Team History (Part 3)
The top series beckoned. Rob considered buying a March GTP car. Bob Akin, a good friend, said that Porsche was the only way to go: it was a very impressive vehicle backed up by a great organization. Besides, Bob noted, no one collects Marches. So Rob went to Al Holbert to buy a 962. They were sold out, but he said that Bruce Leven was selling chassis #101, the first factory-built customer car, and Rob bought it. (He still has it).
It wasn’t until the eighth round of the 1985 season, at Lime Rock Park, that Rob and his co-driver, Drake Olson, made the team’s first appearance in in the top class of IMSA’s Camel GT series. It was a memorable debut. Earlier Rob had inquired about being part of Goodyear’s free tire program and was told that for the team to be eligible they would need to win the race. And on a day track made particularly challenging by changing weather conditions, that is exactly what they did. Before its truncated season ended, they had added two more wins – Olson and Bobby Rahal at Road America and Olson joined by Price Cobb at Columbus. Olson also won the inaugural Porsche Cup for North America in 1985.
In 1986, Rob ordered a second car, 962/120 and Rob and Price won at Riverside and Sears Point. Price was second in the championship and earned their second Porsche Cup. The team had come to grips with the Porsche 962 platform quickly and had started developing concepts of their own in the latter half of 1985 and early ‘86. Virtually every aspect of the Dyson 962 was modified, including a new high downforce nose and air tunnels under the car designed by the team’s aerodynamicist Dick Yagami.
James Weaver joined the team at the Road Atlanta race in 1987 and he and Price won the race. The team had four more podiums and won at Watkins Glen and Road America. Price was second in the championship, and took the Porsche Cup, the team’s third in a row.
1988 found Dyson Racing and all the other Porsche teams facing changed circumstances. Following a couple of years of development, the factory-supported Nissan Electramotive GTP team hit its stride, scoring eight wins in a row. With all the other Porsche teams shut out, Dyson Racing took the only two Porsche victories that year, tallying a early-season win at Miami and a late-season one at San Antonio that broke Nissan’s win streak.
Looking back over that first four-year phase of Dyson Racing’s GTP history Rob recalled that “I talked to Bob Akin and asked him what the story was on these Porsches – they look pretty slick. Bob said, ‘If you are going to run a car, you have to run a Porsche. They are a bit more expensive, but they have the customer backing and are around at the end. That GTO you are running, first of all it is a lower class car, and you are going to have to build a new car to get it running right, so why don’t you just move up.’ So we worked a deal with Al Holbert to get a 962 from Bruce Leven. I couldn’t believe that I had a Porsche 962 of my own. We ran eight races in 1985 and won two of them.
“Alwin Springer, the Andial Porsche engine guy, was a real help to us. He showed us how the engine worked, and also a lot about chassis set ups, and how to run the car. The other thing was that we were a keen team. Pat Smith was very smart with the basics. We just outworked everybody. We were used to being creative and having to work very hard to make the Firebird work. Smitty and I had the same attitude, even if we were quick, we would try stuff to see if we could go quicker. You don’t know if it is going to work, but if it does, great, if not, you could always put it back to where it was, assuming we did not get too radical and put yourself in the hedge or something!
“When we moved into the GTP class, it was just four guys. We added two more and we had a tight knit six running the Porsche effort. We added guys very carefully, and slowly. We put in a lot of effort to make sure that whoever we brought on was very good at what they did. The team evolved and is still evolving today, very organically.
“I raced with some great drivers in the Porsches. I would have raced even more, but my kids were young and many times I would not go to the races so I could be with my kids. I remember going to a race at Sears Point – I had been traveling all week on business and I arrived at the track with a coat and tie and literally took off my coat and tie, put on a driving suit, and strapped myself into the Porsche.” (Rob won that weekend’s event).
“In 1987, I did two races with A.J. Foyt in his Porsche at Miami and Sebring and after Sebring he said, “Why don’t you come and run the Indy 500 with me. No money, whatever you win, we split 70/30 – 70% goes to the crew and 30% to you.” I called him three days later and asked if he was serious, and A.J. said, ‘Absolutely.’ So I thought about it long and hard: he was at the top of his game, he had all the right equipment. I talked to Leo Mehl, the head of Goodyear racing, and he said you could not ask for a better guy, because in those days, A.J. knew everything there was about running that track. But Leo said, “Rob, all I want to tell you is that anything that happens at the Indianapolis Speedway, happens at over 200 miles per hour.” And I thought about it when I went home and I saw my eight year old boy and my five year old daughter and my businesses were growing and I would have to take three or four weeks off to go there, so I thought about it and said, maybe I better take a pass on it. That was the difference between road racing and all other forms of racing. The guys I would have been running with at the 500 did this full time and I would have been the only part time guy. With everybody else, that was that all they did – prize money meant a new refrigerator; prize money meant they could buy a new house.”