1 world’s hubs/drive shafts and axles) make us some super strong F1 type drive shafts.

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Can you hear me Major Tom ?
One further item that would prove very useful was the use of the American radios.
Every year we had gone to Le Mans the circuit length meant that the European radios supplied by a guy called “Crackly Ken”. They usually gave up when the cars left the pits! The last thing that we had changed at TWR USA was the rear wing. With the additions of the chicanes along the Mulsanne straight, Le Mans was now the same aero level as Daytona, things were just going our way.

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Lock, stock and two smoking barrels…
So now the fun started.

We started practice with “just a few bits” changed, radios etc, so there was not much notice taken of what we were doing. There was a bit more interest when the brakes went on and the roll bars were changed, but at the early morning meetings the comments were mainly directed towards us in the manner of “So what silly things have the you Americans changed now?”
Roger Silman, the UK Team Manager, was more concerned with why Jan Lammers could not match Brundle’s practice times. He did not like drivers, or anyone else for that matter, to think for themselves about how the race should be run. I’m sure that Tom had some idea of what we were doing as he was a regular visitor to IMSA races and was aware of our development items, but he never said anything to me about what we were up to.

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Our driver lineup was pretty good, “Big” John Nielsen, Price Cobb and Eliseo Salazar. Obviously John and Price knew what we had fitted and were very happy because it brought the car to the same specification as they had been used to racing. Unfortunately after the end of practice, guess what? Allan Scott found the “mis-fire” and we had to change engines! Another hurdle crossed, because if Allan had gone back on the “deal” then the whole plan would have probably sunk out of sight!

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Friday’s pre race preparation brought to light another small problem. The gearbox “dog rings” were being used by one of the drivers in a way that was too heavy on the gear changes. As we had lots of experience of John and Price it was obvious that Eliseo was the problem. I went and found Julian Randles, then of Spice Engineering, who Eliseo drove for sometimes in IMSA and had a “discussion” about his experiences with Eliseo and his use of the gearbox. Julian confirmed that Eliseo’s style of gear changing was quite heavy on the dog rings. I had a long day of thinking about how to deal with this problem, and it was a problem, because with a dog box we were going to probably lose 3rd and maybe 4th gear if history was any guide.

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I went to dinner with Tom, his lady Martine, and a guy from Jaguar who I honestly can’t remember who he was. During dinner I told Tom of my concerns and suggested that it might be a good strategy if I kept Eliseo out of the car for as long as possible in order to keep a seat free should one of the other “favourite “drivers had a problem. Tom agreed and so at our race morning briefing I told the drivers that we were going to use “Big John” and Price through the evening and night until Sunday morning, when Eliseo would be “fresh” for the remainder of the race.

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Sex Pistols and the holiday on the grid
Race day: Just as we parked the car on the “dummy” grid, JJ found a small fuel leak from one of the fuel pump unions… Now, as it is today, there can be no work done on the car on the dummy grid. So what were we to do?

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Well one of our XJR-12 design features was that the whole fuel system, pumps, filters etc, were mounted in the left-hand side pod on quick release clips. So it would only take moments to change them. The problem was how to make the change with the whole ACO “police” walking up and down the grid!

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Fortunately we had made some very nice mock leather “pouches” to protect the spare pump assemblies in. While the whole team posed in front of the car with, what else, the Hawaiian Tropic girls, JJ slid inside and changed the leaking pump assembly for a new one! Honestly! I think that in another life JJ would have made a great David Copperfield.

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The numbers added up for a very Goodyear…
The race its-self was quite easy.

One of the big race advantages we had was that having run at Daytona we knew that the “standard” 480 compound rear Goodyear tires would not double stint on the Jaguars at Le Mans. So back in February at Daytona we had run a much harder 600 compound tire during the heat of the day. When we arrived at Le Mans I found that Goodyear Europe had no 600 compound tires available! Our tire guy for this event was the great American Airlines guy, Kenny Szymanski. I called back to the States and had 10 sets of 600 compound tires shipped in without anyone knowing, thanks to Ken Moore of Rapid Movements. Kenny S. did his bit by removing the tire coding from each tire and hiding the tires inside the old pit tunnels.

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When we started double stinting the tires and beating the UK team “hands down” in the pits, I had a very “uptight” meeting with Tom as to what was going on!!! I had to come clean as to what was going on and we were forced into giving some of our rear tires to Brundle’s car. All of this while trying to run the race! One of the other “fun” bits happened around 10:00 PM. A car had caught fire at the Porsche curves and the ACO had put out the Safety Car. John Nielsen had just been in for fuel a couple of laps earlier and he called in and told me it would take a bit of time to clean up. Just like we would over here. Good US radios at work. I called him straight into the pits to top off the fuel, as you would! Boy, did that move unleash a load of trouble. I had Tom right in my face about giving up track position. Obviously the UK team cars continued running around under a caution flag while we topped off the car, so they then had to pit under a green when we went back to racing! About an hour later we went into the lead after everyone else had had to pit for fuel, etc under a green. This was a lead we never gave up.

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Big Bad John
The next bit of drama was that Price was slowly dehydrating, remember, these cars had no power steering, little ventilation and no drink bottles, and over 5000 lbs. of downforce in those days. So during the middle of the night we had to ask “Big John” to triple stint (!!) while Price recovered. A star then, still a star now. Then the Brundle car, which had been fighting a slow water leak, finally called it a day. Tom came and asked me if I thought the car would be able to last until the finish (!) You can imagine my reply.

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TW took Eliseo off our team and told him he was not going to drive and he was putting Brundle in instead. You can imagine how heartbroken Eliseo was with this decision. So around 8:00 am Brundle got in the car.

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The Mechanics of the Isle of Sodor
The only thing we now had to deal with was the 3rd gear had decided it had enough of the chicanes and gave up. This meant that the drivers had to change from 2nd to 4th, not a great problem, but enough to get some very dirty looks from TW! The final drama was a couple of stops from the end we had a scheduled brake pad change and JJ (John Jackson, our regular chief mechanic, ex Williams F1) found a couple of caliper pistons leaking! So we had to change one of our mega expensive calipers. Now they were a bit tight on the studs, so Pete “Hodge” (Peter Hodgkinson, a New Zealander and now the new car build manager at BAR) took a very big hammer to our beautiful machined caliper to quickly remove it! Job done and not too much time lost.

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Then politics started to take over. The “Management” wanted to have the UK team suddenly involved so they would look part of the effort. No way.

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The Day of the Jackal
So we won. Very satisfying.

Le Mans 24 Hour Race

Mike Dale, then MD of Jaguar North America and a true racer, had supported us all the way and was terrific as the laps wound down. Our car was the only chassis that had won both the 24 hours of Daytona and Le Mans as far as I’m aware of. Now it was lots of celebrating. I remember taking TW back to the airport and he told me I had “done good” I then had to find my way back to the chateau where we were staying. Now that was a trip. I was so tired, and a bit the worse for Champagne. I can’t remember how many times I went off the road. And all the while driving Tom’s personal Jaguar.

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The next morning we went back to the circuit to see the car and it was very emotional for us when we untapped the engine cover and lifted the rear deck off. Never lifted it in the whole race. A couple of weeks later the whole team who had been at Le Mans went to New Jersey and had dinner with Mike Dale and Bob Burden, another super Jaguar person, in a small restaurant a few miles from the Jaguar Headquarters. Very nice.

There are very few people that knew of the lengths that we had all gone to get this result, so this is the first time I’ve told the whole story. Thanks to all of the “villains” that took part, it is something to tell the kids when you grow up. I hope that we will be forgiven, but only ever do this if you are sure your going to win.

Tony Dowe, February 2005

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

The phone rings, Oh God, another snake oil salesman? The voice is clear and distinctive,

“Mis-ter Brooks”

Ok it is Porsche Guru, Bill Oursler, there goes an hour at least. After the usual discourse on the happenings in the world generally and the world of endurance racing in particular we get to the nitty gritty.

“What do you know about former Porsche guys being charged this week?”

Nothing, like most folks in the motorsport business I have tunnel vision when it comes to events outside my narrow range. Still two minutes of Google unearthed this:

Ex-Porsche CEO Wiedeking Charged Over Failed Volkswagen Bid
By Karin Matussek – Dec 19, 2012 1:19 PM GMT
Former Porsche SE Chief Executive Officer Wendelin Wiedeking and ex-Chief Financial Officer Holger Härter were charged with market manipulation over the use of options in a failed bid to take over Volkswagen AG. (VOW)
The indictment was filed after more than three years of investigations into claims Porsche misled investors in 2008 when it denied that it sought to buy VW. The company in October of that year disclosed a plan to take control of the carmaker.

 

I suggest you read the rest of this excellent summary from Bloomberg

HERE

 

My thoughts drifted back five years to a time when I ran another website, SportsCarPros with my old buddy, Kerry Morse. We were the Becker and Fagan of our part of the sport, or so we imagined. To be fair we did tweak a few tails and were generally just about tolerated by the grown ups. I recall certain folks getting more than a bit tetchy with one of our posts, I mean what did the Pros from Dover know?

Gardening in Stuttgart: Porsche Hedges It’s Future

As an auto enthusiast and a Porsche fan, I remember when the most important, relevant, and exciting discussion surrounding this unique and successful manufacturer revolved entirely around its cars. However, today it seems the cars are yesterday’s news.

The most intriguing articles about Porsche in recent weeks involve comment and speculation surrounding the company’s financial results and have nothing to do with their cars. This is not to say that Porsche’s commitment to its iconic sports cars has in any way wavered, but we can scarcely be surprised that the market’s attention lies elsewhere. After all, if any manufacturing company in its past fiscal year made 3.6 Euro trading stock options with allegedly, a further three and a half billion of additional profits in its pocket for the current fiscal year, compared with 1 billion Euro from the operating business, it’s not surprising that the operations are overlooked. Time to trade the automotive engineering degree for an M.B.A.

I do not pretend to understand the analysis in the press concerning the nature of Holger Harter’s option strategy. However, while writers in the Financial Times and other journals are clearly pulling their punches in deference, presumably, to the marque and its legacy (hey it’s also a profit, not a loss!), they raise some legitimate questions which non financial readers (and Porsche car fans) should take note of. It’s been suggested, for examples, that, given loopholes in European stock exchange reporting regulations and Porsche’s ability to deflect pressure for greater transparency in financial reporting, they used their credibility, reinforced with a bid (a bid allegedly designed from the outset to fail), to increase the value of VW stock, the value of their VW holdings acquired in 2005 and 2006, and, unseen to outsiders, the profit of their option trading strategy. The announcement in November that they would postpone their acquisition offer (the stock price was too high!!) took that card off the table but by then it appears the 3-4 billion Euro of option profits was in the bag. Some might construe this as a little too cute. At a minimum, most observers, while restrained in their comments, construe this as a spectacularly aggressive trading strategy which has little to do with making cars and makes many of the world’s hedge fund managers look like underachievers.

With no more information with which to better explain the future options or hedging strategy of Porsche A.G., most financial writers have advised caution aimed at Porsche management and, presumably, analysts and followers of Porsche and VW. Quite apart from the impact that deteriorating economic conditions may have on consumer spending or credit and equity markets, it is virtually certain that these extraordinary returns cannot be repeated and that the “hedging in the normal course of business” explanation cannot be justified by the underlying activities of the group (if you exclude the possibility of ‘Texas hedging’, of course).

There can be few, and I suspect no, industrial companies in the world that in the last few years have, with or without hedging, generated the same ratio of financial profits to operating income that Porsche demonstrated in its recent fiscal year (and is likely to demonstrate in the current fiscal year). This alone should serve as a warning that any continued earnings from this source and of this magnitude suggest far higher levels of pure financial risk than can be possibly be warranted. Hopefully, that will not be the case and we can instead give credit to Porsche for having used this one off strategy to finance, at essentially no cost, a significant increase in its VW stake, now worth 14 billion Euro. No harm, no foul – the market has a tendency to forgive speculation if it’s successful, despite all the initial tut-tut ting.

If indeed this was a one-time phenomenon, it is good news for us automobile types. We can now get back to evaluating Porsche as an auto company, confining our interest and even our concerns to the preservation of that brilliant heritage built around its legendary sports cars and honed with studied diversification into vehicles like the Cayenne. We can also focus, as we should, on the strategic decisions Porsche faces given its now substantial 31% holding in VW. What is the role of this strategic stake? Is it merely a financial play or is this to become Porsche’s platform for a global footprint as a volume manufacturer? In the latter case the nature of Porsche may change forever. The investment could prove to be a major distraction from the company’s past and present mission; note for example, current rumblings from Berlin aimed at protecting VW’s labor force. This might militate against attempts by Porsche management to restructure parts of VW and divert important management energy away from the sports car business. To Porsche followers this should perhaps be the question of the hour.

Whatever happens I hope we will see less of these financial profits and more of Porsche as the company we know and cherish. However, and just in case, I will re-subscribe to the Financial Times that will join the raft of auto magazines which arrive every month.

Lindsey Harcourt-Lathrop
January 2008
Sandy Bay, Gibraltar

So what has this to do with anything in our sport? Well the vultures are circling as hedge funds and other investment groups aim to recoup their losses, remember for Porsche to make a profit, someone else had to take a loss. The sums involved are counted in the billions and if the charges against the ex Porsche pair are proved, then some very heavy hitters will be looking not only for their pound of flesh but also an arm and a leg, perhaps even the whole carcass.

The immediate or short term future of the FIA World Endurance Championship could be in question, given that the current intention is to have both Audi and Porsche duking it out in the top category with anyone brave enough to challenge them. What happens if the money men come calling, they will not be satisfied with two sacrificial lambs doing time, they will want serious amounts of hard cash. The Volkswagen Group has been on the crest of a wave in the past few years, strong sales growth reflected in sustained profitability and extremely positive cash flow. They probably have the resources to ride out any tsunami but the flag should at least be waved. Maybe it will all be a storm in a tea cup, but that’s what “folks in the know” told us five years ago. Maybe it’s time to call Lindsey again.