Speedster Racing in the 60s - Part 4
The six hour Enduro at
- After the crash and fire at Willow Springs, still thinking
that I would return to racing, I began cleaning up and repairing
the car, but progress was slow. In early 1966 a six-hour enduro
race was announced for Riverside in July. Two drivers per car
were mandatory. The enduro did not give national points, so few
of the top drivers chose to expose their cars to six hours of
racing, which might jeopardize their chances in later national
points events. I had finished rebuilding my engine, but not the
car. Bob Kirby was willing to risk his car if I would supply
the engine, so I was co-driving with one of the best, running
my fresh engine in Kirby's racing speedster "Fred."
- My rebuilt engine had new "C" heads, carefully
ported, and another new cam profile from Racer Brown. Installed
in Fred, I put it on Roger Bursch's dyno. It was cranking out
the ponies, so much so that the 200 mm clutch was slipping a
little, and we couldn't get an accurate power reading. The clutch
was a little tired - I had done all my racing on it without renewing
anything. Replacement included the flywheel. Perhaps it had been
cut a little deep when I converted it from 180 to 200 mm; I don't
recall the reason for replacing it, but I was taking no chances.
By then time was short and we didn't get another chance to put
the car on the dyno, but I knew what I wanted to know - the engine
was putting it out.
- Pit Communications
- CB radio was in its infancy in 66, and I decided it would
be a neat idea to have radio communication with our pit during
a long race which would include pit stops. To the best of my
knowledge, this was the first use of two-way radio in a race
car. With the assistance of Yoshi and Bob, "the rolling
Stones," a POC couple who were into CB, we equipped the
car. I cut a round hole for the antenna in the flat part of the
left front fender near the windshield post. Bob has likely never
forgiven me for cutting a hole in Fred, which had just been cherried
out and treated to a gorgeous new shining black lacquer job.
A large 12-volt dry cell battery was strapped to the floor behind
the driver's seat. There were no helmet-mounted mics easily available
to the CB crowd in those days, so we used an ordinary "10-4,
good buddy" hand mic clipped to the bottom of the dash.
- I knew that we could not hear a loudspeaker. Bob and I both
wore Bell "shorty" helmets with soft flaps over the
ears. I split a pair of old military headphones, and Yoshi Stone
sewed one into the ear flap of each helmet. With our helmets
on it looked as if Bob and I had serious growths on the right
side of our heads, but it worked.
- Organising the team
- The race was to use a LeMans start, in which the cars are
angle-parked along one side of the track and the drivers are
lined up on the other side. When the gun sounds, the drivers
run across to the track, jump in the cars, fire them up (hopefully)
and take off racing. Altho a little advantage at the start makes
no real difference in a six-hour race, I had decided I wanted
to be first away just for the principle of it.
- It had been decided that I would drive the first of four
shifts (two for each driver). Unlike the starts at LeMans, at
this race a club observer would be positioned at each car to
make sure that the driver fully buckled up before leaving. So
in the driveway I practiced jumping in the car and getting buckled
up, shoulder and lap belts, in record time. I even considered
adding a foot-operated starter switch. The ignition switch could
be left ON with the engine positioned so that the points were
open. Just hitting the starter switch with one foot would allow
me to start the engine while I was buckling up. But I didn't
get quite that far.
- I organized several friends into a timing and scoring team.
The race was open to all production classes, from bug-eye Sprites
in H-production to ground-thumping Corvettes, Cobras - what have
you. It wasn't realistic to think that we could win overall unless
all the big V-8 cars DNF'd, but if it was worth doing at all,
it was worth our very best efforts.
- Where was the performance?
- On race day, the performance of the engine in practice was
very disappointing. What had happened to all the power we saw
on Roger's dyno? I was heart sick - after all this effort we
had a slow car. Finally I decided to put a timing light on it,
even though the timing had been adjusted on the dyno. The timing
was retarded! It wasn't showing the max. advance it should have
by five to ten degrees - I don't recall the actual figures, but
it was serious. I re-set the timing to my best guesstimate of
what it should be and the car took off like a scared jack rabbit.
Bob went out for a few more practice laps, brought his time down
about 5 seconds and said that the engine was at least as fast
as any of his ever had been. We were puzzled, but competitive!
- Problems with the LeMans Start
- The CB base station antenna was in place on top of the motor
home of some friends of Bob's, the drilled and crack timing team
was in place, the car was running great; we were loaded for bear.
Then came the LeMans start and we did a scene from Laurel and
- Due to the logistical requirements of the LeMans start, it
was staged near the end of Riverside's long straight, just before
turn 9. The cars were parked along one edge of the track and
the drivers along the other. My shoulder straps were crossed
in a certain way and laid across the passenger seat so that when
I put them over my head from the right side they would un-cross.
I had worked out the routine in countless practice runs at home.
There had been no need to explain the routine to Bob, since I
was the designated starting driver.
- At the last moment, with me and the other drivers across
the track from our steeds, there was a change of plans by the
officials. The announcement was made that, in addition to the
club observer, they had decided to allow an assistant at each
car to help with the strap and buckling-up routine. I saw Bob
approach our car, and was horrified to see him un-crossing the
shoulder straps, because in doing so he was going the wrong direction
which put a full-turn twist in them behind the seat.
- Then the gun sounded. I bolted for the car, jumped in and
began wrestling with Bob over the shoulder straps. I was trying
to get them untwisted that full turn while he, seeing that the
ends were properly oriented, kept trying to force them down over
my shoulders. All around us cars were starting and driving away.
Unable to explain the situation to Bob in the heat of the moment,
finally I gave up and decided I could live with the shoulder
straps being too tight.
- When I began trying to buckle it all together I got another
surprise. In my practice runs I had failed to take into account
that the metal buckle of the aircraft lap belt would have been
setting in the direct overhead July desert sun for 45 minutes!
The lap belt didn't want to come together by about two inches
due to the shoulder belts being shorter by one full twist. I
drove bare-handed - no gloves. The pain of pushing hard on that
very hot metal buckle, trying to force the halves together, brought
tears to my eyes. Finally I got it together, started the car
and motored off. But not first. I was dead last by a big margin,
except for a couple of cars which wouldn't start! Our pit crew,
across the course near start/finish, and Rita and the kids, watching
from outside the S's, wondered what had become of the black Porsche
which was going to be first away.
- Making up for lost time
- But then it was fun for a while. The car was honkin' and
so was I, sometimes passing two and even three slow cars in a
single turn. Then I encountered a problem. This time it wasn't
an Elva, but a Lotus Elan. The Elan was much faster than the
Porsche, but this one was obviously piloted by an inexperienced
driver. He was slow through the turns but when I passed him he
just blew my doors off down the next straight. After a couple
of laps this became tedious, and I didn't want to spend the remainder
of my shift trading places with this guy. What to do?
- I figured that if I could pass him just at the entrance to
a long series of turns, I might, just might, be able to build
up enough lead that he wouldn't be able to catch me on the long
straight. The longest series of turns at Riverside began with
turn 1, up through the esses and around turn 5. Then there was
a short straight between 5 and 6, and after 6A there was the
long straight followed by turn 9. (Turns 7 and 8 were no longer
used.) The problem was, turn 1 was preceded by the S-F straight,
along which he could out-drag me, so it would be difficult to
lead him into turn 1. I formulated a plan.
- I followed him around 9, then dropped back a bit on the S-F
straight, loading the slingshot. Just before he slowed for turn
1 I floored it. By the time he entered turn 1 I was tip-toeing
around him on the outside. And let me tell you, that was hairy
- up on the non-cambered outside part of the turn, inches from
the Armco metal barrier which I had tried a piece of in my very
first race. But it worked. Bob would have had a stroke had he
seen me doing that in his car with the new lacquer paint job.
- On the very short straight between 1 and 2 I looked in a
mirror and saw the nose of the Elan rise and tremble with rage,
under heavy acceleration. By the entrance to turn 2 he was right
up my exhaust pipe. But he slowed for turn 2 and I didn't, and
thus was the tale told. By the end of the long straight he had
almost caught me again, but I built up enough distance in turn
9 to keep him from catching me on the S-F straight. By the time
I was in the S's he had disappeared from my mirrors and I never
saw him again. Mission accomplished. Later I heard that an Elan
had flipped later in the race. I don't think there were any others,
so it was probably that poor guy. Fortunately, I don't think
he was injured.
- Then I began making up lost time, occasionally taking time
down the long straight to pick up the mic and tell the crew everything
was fine. But it wasn't to be. At about the 45-minute point I
had worked up to 5th, behind four much-faster ground-thumpers.
Then, on the S-F straight, the engine quit clean. I pulled off
course to the right and radioed the crew that I was dead in the
water just before turn 1. Turning the engine with the starter
gave a steady sound that indicated that no compression was being
done. When the crew got there with a few tools, I popped a valve
cover and had someone hit the starter. No valves moved. The cam
drive was broken, and that was the end of my race and racing
- What had gone wrong?
- Later inspection revealed that a few teeth had stripped on
the large timing gear, then, probably, a couple of teeth hit
nose-to-nose and the force broke off the flanged end of the camshaft.
Foolishly, I had allowed my machinist to cut a groove down the
center of the teeth of the large timing gear. This was supposed
to reduce the tendency of the timing gears to act as an oil pump
at high revs and throw oil out the filler vent. But I had the
new, high oil filler box of the C engines, and had never experienced
oil loss. Why I let him do that I will never know. It proves
the old maxim: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
- I had 45 minutes of good fun, but felt terrible for Bob,
who never got to drive in the race, and for the crew which had
worked so hard. I would have enjoyed seeing what Bob could do
with the big cars. Had the engine held together, given Bob's
expertise, I think we could have finished very well indeed.
- Monday morning I was on the phone reading the riot act to
Roger Bursch. The timing had been set by one of his men, on his
dyno, and was seriously retarded when I checked it at the track.
Roger was puzzled and, I must, say, a perfect gentleman when
confronted with my somewhat abrasive complaint.
- When I put down the phone, the brain began working. An hour
later I was back on the phone with Roger. I had figured it out.
When I replaced the flywheel, I had failed to check the crank
end play. I hate to admit it, but I just forgot to. If there
had not been enough end play I would have known it - the crankshaft
would not have turned. But too much end play can retard the timing
because of the way the distributor is driven from a gear on the
crankshaft. I levered the crank pulley in and out. Click - clack
- a LOT of end play. On this new flywheel evidently the nose
protrusion was less than on the 1960-model flywheel I had previously
used and set the end play with. I called Roger to confirm. I
apologized, we had a good laugh about it and remained the best
of friends. Now, there's a real gentleman.
- By the running of the Enduro, the marriage was crumbling.
Six months later Rita and I parted. The stories of racing ruining
marriages are legion; ours was one of the very few which evidently
had been held together, at least in part, by racing. Altho I
was living separately, we remained very close as a family. I
was with them every weekend, maintaining Rita's new VW Fastback
and her new house and enjoying home-cooked meals. The kids and
I enjoyed many activities, with Rita included when she chose.
I was dating during the week, but weekend days always belonged
to the family. Sometimes I think they wished I would disappear
for a while. Many times Rita and I talked into the wee hours
after the kids were in bed, as we had always done. Rita became
a programmer, finished her degree and began to enjoy some of
the personal fulfillment she had yearned for while "just"a
wife and mother. When Janice was approaching driving age I gave
her the world's most thorough driver training, which extended
over several months, in my new BMW 2002 (I didn't care too much
for the early, short-wheelbase, slab-sided 911s, and couldn't
afford one anyhow). She has repaid our efforts by never having
an accident in the ensuing 24 years of extensive driving.
- I hadn't sold the Speedster, having turned down an offer
of "$1,000 as is," a ridiculous offer even in those
days. It languished seven years in a rented storage garage. In
the early 70s we hauled it out to their garage. We restored the
engine and drive train to stock and enjoyed it once again on
the street. First, I started the engine on the stand to make
sure everything was OK. As I flipped it over with a ratchet-handle
socket wrench on the pulley nut, I had teen-aged Janice hold
the throttle linkage open a little. Even tho there was a muffler
on the engine, it caught with a mighty roar that sent terrified
Jan running for cover. I asked her, "Well, what did you
expect? Putty-putty?" The first night we had the car ready
to go, Jan, Brian and I jumped in and drove directly to the Pomona
fairgrounds, a sentimental trip which returned the car to the
scene of its wins some eight years previous. Later, Janice occasionally
drove the Speedster to college at Stockton for stretches of a
few weeks, where it became a star among her friends. In one of
my previous blurbs I recounted how a girl friend of Jan's had
thrown herself over the car, protecting it with her own body
when another car attempted to park dangerously close at a drive-in.
- When Brian reached driving age he, too, enjoyed the Speedster
occasionally. Then the crank broke and the car was laid up again
until Jan and I installed the industrial engine (with 356 ancillaries)
in about 83. Rita re-married after fifteen years; I never have.
Brian, a strapping young man of 31, in the prime of life, died
of heart disease at the end of 91, leaving his son, Brian James,
for us to remember him by. I never had a strong urge to race
again. Racing, to me, had never been a matter of urgency, nor
did I feel that it was related in any way to testosterone. I
enjoyed it almost as an art form. Stirling Moss has been quoted
as saying that he believes that, among the arts, racing is most
akin to ballet. The timing, the precision, above all, the balance
and rhythm. I was competitive; Rita said that my lap times always
went down a second or two when I was in close contention with
another car. I had progressed from beginner to winner in about
a year. I proven that I could learn to do it and do it well,
and that was enough. Sure, if someone offered me a prepared car
I would jump in and be off in a flash, but racing is no longer
worth the life-consuming time, effort and expense.
- For years I have wanted to write up the memories of my brief
racing career, just to have the record. This forum has been the
ideal venue. I have tried to stress the entertaining, or at least
interesting parts. I appreciate your indulgence and hope that
you have found my tale worth the telling.
- Pat Tobin
These articles were written by Pat
Tobin and have already appeared in '356 Talk', They are reproduced
with the kind permission of the author - firstname.lastname@example.org
Pat Tobin is a major contributor to the 356 Talk Forum
and a leading supporter of the Porsche