A BRIEF HISTORY OF A LIFETIME
ADDICTION TO SPEED
Of course it is all about the Runoffs at Road Atlanta. A week of speed at the hairiest (before they lowered the hairiness with a chicane) racetrack in the USA. The top 4 competitors from all of SCCA's divisions. And all heading into turn one to decide who is National Champion. This is one of my favorite pictures and favorite places to be. I am on the inside going into turn one.
It is my contention that my RX7 is the ultimate dual purpose car being totally streetable, 21 MPG, quietish exhaust running on 93 octane pump gas and able to leap tall buildings at a single bound, or best 200 at the end of a mile. We will see come October.
The world of speed has changed since the Power Pack Chevy... but not really. It continues to beckon me with it's seductive song and probably keeps me out of trouble. You Too?
I have always like to daily drive the brand i race. When i switched to Mazda in 1983 i bought a 1983 RX7 GSL. My next Mazda was a 1986 RX7 Turbo II. I acquired my 1993 RX7 in 1999 and have been whittling on it these last 20 years. Having pretty much done what i wanted to do on the road courses i do have something i really want to accomplish: I want to best 200 MPH at the Texas Mile October 2019. I did run the event in October 2013 and was running just over 160 between the 1/4 and 3/8 mile marker when a fuel pump fuse defused. I have engineered my RX7 so it is sort of similar to my 1965 GT350... dual purpose.
At that time SCCA greatly reduced the carburetor choke rings from 50 mm to 38 mm during my 6 seasons but Daryl found a way to maintain the power. The power band moved from an 8500 redline to 10,000 with a 7000 minimum. Daryl is quite the competitor as he would often fly from his Bakersfield, Ca home to see his motors whomp the competition. Indispensable partners thru my 6 Mazda seasons Marc and Paul Bushman look on..
My SCCA GT3 racing exploits had to end in mid 1989 due to E F Hutton being absorbed by Shearson. At that time, sad to say, the only original thing remaining of Roger's wonderful RX3 was the roof and windshield however it was a rocket. Here's the pace lap for my last race, the 1989 June Sprints. Note that i had outqualified all the cars in the picture and they were either GT1 or GT2. Should you want to get more into the details I suggest you read the Suspension Section.
I clearly remember the shriek of the engines as well as the speed. Smallish tires, no ground effects and little in the way of driver safety. Truly blood and guts racing around 175 mph with no chicanes in sight and death just around the corner. The Ferrari team did not participate at Watkins Glen in 1961 as the prior month, racing for the season championship, Wolfgang Von Trips touched wheels with Jimmy Clark and launched into the crowd killing himself and 12 spectators giving the season to his Ferrari teamate, Phil Hill. The first (and only) American born World Champion (Phil Hill) was unable to race in his own country that year.
Wolfgang Von Trips and Phil Hill:
There was another series accompanying the Trans Am featuring smaller sedans prepared to the same level. i was of the view that there would be a coming gasoline crisis and felt we would be moving to smaller cars so i became interested in the series.
Ford of course was knee deep in racing and introduced the 2 liter overhead cam Pinto. Unlike all the other small sedans the Pinto had a double A arm front suspension which provides camber gain on bump. A big deal. I decided to buy a new Pinto with the plan to compete in the 2.5 Liter Challenge.
As i was stripping everything out of my zero miles Pinto the bottom fell out of racing for about 10 years... a combination of an oil "crisis" and new emission standards caused the major manufacturers to close their checkbooks. The Trans Am Trans-Formed into virtually nothing and with it the 2.5 Liter Challenge..
Time for Plan B... actually that would be... B-Sedan Sports Car Club of America/SCCA. The good news is that i did know a bunch of the race engineers at Ford and did receive some help. Bob Negstad was Ford's suspension ace. He designed the front suspension on the 1965 GT350 and the entire 427 Cobra chassis and suspension. Bob gave me the details as to relocating the upper A arm pickup points for a race type camber gain. i also had some help from the engine side of Ford. i received a bunch of roller cam followers, never seen before or after with no part number.
Another helper was Lee White, a Canadian and fellow Pinto racer. Lee had access to the machine shop at a nuclear power generating facility and was able to do a bit of highish tech work on the exhaust ports. i was able to latch on to one. Lee has had a distinguished career in motorsports engineering having a major role in the design of Toyota's NASCAR V8 and being President of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) for a number of successful years. He also had a major hand in lots of Jack Roush projects including the 600+ hp turbo'd four cylinder Trans Am Merkurs.
My Pinto was welcomed by the SCCA Central Division B Sedan drivers as so much grist to be easily dispatched. Most were taking advantage of Datsun's excellent racing program for the 510. "Why would you run something that is not supported by a factory racing program?" Good question.
i ran my Pinto in B Sedan Nationals from 1973 thru 1982. Rather than calling the Race Department i had to work with independent vendors. I built all my engines. Two liter four, overhead cam, two Weber 50 MM DCOE side draft carbs. Eventually 10,000 RPM and 205 flywheel hp from 2 liters 122 cubic inches. i worked with Competition Cams, Arias pistons etc. By the time i hung it up i had a tube frame front end and a Datsun competition close ratio 5 speed transmission.
If you are a car guy (and you probably are), 1940 would be an awesome year to arrive into the world as that would make you 15 (that'd be me) when Chevrolet turned the world upside down. The disrupter was an overhead valve V8 sporting a solid lifter racey (Duntov) camshaft along with a 4 barrel carb and dual exhaust. In the age of clunky flatheads this was pure heorine and was known as the Power Pack Chevy. During the following two years the horsepower wars exploded with 317 hp Tri Power Pontiacs, Chrysler 300C hemis (the Chrysler 300C won the NASCAR seasons in 55 and 56) and one horsepower per cubic inch dual four barrel Chevies. The very same dynamics are going full blast today, but before 1955 almost all cars were black and uninteresting like the music.
If you were looking for speed hot rods were where you had to be for excitement... Hot Rod Magazine and Rod and Custom were the go-to sources for info. (no internet at that time).
Drag racing was moving from the streets to something new... drag strips. The "quarter mile."
Oldsmobile introduced the overhead valve motor in 1948 so they had the jump on Chevrolet and Ford but offered nothing other than a vanilla option until 1957. Gene Adams decided there was major potential hiding inside of the Olds "Rocket 88."
Interested parties, like me, were blown away by Gene Adams... 100 mph in the quarter with an Oldsmobile. An Engle cam and B&M "hydro stick" transmission helped get it done. 100 in the quarter with a street car was as awe inspiring to me as landing on the moon in 1969.
I bought a 1950 Oldsmobile business coupe. By the time i had to sell it and head off to college i had an Engle cam, Mallory ignition, Hooker headers, a J-2 three carb manifold on it. It ran pretty well when the carbs weren't leaking gas and setting the engine compartment on fire. (think learning curve). Here's a picture of Gene shocking the world on a 100+ mph run.
While at college in upstate New York the world of speed was broadening. Sports Car Graphic was first published in1961 giving a huge boost to road racing. Tracks like Watkins Glen, Road America, Road Atlanta, Bridgehampton, Lime Rock, Virginia International Raceway, Laguna Seca and Riverside all started around the same time.
During my college years Watkins Glen hosted the United States Grand Prix... forerunner to Formula One. The small picturesque town of Watkins Glen was invaded October 1961 not only by the factory Lotus, Porsche, BRM race teams, drivers like Jimmy Clark, Graham Hill, Stirling Moss, Jim Hall, Ken Miles, etc, etc but also by over 100,000 drunken college kids including me. We came initially to party but what i saw on the track made an indelible imprint on me. i still have a (1965) promotional poster
The car suffered from one primary malady. No love from the Competition Board. Ford no longer in racing, Datsun up to its ears in racing. Reality of which: my car had to weigh 2292 (w driver), Datsun 1890. Mostly mid pack during the Pinto days with some very good drivers and cars up front. B Sedan, now GT-3, is a fabulous class.
The good news is i had to learn. I did learn and eventually when i switched to Mazda for the 1983 season i had a killer car from the getgo AND i knew more than the other guys who had been leaning on the racing program.
Time for payback. Payback was spelled:
M A Z D A
The same twin problems effecting the Trans Am also put a major dent in the very healthy IMSA Champion Spark Plug series. The professional series featured smaller sedans and ran on road racing courses from Florida to California. The Mazda RX3sp often was the strongest car in the series. Here's the green flag for a 50 car field at Daytona. Jim Downing RX3 on the pole and Roger Mandeville RX3 fourth.
The Corvette Club made the mistake of including me for a track day at Lynndale Farms. Oooops, i beat every Corvette other than Jerry Dunbar's SCCA B Production that was trailered to the event. I owned my GT350 for a few years traded it for a 1969 Boss 302 Mustang. The first in Wisconsin.
Meanwhile there was this burgeoning race series called the Trans Am. All the manufacturers had been lured into it and the quality of engineering and driving was as good as it can get. The Boss 302 Mustang figured prominently winning the most competitive year (1970) for the series. The battle between Penske-Mark Donahue (Camaro) and Ford- Parnelli Jones (Boss 302) was epic.
During the 1982 season one of the IMSA Champion Spark Plug RX3s migrated into my SCCA Central Division in B Sedan and it really drew my attention. The rules as to suspension in the IMSA series were not as liberal as in SCCA's B Sedan so the car was sitting up pretty high but it had a ton of power and drove away from the field at flat out Brainerd for the first win in the Central Division for Mazda.
i decided i was going to find and buy the best RX3 in the idled IMSA Champion Spark Plug Series and fully modify it to B Sedan specs. i flew to the Southeast and looked at Jim Downing, Joe Varde and Roger Mandeville's RX3s. All would have been tops but I fell in love with Roger's car as well with Roger and his wife Nancy. I bought the car in November and Roger spent part of the winter converting it to B Sedan specs and building a couple of B Sedan spec motors.
Hello Central Division:)
i was totally hooked on road racing from that time forward. After school and two years financial training in New York City i moved to Milwaukee and got on with my career and family.
i remember reading a piece by Brock Yates in Sports Car Graphic where he borrowed a 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350 and headed out of the city (of course that's New York City) for a track weekend at Watkins Glen. A (rare) perfect outing including a beautiful drive up the Hudson and a right turn for the Glen. A couple of days of blowing the doors off a bunch of Corvettes and homeward bound. The 1965 Shelby GT350 had been exhaustively detailed by Sports Car Graphics editor/racer Jerry Titus. It was truly a fire-breathing monster for its time. The less than 500 1965s were the real thing and the 1966 and later contained very few of the 1965 race components.
I bought a 1965 GT350 in the early spring of 1966. It didn't take long before it had a different cam and Chevy intake valves along with a set of American Racing wheels (7 X 15) and Firestone Super Sport Indy tires... (big mistake as only 3/32 of tread.) I 'd rather not tell you what happened.
i dug around and found only two pictures...
Roger's motors powered me to many National wins as well as a second at the Runoffs. Roger became really busy with Mazda's Le Mans program so Daryl Drummond joined my efforts. Here's Daryl changing the jets on my Weber downdraft at Road America.
Hemingway said there are only three sports, mountain climbing, bull fighting and motor car racing, all the rest are games. Given the lack of safety equipment back then I agree. For instance, ponder 6 Ferrari team drivers died between 1957 and 1961.
Spend a few moments checking out the results list of drivers for the 1961 event... besides the Jimmy Clark, Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Dan Gurney (etc) you will find an interesting name finishing 8th.