In the early to mid-1970’s I had been working part time (race weekends) as an IMSA tech inspector at some of the races, mainly the ones that I could fit into my work schedule of my day job as an engineer. At some point, I had decided that eventually I wanted to race myself, but that I should work with some team to learn what was required to actually go racing and so my first race as a crewman was at the 1978 12 Hours of Sebring.
I had found out that Dick Barbour’s team was actually based in Mountain View California, and that the shop was about a half mile from my house at the time. So, this seemed like a great fit for me. I approached Dick at Sebring early in the week (1978), and he was very receptive and introduced me to Bob Garretson and Gary Evans, his team managers. It was agreed I would start immediately. As soon as my tech duties were complete prior to the race, I started to hang out with the team and pay attention to what was going on, and to start meeting all the guys.
At that point, most of the top teams used Judy Stropus’ Timing services at the IMSA races. There were no computers, or automated timing. Judy would set up shop on a large timing stand in one of her client’s pits and time and score the whole race. She would not take any break, and it was quite incredible to watch. Frequently Judy would be consulted on any timing issues, even by the organisers. If you were serious about winning or placing well, it was critical to have her services to just know where you were in the scoring at any point in time. The organisers would pass out hourly sheets, but that was about it. Each of her clients had to contribute people to help her maintain the main scoring board she posted for her teams on her stand. It was decided, this would be my job for part of the 12 hours, helping Judy with the scoring board.
In 1978, Dick Barbour had entered one car in the Daytona 24 hour. Despite a tyre failure on the banking which destroyed the rear bodywork, the team did a good job to finish second. Chassis #930 890 0033 had been a new car at Daytona. This was a factory 935/78 (or customer 935/77A) car using a single KKK K36 turbo. Jerry Woods, the engine builder had taken the turbo apart and determined that it was using roller bearings, which seemed like old technology. Bob Garretson’s (the team manager) brother Fred worked at Garrett Air Research in Los Angeles. So, the team sent the turbo to Garrett for analysis and rework, and they redesigned the turbo to use plain bearings instead of roller bearings. Following the rebuild, it had run perfectly at Daytona. A second car was built up at the California shops after Daytona, a new chassis from Porsche (#930 890 0037) was used. The same ‘unfair advantage’ of the Garrett modified turbo was used for this car.
The main car at Sebring would be #6 and was driven by Dick himself, Rolf Stommelen and Manfred Schurti. Rolf and Manfred were factory drivers, driving for the Martini team. The second car, #9 would be driven by a most unlikely group, Bob Garretson, Charles Mendez and Brian Redman. Brian Redman was of course well known, but had spent most of the last year recuperating from his bad accident in a Can-Am car at St Jovite, when he had tried to take flying lessons in the car due to a bodywork failure. He had been laid up in the hospital for some time, and had been out of racing ever since. He was not even sure he could drive competitively any more. He had asked Jo Hoppen (VW/Porsche racing manager in the USA) to find him a ride in a car that perhaps was not the headline car, so that he would be able to gauge himself without too much pressure. He settled into this car (#9) as the lead driver, because the other two drivers were even less experienced. Bob Garretson had been out of any kind of racing for many years. He had taken time out to raise a family and tend to business interests. This was actually his first race in many years. The third driver was Charles Mendez, a businessman from Tampa, Florida, who was also the Sebring race promoter. He also had very limited racing experience at this point, and was a relative novice. As I gathered from the team at the time, expectations were low for this car.
In the early part of the race, I stayed in the pit and helped out as I could, moving equipment, getting tyres ready, and doing whatever I could. The #6 car, while it qualified strongly (2nd), came in on the pace lap with a turbo issue. It was changed, but in the process, it sent several mechanics, including Jerry Woods to the hospital with burns. Subsequently, it was found the impeller shaft was defective which had caused the failure. After 47 laps the car pitted, leaking oil. The rear shock had broken and punctured the oil breather line, which destroyed the engine as it ran out of oil. Peter Gregg’s car only lasted 11 laps until the steering failed, and he found himself rolling over on the approach to the hairpin. He was alright, but the car was wrecked and out of the race.
At one point, there was an argument about the timing of brake pad changes. The Dick Barbour team (Garretson team) was very well organised. They had one person, Marge Green, who ran the Automotion Parts business at Garretson’s. She was the quasi-manager of the pits, and kept track of pit stops and upcoming maintenance and such. After some time, she determined the brake pads should be changed on the #9 car. The crew accomplished this, then she demanded to see the used pads for immediate measurement. They duly handed them over but of course they were very hot and she proceeded to get badly burned on her hands. So, I made a mental note: never ask to see the brake pads.
The #9 car lapped without too much difficulty, maintaining a steady pace. Others were faster, but had issues. The Hagestad/Haywood car (935) was faster but had lengthy stops to change both a brake calliper and a turbo. The fastest car there, the pole sitting BMW 320 turbo of Hobbs, Minter and Klauser had fuel feed issues, then was involved in a fiery wreck later that night.
The #9 took the lead at the 7-hour mark, and was not headed the rest of the way, winning by 90 seconds over the Haywood/Hagestad pair, who made up a lot of their lost time. Third was Hal Shaw and Tom Spaulding in another 935, while a Carrera RSR was fourth overall. So once again Sebring had proven to be a very tough 12 hour. Someone once remarked that the reason Sebring was never a 24-hour race, is that, if that were the distance, no one would finish!
The unlikeliest of cars had won the Sebring race. Sebring once again lived up to its reputation, that anything could, and usually did happen. Dick Barbour proved once again the adage, that there is safety in numbers. It is always better to have a team of two cars rather than one.
The winning car, chassis #930 890 0037, had a one-race career at Dick Barbour racing. It was sold to John Paul prior to the start of the next race, the 4 Hours of Talladega. There it was damaged in a fire, but subsequently went on to bigger and better things, forming the basis for the famed car known as JLP1.
The team returned to the shop, where I settled in as a basic helper crewman, learning the ropes. I had good trainers in Greg Elliff, Jerry Woods, Ron Trethan, Bob Garretson and others. The team had a lot of guys who were top rank people: Jerry Woods was a master engine builder, already an IMSA mechanic of the year in 1977 with Walt Maas and his 914/6. Bob Garretson was an engineer and successful business owner. Ron Trethan was a technical specialist at Raychem, an expert in wiring and connectors. Bruce Anderson was an ex-Hewlett Packard manager who was now a principal at Garretson Enterprises (a Porsche repair shop owned by the two Anderson brothers and the two Garretson brothers), Tom Foster was a Westinghouse Engineer, who worked on the cars in his spare time. John Johnson owned his own business repairing commercial kitchen equipment and worked on race cars in his spare time. The list went on, and I had a lot to learn from these men. This team even had its own doctor, Mark Smedley. He was an emergency room doctor in Northern California, who was a Porsche Club member. He attended the races he could and looked after the crew and drivers from a medical perspective. He became a real valuable team member at races when guys got sick or hurt in any way. This was especially true at Le Mans, where it was comforting to have a doctor on board who spoke English, and who the crew trusted.
Shortly after returning from Sebring while loading the truck for the subsequent race, I was on the lift gate holding a toolbox and an engine on a dolly, while the lift gate was raised. Whoever was working the lift gate (I forget the guilty party) hit the wrong button and the stuff started to roll as the lift gate sagged. I grabbed the engine, and the toolbox went over the side, smashing it completely. I was told, “Well, good job, you passed that test.” “How is that, I asked? The toolbox is wrecked.” “Yes, they said, but you saved the engine, the more valuable part!” I felt good…I had promise!
Written by: Martin Raffauf
Images by: Porsche Werkfoto, Bob Harmeyer