Peter Gregg was the IMSA driver every one strived to beat. He started in the early ‘70s with Porsches and had done very well. He won the first championship in 1971, sharing a Porsche with Hurley Haywood in the GTU class (under 2.5-litre). By 1973 he was running the iconic Porsche Carrera RSR and he would win the IMSA title in 1973, 1974 and 1975. By then he was known as ‘Peter Perfect,’ always approaching his racing in a very professional way, trying to leave nothing to chance. In 1976, on one occasion IMSA would not allow the 934 to run, and he realised that the RSR would struggle, and so switched to the factory BMW CSL. He was beaten to the title by Al Holbert in a Chevrolet Monza. By 1977 IMSA had decided to allow a 934 ½ to run, but this was no ordinary 934, this was a specially made 934 with some permitted changes, sort of like a 934 on steroids.
Peter Gregg showed up with one of these at Sebring and promptly sold the car to Jim Busby, as he had a second new one on the way. They managed to finish third behind two RSRs due to losing a wheel. By Atlanta, he had his own car and caused quite a stir, when he was several seconds faster than anyone else. IMSA found the car to be totally out of 934 ½ specification and sent him home, and the car did not race. He then proceeded to run the season in the Trans Am Championship and won the series, but was subsequently stripped of the title by the FIA due to rules irregularities.
In 1978, IMSA allowed the 935 customer models to run, and Peter duly got one, came back to IMSA, and won the IMSA championship once again. By then I had left my temporary position as a technical inspector at IMSA and had moved to work with the Dick Barbour Racing team in early 1978. The Barbour team was also running 935s but we did not run all the IMSA races, focusing instead on the longer races, so were not direct competitors with Peter for the full IMSA schedule. However, we did very well against him in the races we did run, notably Daytona, Sebring, Riverside and Watkins Glen (non-IMSA race). It was very similar in 1979, as Dick’s team did not contest the whole IMSA schedule, and although we ran well against Peter in the races we did contest, and he won the championship once again.
Our first real conversation with him was on an airplane flight out of Watkins Glen in 1979. We had finished second and third with two of our cars, and he had been a DNF in the Bayside 935. Jerry Woods and I sat right across from Peter and Michael Colucci (Peter’s chief mechanic) on the plane, and got talking. He asked about the team and remarked how we seemed to be doing quite well. We explained how a lot of our team were not full time people, but rather we were Porsche Club guys who had other jobs, and worked at the shop nights and weekends, basically attending the races without pay. He was rather shocked, but then said, “That’s why you guys are good, you all want to be there racing.” Then he turned to Michael Colucci and said, “See, maybe that is our problem, maybe you should work for nothing!” Colucci was not very receptive to that and said, that wasn’t going to happen. We all had a good laugh about it.
By 1980 the Dick Barbour team was in direct competition with Peter Gregg for the 1980 IMSA championship. The season would be a tough one. Competitors in addition to Peter included Interscope, the Whittingtons, Bob Akin, Bayside Disposal, John Paul, Moretti and Jim Busby, all with top line Porsche equipment. Dick had hired John Fitzpatrick to drive and bought a brand-new Kremer 935 K3 from Kremer, in Cologne. Peter had stuck with the factory 935 design, which was slightly inferior (in my opinion) by this time. Kremer had done their homework on the bodywork, and the aerodynamics of the K3 was quite good in comparison to the factory setup.
Our second conversation came after the Laguna Seca IMSA event, a 100-mile race. By this time engines had increased to 3.2-litre and were using more fuel. Jerry Woods, our engine man, had some concerns about making the 100-mile distance on one tank of 120-litres. Running out of fuel and stopping out on the circuit would most likely preclude winning, as some would make it without stopping. We knew it would be close, so we put every last drop of fuel we could in the car (by fuelling from the upper level of our transporter). Qualifying had been a short heat race event. Although we had set a faster lap time, Peter’s heat race had been quicker than John’s (Fitzpatrick), so Peter started on pole. He knew fuel was a bit iffy, so he purposely jumped the start, to make everyone do another lap, and so the starter did not start the race due to an out of order grid. Peter and John had a race long battle, with John just edging him by a few seconds at the end to win. After the race, Peter stormed over, saw Jerry Woods (our engine builder), got right in his face, jabbing his finger at Jerry, and said, “I’ve been keeping track of your fuel mileage all year, I was sure you were not going to be able to finish that race without stopping.” Then he smiled, and said, “So I don’t know what you did, but congratulations,” and shook Jerry’s hand and walked off.
Our third conversation with him was at Le Mans that year. The Dick Barbour team were running three 935s this year, but Peter was driving a factory 924 GTS turbo. On the Wednesday before the first practice, Peter came into our pit and he was all banged up with bandages on his head, and bruising on his face and arms. He was walking slowly, and those of us who knew him fairly well, came right over and asked what had happened. He told us he was out of the race, he had been on his way to the circuit in a road car when a French farmer had pulled out in front of him with a tractor, forcing him off the road into a ditch. He was suffering from dizziness and blurred vision, was not going to drive and was, in fact going home early. Since he knew us from IMSA he wanted to come by and wish us well before he left. Very classy, we thought at the time. We wished him well, and were glad he was not more seriously hurt.
We did not really meet again for any length of time until the November IMSA race. By the time of the Daytona finale (1980) we had clinched the championship, so we did not bother to run a car at all. But Bob Garretson, Jerry Woods, Ron Trethan, and I went down to Daytona anyway just to watch and attend the IMSA yearly awards banquet. Peter was experimenting with some new bodywork on his car, but was struggling in practice. He had skipped most of the races since Le Mans, recovering from his accident in France. When we saw him, you could tell, something was just ‘off.’ However, he seemed in good spirits and invited us all to his Brumos Booster party which he held annually at this race in a private area by Turn 6 at the Daytona Speedway. It was a closed off area with drinks and food for his customers and fans who all came down from Jacksonville to Daytona for the annual event. We made our way over there later that day to say hello, but of course when we got there we had no tickets to get in. While we were explaining to the gate keepers that we were invited, Peter saw us, excused himself from who he was talking to, and came over. He told the ticket takers, “These guys don’t need tickets, they are my invited guests.” That got us in easy enough of course, and he spent about fifteen minutes chatting with us. Peter shook our hands, congratulating us all on winning the championship, and we asked him about his new car. He said there were some issues, he was struggling with the handling, and in fact he later withdrew from the race, as the car was not running to his satisfaction. We asked about his health after the crash in France, and he said things were okay, but we wondered about it. Were things really alright? But we enjoyed the time with him, the good food and drink, and left thinking, well that was certainly a nice thing of him to do for us. Peter withdrew his car and the race was won by Gianpiero Moretti and Reinhold Joest ahead of John Paul Sr and Jr, both in 935s. We went home, having thoroughly enjoyed our Thanksgiving in the Florida sunshine.
A week later we were shocked to read in the newspapers that Peter Gregg had taken his own life on a remote section of Jacksonville Beach. One of the best Porsche drivers of the 1970s and a six-time IMSA champion, was gone.
Written by: Martin Raffauf
Images by: Porsche and Martin Raffauf