Friday, February 3, 2012

Porsche 944 GTR 003 / It's two year racing history...

It was 1985 and the Porsche 962's were battling it out on the IMSA circuit in America. However in SCCA, Porsche only had the aging Speedsters, Roadsters and 914's to hold up it's banner. Enter Al Holbert, the American Porsche racing boss with the idea to run a new car to represent the marque. How about a Porsche 944 GTR Turbo? The factory had no interest, so what to do? Build the new car in the U.S. out of bits and pieces from the Porsche racing parts bin. Fabricator, Dave Klym in Tucker, Georgia was contracted to design and build the project.

The car took shape at first as a wide body fiberglass silhouette 944, the later look was a 944 turbo, all of this built on a square tube frame with coil over suspension. It used 962 bits, a 928 torque tube, a Hewland transaxle and a specially built 944 Turbo engine. McLaren Engines in Michigan did the development work on the engines but Andial in So-Cal took over and bettered them. The independent teams to run the cars were to do the R & D to make them competitive.

Next enter, ex-racer and Porsche Dealer, Alan Johnson in San Diego who stepped to the plate to take on SCCA. A team was put together including, Don Jones, Vic Ofner, Pat Scanlan, myself, and Robbin Herring handling the teams PR. The driver was, three time SCCA National Champion, Tom Brennan from Danville, IL. We were now off to the races.

1986, our original team with the Porsche 944 GTR at Carlsbad Raceway. R. Vic Ofner, myself, Pat Scanlan and Don Jones.
Image © "Along For The Ride"

Our first year, 1986 was filled with plenty of drama. Out of the box we won our first race at Riverside Raceway, however little did we know, tough times were ahead. The first thing we had to deal with, were brakes. The car stopped fine with the 962 units, but there was a brake cooling issue that would take us half way through the year to solve. Next, the 550 hp that the 4 cylinder engine was putting out, was breaking 928 torque tubes and the 2,600 lbs. the car weighed for GT-1 was playing havoc with the 962 front spindles. Don Jones had left the team and even with these problems, we were able to win enough races to qualify for the National Runoffs at Road Atlanta with the leadership of Vic Ofner. About a month and a half before the Runoffs we were feeling pretty good about the season, so we decided to run a Northern Division National at Sears Point (now Infineon) just to beat up on those guys. Unfortunately, that decision was to bite us in the butt.

Turn 10 at Sears is not one to be messed with. Tom had qualified well on Saturday and on Sunday morning went out for a warm-up session. As I remember, he got loose on the damp track in turn 9 and went off in 10 ending up doing endos in front of us, wadding the car into a ball. Now what? We had qualified for the runoffs and now had a totaled car. We decided to pack the team up and head for Dave Klym's shop in Atlanta to do the re-build. For little more than a month the team worked feverishly to put the car back together, and now with a new car and no track time on it before the event, we decided to take it out on the back roads of Georgia to give it a run!

Avoiding the local law and making to the runoffs with the new car, we ran well, but not good enough for a podium finish. We finished sixth with Paul Newman taking first in the Nissan 300ZX Turbo. So, it was off to our next year.

The team made some changes in the off season, we found a new driver closer to home, Jim Warren. We had run against Jim our first year while he was racing a Corvette and noticed how smooth he was. Alan made him an offer and he came over to the Porsche ranks with us.

To start our second year, 1987, we went out and won several races again racking up the points for Atlanta.  The car was running well with many of our previous issues solved. Much less drama this year except for one event at Laguna Seca. Jim was exiting turn 9 at the bottom of the "Cork Screw" passing a Camaro on the last lap when the other driver ran Jim off into the dirt costing us a win. They both ended up parked next to each other and after climbing out, the other driver start throwing punches. I spent the next two hours meeting with SCCA officials filing a protest and having the other drivers license suspended. We were then off to our next stop, the Runoffs.

Making it to Atlanta for the runoffs, we decided to enter a Trans-Am race to be held a week earlier. However, it looked as rain was due for that event and after practice we decided to withdraw our car at the last minute prior to the race to save it for the GT-1 event that we had worked so hard for.

In the GT-1 race, the car ran well and Jim drove well, however we were hampered by an aluminum plate under the front end that came loose. For the second year, we had finished better, but still off the podium, this time in fourth with Scott Sharp taking first in a Nissan 300ZX Turbo. The handwriting was on the wall, we were an independent team going against factory supported teams. It was time to retire, our heads held high with our family like team, we had come a long way and 003 had ended its racing life. One can only wonder what would have happened with some factory support. To this day I still have all the records for every lap that 003 turned on the track.

As the car came to us, it was Guards Red.
Image © Vic Ofner

Our first race at Riverside Raceway we scored a 1st in class, July 4-6, 1986.
Image © Vic Ofner

Notice the 944 style front end. The car now painted white. This race was at Riverside Raceway, August 30-September 1, 1986. Alan Johnson was testing the Ludwick Heimrath red and white 944 GTR out of Canada that was behind us on grid.
 Image © Vic Ofner

Four cylinder putting out 550 + hp.
Image © Vic Ofner

Willow Springs, 1986. We now had our permanent number of 44.
Image © Vic Ofner

Time to pack up and head home after our Sears Point crash, 1986.
Image © Vic Ofner

October 1986 at Fabcar rebuilding for the runoffs.
Image © Vic Ofner

Pat Scanlan and myself at Dave Klym's shop prepping for the big week at the Runoffs.
Image © Vic Ofner

SCCA Road Atlanta Runoffs, 1986. We finished the car in time for the event. R. Pat Scanlan, myself, Vic Ofner, and Driver, Tom Brennan.
Image © "Along For The Ride"

1986 SCCA Runoffs on our way to a 6th place.
Image © Vic Ofner

Notice the new 944 Turbo style front. We ran our second year with this front end.
Image © Vic Ofner

Our run at Carlsbad Raceway ended when an exploded starter ring gear severed a coolant line, August 1987.
 Image © Vic Ofner

Road Atlanta practicing for the Trans-Am race. The 42 and 11 cars were Bruce Jenner's 944 GTRs. Ours was the third one up. Image © "Along For The Ride"

Our last race, the SCCA Atlanta Runoffs, 1987. Here we're gridding for the race with our team. Image © Vic Ofner

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  1. Enjoyed those pictures of you, Pat and the gang.

  2. I can't imagine a nicer race car at Carlsbad/crashbad.
    I was there race day as Vic's guest.
    That car must of took all of the time you could put into it.
    awesome photos I had never seen.
    thanks, tall mike

  3. Don Lee emailed: Great story and photos....thanks!

  4. Bill Newly Facebooked: I was there and remembered the day the car chashed. especially loading a totaled pole sitting car into the trailer. What a waste!

  5. Great story, John. Enjoyed seeing pics of Pat Scanlan. Where's this race car now? This story also brings back memories of Paul and Margie Smith-Haas and their 924 GTR.
    For quite a while now, I've wanted to write about San Diego's Porsche racing heroes:
    Alan Johnson - SCCA multi champ
    Wayne Baker - overall winner 1983 Sebring 12 hours
    Margie Smith-Haas - Multi time Le Mans entrant
    Rick Raimist - from axing at the stadium to 1996 Daytona 24 hrs, 2nd in class!
    I'm sure there are others.....
    Tim Comeau

  6. Great story & pics. Awesome car!

  7. Fantastic story and pictures. I was a corner worker for SCAA back then doing local races, including Del Mar. It was great seeing some photos of the era.
    Thanks John,

    Mike Partain

  8. Great story and photos. I have always loved these cars! I was on the Brumos pit crew in 1982 with the BFG #58 car. Thinking of building a 924 GTR replica.
    Is this one for sale?
    Albert Broadfoot

  9. Albert, I think it is back east, and I have heard it's for sale.

  10. Hi John, great to hear the story from someone who was involved. These cars are awesome. I remember Bruce Jenner taking one of his cars, along with a Pontiac TransAm to New Zealand to do the championship out there. What a sound they made. Bruce is a good friend of my father's and actually gave me my introduction to motorsport in the mid 90's out in New Zealand.
    It would be great to see more pictures of the cars and pit crew, great to see all those 80's hair do's too.

    1. I have Bruce's Pontiac TransAm that he brought into NZ. I'm really keen to get hold of him but it's almost impossible.

      Can anyone help?

  11. Thanks for posting the history line and photos of these cars. I worked for Dave Klym at the time, and this was my introduction into racing! I helped with some of the detail design and then Dave told me I had to see if I could build what I had drawn up!
    I was racing at the time, and only saw one of these cars @ a SCCA National in Savannah, GA, I can't remember who entered/drove that car. If my memory serves correctly, 9 cars were built in that run?
    Lee White (ex TRD president) was instrumental in helping with the development of that car as he was Paul Miller's crew chief in Trans Am at the time.
    Great memories and I got to meet Al Holbert during this time building the cars...

  12. Some video of the car from the 1986 Runoffs. LOVE THE TURBO CHIRP!!!!!