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Our 1994 Vintage Race Season

This is one of a series of articles I wrote years ago describing our vintage racing efforts.
Most were printed in either the VCOA or VSA magazines. As time allows some of these old articles will be pulled out, spruced up, and put together with photographs. It will be a project that will take some time to complete.

The 1994 Vintage Race Season

Prior to the Watkins Glen race in September I had not raced in a year.  Time and money, or more precisely the lack of both, prevented a more active schedule.  During that time I  continued development work on the engine, including considerable time in dyno sessions and flow testing, with the aim of improving top end power.  The results proved the value of these  efforts.   Although  testing was not finished, and other commitments prevented  what might be considered a full effort,  we were finally ready by Saturday afternoon.  Most other cars had been practicing since Thursday.  Gary Jebsen  had practiced and raced in the two hour enduro, but was unable to continue  due to a suspension failure.  His misfortune became my good fortune when I was able to talk a friendly grid marshall into giving me Gary's starting spot in the qualifying race (26th) instead of having to start last (46th).   After talking my way into this position I had second thoughts after realizing this put me in a race, with no practice in the last year, with  twenty possibly faster cars behind me.  The session was exciting to say the least. Luckily my memory of the course was good and the 1800 was able to pass 13 cars to take a 12 place starting position, based on time,  for the next day's race. 

We were in good shape for Sunday's race with over thirty cars starting behind us and only eleven in front.  With more than a dozen Porsches  in the race, most gridded just in front or behind me, my goal became finishing in front of them.  Although passed by one of them shortly after the start I was able to work my way up past several more cars with much passing and repassing between the 1800 and several Porsches until a Corvette and a Lotus 7 spun in front of us in the chicane ( the " bus stop "  on the back straight ) and came to rest nose to nose completely blocking the track as three of us entered the corner, one slightly ahead and one right beside me.  The lead car went partially off the track and behind one of the stalled cars as they began to roll apart - towards the edges of the track. This movement prevented me from following the leading Porsche to the outside, but created the possibility that there might be room between them by the time I got there.  I aimed for the gradually opening gap as the Lotus and Corvette slowly rolled apart.  The Porsche next to me, slighly leading,  also heaed for the widening gap, clipping the front of the Corvette  with his left front fender (unfortunately the location of his oil cooler),  and creating a wider gap for my 1800.  ( Its weird how something that takes place in a couple of seconds can take so long to describe. ) Unknown to us at the time,  the  Porsche's oil cooler was ruptured and began to lay down a trail of oil around the course for the next two laps,  making continued racing difficult.  I was able to pass the two Porsche's immediately in front of me, the second one when we both skidded in the oil at the end of the front straight and I ducked inside of him in the corner.  With the 1800's superior torque I was able to pull away up the hill toward the back straight. This left one Porsche as well as four Lotus Elans (two of them 26R's), and two 2.5 liter Trans-Am cars that I  was not able to catch  on the last lap.  Surprisingly, we had won our class and had finished ahead of the cars an 1800 should beat,  a successful return after so much time off.

The next race was at Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia three weeks later.  With time still at a premium and development not yet completed, we arrived at the track on Saturday, after practice had ended.  Again we would have to go into the qualifying race with no practice,  this time on a track I had not driven in  two years.  Starting last out of 26 cars we were able to move up using the 1800's power to pass on the straights until I could relearn the course,  passing a beautiful silver Ferrari 250GT and Jebsen's 1800 to take a 6th place position for the next days' race.  The race was comparatively uneventful except for the necessity of twice avoiding the same spinning Huffaker Special which first spun in front of me, went off the course, crossed a section of the infield, re-entered the course, and then again spun in front of me.  The time lost in avoidance maneuvers put me back out of reach of the leaders.  My time of 1:28 was only a second behind the overall race winner and we again won our class. Next on to Atlanta.

We arrived at Road Atlanta on Friday night after a sixteen hour drive and were ready to go by Saturday morning practice.  Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate and fog on parts of the course, especially thick in the dip on the back straight, forced cancellation of the session after two laps.  I was told that my silver-gray 1800 was invisible in the fog!  While waiting for the fog and ensuing rain to clear and our next race to start,  we received what turned out to be an extremely interesting visit.  Frank Dumproff and his wife came by.  He had been an 1800 racer in the 1960's.  Naturally we discussed his racing and looked at the picture of his old race car he carries in his wallet.  It turned out that he was one of the 1800 racers I had seen race when I was a teenager.  Watching Frank and Art Riley race I had become  interested  in Volvos and someday racing an 1800.   Thirty years later he was thrilled to see an 1800 racing competitively again and I was thrilled to be driving it.  He is restoring one at his home in N. Carolina.

At Road Atlanta we got to do a couple of track sessions with the big bore cars, Mustangs, Camaros, etc.  The 1800 lapped faster than many of these cars and surprised many observers when it powered past a Shelby Mustang on the front straight.  The secret, of course, was not how fast we were on the straight, but how fast we came through the famous downhill turn under the bridge at the end of the long back straight. The apex is approximately at the right bridge abutment and all you can see is sky beyond it.  ( This note added later - After several deaths the back straight leading up to the bridge and downhill final turn was changed to slow the cars down. )

After a later session where we had some mechanical problems ( one of our test sessions with the roller rocker arms ) and were blowing oil smoke I was surprised when a Mustang driver who had been running behind me helpfully volunteered that my car had been smoking from its right  bank of cylinders! (That's a modification I haven't quite gotten to although I have thought about it.)

Qualifying took place in the rain and was sparsely attended.  I was surprised the next day to be gridded 22nd, behind numerous slower cars.  Apparently they had determined the grid using my time in the rain but had allowed other drivers to use faster practice times they had run on Friday under dry conditions. Protests resulted in an explanation of "that's racing".  Needless to say I was upset at this setback  but made up for it by passing a dozen  cars  before the first corner,  working my way up to 6th by the second lap.  Although fun, starting from the back put me out of touch with the overall leaders by the time I had passed the slower cars.  We were in 5th overall and leading our class when a fuel pick up problem forced us out on the last lap; not the way I had planned on finishing the season.