I was really looking forward to the 1989 Daytona 24 Hour race. I had been working as a weekend warrior for Bruce Leven’s Bayside team since early 1987. The team had enjoyed successful seasons in 1987 and 1988, winning multiple IMSA races, the Sebring 12 Hour twice and the Porsche Team Cup. The team had a very good chance to win the 1989 Daytona 24 hours.
1989 would start off with a bang, as Bruce entered two cars for the Daytona 24 Hours. Running two cars at Daytona is not an easy task, everything seems more than just twice the amount of work, because you need extra people to deal with fuel, tyres, food and more.
There was an interesting twist to the Bayside team in 1989. Bruce Leven and Rob Dyson were very close friends, being two of the top IMSA team owners of the 1980s. In this instance, they were going to combine forces and drive together in one car (along with John Paul Jr and Dominic Dobson). They would drive a totally white car which was #85 (chassis 962-121) and the only signage on the car was “RACECAR,” apparently the sponsorship idea came from Bruce and Rob. This car was the 1987 and 1988 Sebring winning car and was fitted with the standard IMSA air-cooled single turbo engine. The second car was the #86 Texaco Havoline (Havoline was oil giant Texaco’s brand of motor oil) sponsored (chassis 962-139) and was to be driven by Klaus Ludwig, James Weaver and Sarel van der Merwe. This car had been delivered at the end of 1988 and had the newly approved (by IMSA) 3.0-liter Group C water-cooled engine.
Normally Walter Gerber, the Bayside team manager, would bring in a whole second crew of guys to run the second car when it did run. Kevin Jeannette was usually in charge of this bunch, which was affectionately known as the “B Team” (while the Havoline sponsored car was the “A Team”). Over the past several years both cars were run in an identical fashion, with whatever was required, and there was not much between the two cars. Depending on who was driving, the B team sometimes beat the A team! While I was usually on the “B Team” with Kevin, Walter informed me on the first day, that I was to be moved to the A Team that week, as one of the regular guys from Bayside had hurt his back the week before and could not go over the wall at all. In any event, it did not really matter, as it was one big team, and everyone helped everyone else as required. Rob even brought some of his guys along to help out, so we had a great group of people to do the job.
The Leven/Dyson car soon became known as the “Cruise Brothers”. They enjoyed life and their racing, and were not pushing too hard. They qualified 15th (as I recall, Rob or Bruce qualified the car). The two other drivers, John Paul Jr and Dominic Dobson, just kind of went with the flow, because if your two team leaders were Bruce and Rob, well that is what you did, you just went with the flow!
The Havoline car was pushing hard, and qualified fifth. Most of practice was used to get a good race setup, and we felt confident with this car. We had three really good drivers, who knew the 962 and endurance racing. The Havoline car also had one of the newly allowed (by IMSA) engines with water-cooled heads and twin turbos, while the other car ran the older air-cooled installation.
The race got underway under good conditions. IMSA by 1989 had turned into a real battle between, Nissan, Porsche and Jaguar, with Nissan having won the 1988 championship. The Jaguars were the factory-backed Tom Walkinshaw cars. The Porsches were all in private hands, but were run by good teams, such as Jim Busby, Bayside, Walter Brun and Joest (among others). The Havoline car ran with the front group without too much problem and led the race for some time. However, after several hours there was a long pit stop, losing some 20 laps or so. A small plastic piece in the throttle linkage had broken which looked to be a defect, or maybe a bad design. This engine had come from Porsche (not Andial), so the factory guys assisted with the fix and replacement. The car continued and ran fine after that, but unless there were problems for everyone else, it was going to be tough to make up that amount of time. Dominic Dobson and John Paul Jr hauled the second car up the charts and they ran in the top five for some time. Once the Havoline car dropped behind, the race turned into a battle between Nissan, Jaguar and the remaining 962s, especially the Busby car of Wollek, Andretti and Bell, and the Brun car driven by Walter Brun himself with Oscar Laurrari and Hans Stuck.
Sometime after midnight, the fog rolled into Daytona, it was some of the thickest I had ever seen. Soon you could not really see the grandstands from the pit lane and the race was red-flagged and the cars lined up in the pit lane. We were allowed to cover them with tarps, but that was it, no work was allowed. We all assumed this would blow through quickly, but soon it became apparent that the fog was not dissipating. All the mechanics went back to the truck and lay down to get some rest. James Weaver slept in the truck with the mechanics, but Klaus and Sarel returned to the hotel to get a shower and clean up (although no one on the team knew this at the time). Team Manager Walter Gerber did not sleep, keeping his eye on the goings on with the officials as to the weather status. Around 04h30, Walter came to the truck and woke us all up.
The word had come down that the race would restart shortly, and we should warm up the cars, as they had been sitting in pit lane for three to four hours.
James Weaver had to drive the Havoline car, as he was the only driver we could find! No-one really knew where the other two were, but the assumption was, that as soon as they heard the cars start up, they would show up in the pit lane.
Poor James, he completed two and a half stints. After the second he said, I am tired, I need to get out. Walter said, well, you must keep going, Klaus and Sarel are not here and we don’t know where they are. At that point, a small panic set in and Walter sent someone back to the hotel to try and find Klaus and Sarel. James was wiped out, and by now was approaching the 4-hour consecutive drive time limit for one driver.
Meanwhile at daybreak, the Cruise Brother’s car unfortunately dropped out with engine failure. As I recall it burned a piston, possibly the long time out during the fog had some impact on it. By this time, Klaus and Sarel had been found at the hotel and were hustled back to the circuit. They showed up, clean shaven and in new driver suits, and of course took a lot of ribbing from the team. James staggered away after a more than 4-hour stint (some before the red flag, and almost four hours after the red flag). I think he did one more stint later on, leaving Klaus and Sarel to finish up, which they did, finishing in fourth place. Other than the engine problem, the car ran flawlessly. What might have been, was not. But that is racing!
The race for the lead turned into a good battle, narrowly won by the Busby 962, as Bob Wollek drove the last stints flat out to maintain a small gap to the remaining Jaguar which was overheating, and won by less than a lap. The Brun 962 was third after some minor issues, with the strongly running (after throttle repair) Bayside Havoline car in fourth.
The race had been inauspicious, as it was the first time that Daytona had to be stopped for fog. As the 1989 season went on, it became evident, that even with the water-cooled group C engine, the 962 was no longer the dominant car in IMSA that it had been. The private teams struggled to keep up with the factory Nissan and Jaguar juggernauts.
Editor: Thirty years later, there is a similarity to be drawn here between the 1989 and the 2019 Daytona 24 Hours, in that both races were red-flagged for an extended period due to the fog (1989) and rain (2019).
Written by: Martin Raffauf
Images by: Brian Doc Mitchell & Porsche Werkfoto