By the time that we reached the IMSA Riverside Los Angeles Times Grand Prix in April, the Dick Barbour Racing team’s IMSA GT championship season had been a mixed one.
24 Hour Pepsi Challenge – Daytona (2/3 February)
We had started at the Daytona 24 Hours with a new Porsche Kremer K3 935, chassis #000 00009, a Kremer-built K3 from a factory chassis. That car had crashed at about 4:00 am on Sunday when Manfred Schurti was run into the wall by a slower car. Since I spoke a little German, and Schurti spoke very little English, Bob Garretson directed me to take Manfred to the infield hospital for his mandatory check-up after hitting the wall. Manfred, of course said he was fine and did not want to go, but IMSA insisted (any wall contact was deemed as a necessary visit to the doctor) So off we went. The doctor of course wondered why I was there and I explained that unless he (the doctor) spoke German, I had better hang around and translate. They checked him out, asked a bunch of questions, then cleared him to go. The second car (009 00030), still running in the 1979 factory standard configuration had finished ninth, although it had been delayed somewhat with water leaking from the intercooler tank (the original customer 935s in 1977-79 used the water-cooled intercooler configuration). It had been driven by Bob Garretson, Annie Charlotte Verney and Skeeter McKitterick.
Coca-Cola 12 Hours of Sebring (22 March)
Sebring saw a reversal of fortunes, with the Fitzpatrick/Barbour car winning the race and the second car finishing seventh. The second car (driven by Bob Garretson, Bobby Rahal and Kees Nierop) was now sponsored by Apple Computer, and had been updated to K3 specification with a Kremer kit. I am told Steve Jobs himself was there for a look see, but I did not see him. Steve Wozniak and Mike Markkula had come by the shop a few times prior to the race. We gathered that of the two, Steve Wozniak was the car geek and Mike Markkula, was one of the ‘angel investors’ in Apple and actually became the CEO for a while.
Luckily for us, at one point late in the race, Bob Garretson was driving when he ran over a piece of Sebring debris, which turned out to be a piece of someone’s brake hose. The hose got wrapped up in the driveshaft, flailed around and the wire in the hose shorted out the electrics of the starter motor. The car died out on the circuit in the dark. Bob, who was an engineer as well as the team manager (and driver), had some mechanical skills and was able to get into the engine compartment out in the dark and correct the issue using the on-board tool kit and flashlight. So, we were pleased that at least both cars had finished, and in the process, we had also won the race. Fitzpatrick had done iron man work, in and out of the car for the 12 hours. After driving the first three stints, he got out of the car and sprinted down to the tower to contest a potential black flag for supposedly cutting the course somewhere. He also drove through the Sebring smoke for the last two hours, as a lack of any wind caused all the campfire smoke to hang like a blanket over the circuit. Visibility at Sebring at night is bad enough under normal conditions, but driving around through the campfire smoke of 90,000 spectators made things really difficult.
Road Atlanta Grand Prix (12 April)
The third race of the season was at Atlanta. Fitz had an uncharacteristic off in practice and tore up a bunch of body work, but he got it all sorted out by qualifying, and even managed to secure pole position. Pole positions in IMSA 1980 were important, as one extra point was awarded for the pole. The format of this race was an odd one, in that there would be two 30-minute races, both counting for half points. After 11 laps in heat one, Fitz was crashed off by Bill Whittington. What followed was a torrential rain storm, which flooded the track and resulted in the cancellation of the second race. So, while we had crashed out, we only lost half the points, a fortunate turn for us.
Los Angeles Times Grand Prix, Riverside (27 April)
By Riverside we were not doing too well on our plan to win the IMSA championship. Although we had won one race (Sebring), we had crashed out of the other two. Meanwhile, John Paul had finished all the races and was the leader in the points table. Riverside was a famous track east of Los Angeles and when it was originally built, I am sure it was out in the desert, in the middle of nowhere. By this time in 1980, there was housing all around and an Air Force base next door. Routinely, by late afternoons, the air pollution would be so bad that you had trouble seeing anything much beyond the track area, and even the mountains nearby became hidden in smog. This was Dick Barbour’s home track, as it was the closest we would race to his home in San Diego, and his car dealerships in the LA area. He was determined to win this race, as there would be a lot of friends, family, and business associates in attendance. It was reasonably close to the team’s base in Northern California (Mountain View), so a lot of team friends, wives, girlfriends and supporters came down for the event as well. While it used to be a 6-hour race, it had for some reason been reduced to five hours in 1980. The event was sponsored by the Los Angeles Times newspaper, which was owned by Otis Chandler, who was also an IMSA racer from time to time.
Practice and qualifying went reasonably well for us, and the two cars were once again driven by Dick Barbour/John Fitzpatrick (000 00009) and Bob Garretson/Bobby Rahal (009 00030). While Dick, Bob and Bobby knew the track very well, Fitz had never seen the place before, but once again, we had an ace in the hole. Our team truck driver was none other than Jack McAfee, a retired, well known Porsche race car driver from the 1950s and 1960s. He knew Riverside like the back of his hand, having won many events there back in his day. Local knowledge, while not critical for Fitz, for sure helped him get up to speed quicker. Pole was taken by the Whittington Brothers but our two cars qualified second (Fitz/Barbour) and fourth (Rahal/Garretson). There were no less than thirteen 935s in the field, either K3 updated ones and/or the latest factory configuration cars. The competition included, John Paul, the Whittingtons, Moretti, Bruce Leven, Bob Akin/Roy Woods, Randolph Townsend/Bruce Jenner, Peter Gregg/Al Holbert, Mendez/Redman, Ted Field/Danny Ongais, and John Morton/Howard Meister, among others.
Sixty cars started the race, and everyone seemed to take off like it was a 30-minute sprint race. Back then, racing was totally different from what we see today in IMSA or the WEC. There were no restrictors, no RPM limits, no boost limit, no fuel limits, you just went as hard as you dared. The 935, if assembled correctly would run easily for 24 hours at about 650 horsepower. How long it would run at 1.4-1.5 bar of turbo boost and 750+ horsepower was anyone’s guess, but it was almost guaranteed that something would eventually break at that level. The things that usually failed were the turbos, and/or the head gaskets on the engine due to overheating.
In any case, Don Whittington took off like he was in a 30- minute sprint race. Fitz stayed right with him, and passed for the lead after two laps. Fitz was the maestro of boost control, frequently changing the boost several times during one lap and he would routinely get more speed out of the car with less wear and tear than most of the others. By the first hour, our cars were running 1-2 and they would stay that way to the end. Several, such as Peter Gregg, Moretti, Danny Ongais, John Paul and the Whittingtons had engine and mechanical failures and dropped out.
In the end, our two cars, separated by a few laps, crossed the line together. Bruce Leven and Hurley Haywood were third, a lap behind the second-place car. At this point in time in IMSA history, that was a pretty impressive accomplishment as competition was very tough. Anyone could buy the latest 935 equipment and run at the front. For a team to finish 1-2 in a 5-hour IMSA race in 1980 took good preparation, organisation, pit work, strategy, and above all good driving. We had all of that at Riverside!
That night at the airport on my way to a meeting in Atlanta, I ran into Al Holbert. We were on the same plane to Atlanta, and chatted while waiting to board. When he saw that I had Dick Barbour racing team kit on, he remarked that this was a very good result for us. His view was that to finish 1-2 in an IMSA race was a pretty impressive achievement, and complimented us on it. We thought we were doing things right, but to have a two-time former IMSA champion (eventually to become five-time champion) who was one of your main competitors tell you that, well that made it even more special!
Written by: Martin Raffauf
Images by: Martin Raffauf, Brent Martin, Bill Martin, Kurt Oblinger, Sachs