From the start
"My main interest became road racing. It was very interesting to see the different roster of people in the Ferraris, Maseratis, Coopers and Porsches, and later, the Ford GT and Coupes. Plus you had Formula One guys stopping by and doing races and that just added to the mystique. It struck me that the people in road racing were business men who had interests outside of racing. I followed Champ Car racing with all the guys who ran in the 50's and 60's - they were full time racers - I couldn't do what they did, but I always had in the back of my mind that I could do road racing sometime in the future. So when I finished graduate school at Cornell, I said, 'why don't I do it for a year see what it is like.' I remember watching races at Watkins Glen from the roof of my car when I was younger and I said it would we neat to run Watkins Glen, to race the same track that the Formula One guys race on.
"I decided the best way to start was to get a car that was simple to work on and get parts for. The Datsun 510 fit that bill. I bought one that was half built and ran it at an SCCA regional at Watkins Glen in 1974 and ended up winning my first race."
Pat Smith was his first crew guy. The first time Pat came over to look at the 510, he said, 'You better get some sandwiches; we are going to be here for a while.' Rob and Pat would work on the car at night, after work. Pat was good at transmissions and Rob was good at fabrication. Except for some body work, they did all their own work. Rob ran SCCA Regionals in the Northeast in 1974 and '75 and ran his first SCCA National in 1977. That was a real step up, because they were racing against the factory teams of Bob Sharp, Bob Tulius and Joe Huffacker. Rob won a National Championship in 1981 with a Nissan 200 SX, which he ran to the end of following year.
Rob remembers running with Bob Leitzinger, the father of Butch Leitzinger who drove for Dyson Racing for fifteen years: "Bob was a senior level, established club racer, and had been racing since the mid 60's. Bob was a well known National driver, so when I showed up running SCCA Nationals, Bob was one of the standards. I ran a B sedan Datsun against him for a couple of years. He was very good, with very high standards. He was always very competitive and the cars were impeccably prepared. I remember lining up on the race track for a practice at Nelson Ledges. Bob Leitzinger was in the car in front of me. We both used the same engine builder, John Caldwell, and I said to myself, 'Well Rob, you have the same stuff he's got. This guy is the standard and you just have to meet it.' So I put the nose of my car right on his rear bumper and anything Bob Leitzinger did, I did. I just followed him around, lap after lap, emulating his every move. I have mentioned this to Bob a couple of times of how those laps at Nelson Ledges taught me more about race car driving, more about race craft than anything else before or since. I don't know how long it lasted, maybe 15 minutes, but it was the most important single experience I had in racing, parking my nose right under the bumper of his car and just going for it.
"Club racing was an interesting time. It was up all night driving Friday after work, than get two hours of sleep in the truck before they open the gates on Saturday morning, than unload the car and off you went. Than drive all Sunday night so we could be back at work on Monday morning. You did sleep pretty well on Monday night! But that was kind of fun when I look back. I smile when I think about how much we did not know and how much we were learning every weekend. I remember lying underneath my race car, sucking dirt, putting a gear box together in the sand. Or being in the middle of nowhere, working a block and tackle off a tree limb to get an engine in. Or it is the middle of the night, and you are taking an engine out and pulling the bottom end off to check to see if any bearings are gone as a result of an oil pump failing. Here it is midnight in Palm Beach, Florida, 90 degrees and you are a buffet table for the mosquitoes!"