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.”