Rob Dyson

Founder and Team Principal

Rob has been a major figure in American racing for nearly four decades. He has overseen one of the premier sports car teams in North America for much of that time.

First and foremost, Rob competes to win, but also for the enjoyment of the competition and for the good of the sport. A noted collector of racing and road cars, Rob’s understanding of the importance of the sport’s history is reflected in his recent election as chairman of the board of directors of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

Rob worked his way to the top of the sport, initially with SCCA club racing beginning in 1974 with a Datsun 510. He hooked up with Pat Smith who taught auto mechanics at the local vocational technical school. Pat and Rob did all the mechanical work on that little Datsun, Rob being better at fabrication and Pat better at transmissions. (One of many stories of loyalty within the team, Pat ended up being the team’s chief mechanic and team manager for 28 years, as the team grew to be a force in professional racing.)

By 1982, they had two more mechanics and decided it was time to move up, so they had a Firebird built for IMSA GTO. To be charitable, the car did not do anything very well, but it taught the team a lot. Rob raced a mixed schedule in 1983 and ’84, running some Trans-Am races in addition to the IMSA schedule. Their best finish was a class third at the Elkhart Lake 500 miler in 1983.

It was while they were running the Firebird that they started thinking about life at the top: the IMSA GTP class. Rob looked at Lolas, Marches and Porsches. Bob Akin, a good friend, said the Porsche 962 was the only way to go, pointing out, that “nobody collects Marches.” Rob made a deal with Bruce Leven in 1985 to buy the #101 chassis, which Rob still has.

In 1994, when the GTP era morphed into World Sports Car, Rob ran a Spice chassis with a Ferrari 348 engine. He started running the Riley and Scott MK III the following year. They ran the Riley and Scott for eight years (and 36 wins) until they switched to the AER powered Lola EX257 in 2002, where they continue to compete today in the American Le Mans Series. They moved to new equipment in 2006 -a pair of Lola B06/10’s with AER’s V8 Turbo. And 2007 saw them renewing their historical relationship with Porsche. Rob ran Porsche 962’s from 1985 through 1991, winning a dozen races. They traded in their Lolas in 2007 and ran two RS Spyders in the ALMS LMP2 class against ten other cars including two Penske Porsches and the three Acura teams. The team continued with their Porsches in 2008, starting off the season with a second and a third at the Twelve Hours of Sebring.

A new chapter started in 2009 when Dyson Racing and Mazda joined forces for a multi-year partnership. The team won the 2010 Mid-Ohio race, giving Mazda, BP Biofuel Isobutanol, Castrol and Dunlop tires their first overall wins in the ALMS, and in 2011, the team won five championships: Engine Manufacturer for Mazda, Drivers with Chris Dyson and Guy Smith, the Team Championship, the Michelin Green-X Challenge and the Tire title with Dunlop. ” I have been doing this a long time and have won a number of championships in the past three decades,” Rob commented, “but those were very, very special. And now we have embarked on a new chapter with Bentley and racing their Continental GT3 in the Pirelli World Challenge. The future has never looked brighter.“

Rob has been behind the wheel since the original Datsun 510 and currently races a 1968 Gurney Eagle in vintage races. A shoulder injury and resulting surgery in 2003 removed him from the team’s regular cockpit driver rotation, most recently racing in five Grand-Am Daytona Prototype races in 2007, including the Daytona 24 Hours, his eighteenth. The team has won the twice around the clock classic two times – in 1997 and 1999.

In addition to Pat Smith’s long tenure, James Weaver drove for Rob 20 years and Butch Leitzinger for two decades. Loyalty is the product of how you are treated. Rob treats team members with respect and they respond in kind. Rather than raid other teams for mechanics and fabricators, Rob hires people already living near the Poughkeepsie shop. In a sport known for high turn-over, Dyson Racing has a tradition of longevity. While the team has benefitted from new recruits, many employees have enjoyed tenures of 30 years and more.

“If you look at the team, it very much reflects Rob’s personality, his character and values,” says long time driver James Weaver. “Rob is very unusual in that in a lot of other teams, they are constantly telling you how to do your job. Rob tells you what he wants you to do and gives you what you need to do it and lets you get on with your job. He helps you with your job. I have never seen him put anyone down, in fact, quite the reverse, if you are down, he will always pick you up. He is quite unusual in that respect.

“Rob is the definitive gentleman, sportsman and racing enthusiast, but he also runs a thoroughly professional team, without ever loosing site of, or touch with those qualities. I can’t think of anyone else who has achieved this. It is so easy to become compromised by ambition, fame, ego, financial pressures and all the other baggage that goes with any ultra-expensive and competitive pursuit. Rob is still the same man today as he was when I first met him in 1986.”

Rob reminisces that “the first road race I went to was Bridgehampton in the early ’60’s. I watched the Ferraris with Phil Hill and Stirling Moss and I said, ‘that is really fabulous.’ And road racing has always been special to me because I could do it myself. The idea of a sportsman driver is not alien to sports car racing whereas in NASCAR or IndyCar, it is very rare that you have an owner-driver.”

“The history of sports car racing is so steeped with such great names running such great cars on such great venues,” Dyson continued. “Le Mans, the Targa Florio, the Mille Miglia, Sebring, Daytona – the classic sports car races. It is years and years of history, with great great drivers – from Juan Fangio to Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart and Tazio Nuvolari, to the great guys of the ’60’s and ’70’s: Derek Bell, Danny Ongias, Jo Siffert and Brian Redman. Then you come to the modern age and you have my great drivers, plus so many others.”

“It is a staggering array of great names and exotic locations, steeped in history, and even when I was a kid, I always wanted to be a part of that and I am proud that I have been.”

When he was asked once what his favorite time in racing was, Rob replied, “I think each period had its own special attributes and memories. I remember when it used to be me and Pat Smith and one other guy, Duane Smith. The three of us would go to the races, leave at 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon and drive all night to get to Nelsons Ledges (Ohio) or we would drive all night to get to Summit Point (West Virginia). We would sleep in the truck if we had to because we were too late for a hotel.

“When I look back on that, it was kind of the innocence of it all, the lack of complexity, though at the time we thought it was complex. So I guess every time is just a little bit different. At all times though, there has always been that spark of emotion because we wanted to absolutely compete and win.”

Rob Dyson

Rob Dyson started racing in 1974 – in a hand-built Datsun 510. Last year Dyson Racing won five championships: the American Le Mans Series LMP1 Driver, Team, Engine Manufacturer (Mazda), and Tire (Dunlop) Championships along with the Michelin Green-X Challenge. In between, Rob Dyson and Dyson Racing has been a stalwart force in prototype racing, fielding one of the most successful teams in endurance racing. Here is the last of a three-part in-depth interview with team principal, Rob Dyson:

What kind of driver was James Weaver?

“He was a Friday, Saturday and Sunday driver. On Friday he would do everything he could to make the car go quicker. He was always trying things to make the car work better. And it always went quicker. On Saturday he would really get it on the edge so it really worked well in qualifying. That meant changing anything even the slightest bit – the ride height, a tweak on the tire pressures, a slight alteration on camber, adjusting the mirrors – whatever it took to get the absolute most out of the car. He was great at all of it. That was the difference between him and other drivers: while he was the best on Friday and Saturday, he was also the best on Sunday. When the flag dropped, he drove as hard as he could. He drove smart and he drove safe. James never put anybody off. In twenty years of driving for Dyson Racing, I never saw him or heard of him causing an accident or being in an accident or wrecking the car. And he threaded the needle between cars like you would not believe. I remember a race at Phoenix we won where he was pinched up against the wall by two cars and he just kept his foot in it and went around the guys. If he had slowed up, he would have wrecked all three cars. He did not cause them any problems, and just went around them. Plus he is a great individual and an easy guy to work with – a great sense of humor, a wonderful attitude and everyone knew when James got in the car, he would get absolutely the most out of it. Every single second he was in the car, it was being driven as hard as it could be. And he loved racing and it showed. He enjoyed it immensely.”

Best race car you’ve driven?

“Best all around race car driver would be the Riley &Scott Mark III. It was an easy car to drive fast, magnificent to drive. It was beautifully balanced, very stout and very forgiving and very adjustable. An excellent car that we won many championships with. The Porsche 962 was our first purpose-built GTP car and was also a great car. It did not necessarily have the best brakes, or the most power or the best handling, but everything worked very well together – a nicely integrated car. Nothing was A+ about it but nothing was B+ either. The whole package was so comfortable to drive and you could drive it for hours. That was why the car was so successful – it did everything with competence. And that made it easy to drive and do well in.”

Best race car driver you have driven against?

“Bob Wollek was very competitive. When he was in your mirrors, you knew you had a fight on your hands. I learned a lot from him. He had a way in traffic and always looked after his physical fitness.”

James Weaver said you had the natural ability to be a professional driver. Did that possibility ever lure you?

“No – I had business to run and a family to raise. I did not view it as a way of making a living. I had a lot of responsibilities with my businesses. I think I was pretty good at it and I was stimulated by the challenging and competitive environment, but I had a lot of demands on my time. That was one of the reasons I did not do Indianapolis. I could not find the time to do it. A.J. Foyt asked me in 1987 to come drive for him at the 500, but it would have taken a serious time commitment. I remember going to a race at Sears Point: been traveling all week on business and arriving at the track with a coat and tie and literally taking off my suit and putting on the driving suit to run the Porsche. With all my traveling, sometimes I would miss morning practice or test days.”

Was your father mechanically inclined?

“My grand father was a carpenter and my dad was a businessman. He was competitive and had a terrific work ethic and a lot of integrity. He was not mechanically inclined per se, but he was keen and very much appreciated cars and mechanical things. He was a kid of the depression: a hard working family man. He did have seats at Indianapolis – good seats and we still renew the same seats every year.”

What did your parents think of your racing?

“My mother use to come to some of my club races and I remember once at Pocono looking up and seeing my parents sitting there – they had driven three hours to see me.”

What kind of cars do you collect?

“I have various Ford Model A’s. My favorite is the first car I ever owned, a ‘31 coupe. Still have it, and it still runs, plus I have a Phaeton, a pickup, a sedan and a station wagon.”

What do Model A’s do for you?

“They are mechanical, primitive, and fun to drive – just fun to have the air blowing around you. You are involved with the driving – driving a car with mechanical brakes and no power steering. It is a friendly car – people wave at you. I drive into town and get more looks and response than people in their $100,000 Porsches. They see me coming and they wave. Kids laugh when they see the car.”

How do the disciplines of racing and business compare?

“In both racing and business, you must compete. And to be competitive you need the right hardware – in racing that means the right chassis, tires and engine, and in business the right manufacturing facilities and equipment. And you need the right people. In both, you have to make sure that everyone has the right tools to do their job.

“In both business and racing, you need to have a team that communicates effectively internally, so that the inevitable problems that come up are solved quickly. And you need a team that is cohesive. You have to give people the right agenda and keep the agenda short so everyone knows what the objective is. And that is really the essence of teamwork, both in racing and in business. Every person on the team, regardless of their discipline, has to embrace and support the core goals. Everyone on the team has to have the same ethos, integrity and work ethic and work toward the objective.

“In addition, in both racing and business, you have to be constantly updating yourself. In racing, technology never stops. You have to always stay flexible and be ready to change and adapt.”

What is the worst question you have ever been asked?

“I remember when they use to ask me what I ate before a race and I thought that was not a very serious question. I think people want to know `what it is like out there.` They do not want to hear an announcer pontificate and show off their knowledge on the subject. That is what made Chris Economaki so good at what he did: he asked you questions you could not answer yes or no to. Today, sometimes the broadcasters feel they have to show how much knowledge they have about racing and you end up with a question that a racer can say ‘yes, I agree with you,’ or ‘no, I do not.’ Economaki would ask what is it like out there and you cannot answer that with a yes or no. You cannot escape it without saying something of substance.”

What where your goals when you started out?

“I entered racing just taking it race by race. I thought I would run a little bit and see what it was like to be a racecar driver. I consider myself very fortunate to have done what I have been able to do. I won the first race I ever ran – a Watkins Glen regional SCCA race. Club racing was an interesting time – a time where we did not know how much we did not know! It was driving all Friday night after work to get to a race and than driving all night Sunday to get back to work. You would be in the middle of nowhere putting a gearbox together in the sand or rigging up a block and tackle on a tree to put an engine in the car. But it was always about doing whatever it takes whether you were in Hallett, Oklahoma, or at the 24 Hours of Daytona. When the flag drops, you had to be ready. It is a great discipline for business and a life lesson: you have to make all the effort you can – you have to make the race. That is something I tell my management – you set a date and a goal. And you do whatever you have to make those happen. Racing is a remarkable discipline and has served me well in my life.”

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