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Speedster Racing in the 60s - Part 4

The six hour Enduro at Roverside

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 Hardy.
 
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 career.
 
 
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.
 
 
Epilogue
 
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 - audio.consultant@verizon.net
Pat Tobin is a major contributor to the
356 Talk Forum

and a leading supporter of the Porsche 356 Registry

     
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