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New Episode – Jim Downing, IMSA Champ, Race Car Developer, and More!

My next guest, Jim Downing, has had a decades-long career in racing, beginning with club racing in the early 1960s, leading into many years as a successful IMSA racer with a long string of endurance races. Owner of Downing/Atlanta Racing, Jim is probably best known by some as the co-inventor and developer of the HANS device, which has become one of the most important pieces of driver safety equipment in existence.

But Jim didn’t stop with this accomplishment; he has won or scored highly at endurance races at Daytona, Sebring, Nurbring and LeMans, among others. He was instrumental in the creation of the Camel Lights series, helped write the rules for the World Sportscar Championship, and designed and developed the Kudzu series of race cars. Jim has had a long association with Mazda, and the rotary engine, being instrumental in the development of 2, 3, and 4-rotor engines and a host of cars from his early RX-2 through his current sports racer, the Peach.

As you can imagine, Jim has won numerous motorsports awards, and is a member of the SCCA Hall of Fame, Sebring Hall of Fame, Road Racer’s Driver’s Club, and more. At 75, Jim continues to race his Peach sports racer; his next event is the American Road Race of Champions at Road Atlanta. Obviously, plenty has been written about Jim, his racing career, and his cars, and I encourage listeners to search the internet, where you will find many great sites, including his own business’ web site, www.downingatlanta.com.

We recorded our conversation a day and a half before firestorms hit my area in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, and Napa County. Not sure if we would be forced to evacuate last week (and with fires still burning in many areas, I’m sad to say), it’s taken me awhile to get to the task of editing, mixing and publishing this episode, but now it’s ready – Vintage Racing Podcast with Jim Downing! We talk about his start in racing, through development of his many cars, as well as many of his co-drivers, engineers, and collaborators over the years, the value of good race driving schools, restoring some of his historic race cars, even the future of rotary engines.

Cheers,

Greg Tatarian

All photos below courtesy of and copyright, Jim Downing

Daytona, 1978.
1978 Daytona 24 Hour race practice – Jim Downing.
In the paddock, 1978 Daytona 24 Hour.
Jim Downing’s restored 1978 RX3 SP IMSA RS class car.
Jim Downing with his restored 1978 RX3 SP IMSA RS class car.
Jim Downing on the Le Mans podium.
Jim Downing’s Gatorade-sponsored Mazda RX3 GTU car.
Jim Downing’s Gatorade-sponsored Mazda RX3 GTU car.
Jim’s 4-rotor Kudzu – 1999.
Jim’s 4-rotor Kudzu – 1999.
Jim Downing’s 1995 Argo JM16
Jim’s 1996 Kudzu at Le Mans.
Jim’s 4-rotor Kudzu – 1999.
Jim’s 4-rotor Kudzu – 1999.
Jim’s 2002 Le Mans WR 4-rotor – car without motor is for sale at Jim’s shop!
Jim in his Peach at VIR.

Fires Still Raging in North Bay – Delay in Upcoming Episodes

Hello Listeners,

Many of you will have heard about the terrible firestorms that have taken more than 40 lives, displaced 100,000 people, burned thousands of homes and businesses. We’ve had family, friends and colleagues evacuated, or burned out of homes or businesses. Sadly, the flames, and the heroic fight by 10,000 firefighters to stop them, continues. We were fortunate that our house was not taken by either of the two fire reaching towards our home, but we were scrambling to prepare to evacuate, and had packed our two trucks with a few clothes, food, and important business computers and papers. We lived with the expectation of evacuation for a few tense days while winds and flames raged on.

I want to thank those of you who expressed your concern about our welfare and our home and business. This includes two kind gents – Naury Birnbaum and Dan Wise, who kindly offered their help when I was preparing to move some of our cars to safety. Naury was himself evacuated out of his home in Napa, where flames reached within a mile. Thank you, also, to Dave Vegher, for being ready to receive our cars and stuff them inside his barn for protection. Fortunately, this didn’t have to happen, but I am thankful. I hope that any other listeners who were affected by these fires that are still burning, the very best for themselves, their families and pets, and their homes.

I have not solicited any money for producing Vintage Racing Podcast in the almost 2 years I’ve produced these episodes. Some have told me I’m foolish for that, but I’ve greatly enjoyed the conversations with wonderful guests I would not have been able to speak with otherwise, and the kind comments and enthusiasm shared by many listeners.

However, I would like to ask that any listeners who are willing to help with the huge impact of these fires, consider a donation to the North Bay Fire Relief fund, administered by Redwood Credit Union in partnership with the RCU Community Fund, Inc., The Press Democrat, and senator Mike McGuire. There are many relief agencies involved, and you may select another, but 100% of these tax-deductible donations will go directly to assist fire victims and aid relief efforts. There are many who have nothing left but their lives.

The day before the fires began, I had completed a great interview with Jim Downing, professional IMSA racer, current club racer, race support business owner, and co-inventor of the HANS device! I hope to get that interview released later this week, so stay tuned.

Thank you,

Greg

https://www.redwoodcu.org/northbayfirerelief

BACK FROM CSRG CHARITY CHALLENGE AT SONOMA RACEWAY LAST WEEKEND!

CSRG reported a really large number of cars registered for the races last weekend at Sonoma Raceway. We had great weather, and a lot of great cars, including the Can-Am Mini Challenge as special guests. There were Minis all over the track and paddock – it was quite a sight.

It was also great to catch up with friends, and a few of my previous guests here on Vintage Racing Podcast!

 

Just a fraction of the Minis in the paddock.
Lining up for the Can-Am Mini Challenge 2017 at Sonoma Raceway!
Talk about leading with your chin…
In the Veloce Motors West garages, CSRG Charity Challenge.

It’s Here – Part 2 with Winning IMSA Racer, David Cowart!

Have you listened to Part 1 of my conversation with ex-IMSA racer David Cowart? Then you’ll want to be sure to hear the rest of this great interview. There’s a bunch more we didn’t cover in the first part, so sit down (or get on your bike, Jeff), and listen to the rest of our conversation.

In this part, David tells us much more about the successful IMSA career he shared with Kenper Miller with sponsorship from Red Lobster, and goes into detail about the March 82G and 83G cars they developed to run with either Chevy or Turbo BMW engines, thanks to their talented crew chief Jack Darren. With 750 horsepower in a 2000 lb. car, the car was a handful. I also talked with David about his stint as a race driving instructor, and his approach to teaching valuable lessons to aspiring drivers.

David and Kenper retired from professional racing in the late 1980s, and then moved into vintage racing, first with an ex-John Surtees Lola T70, and then with another M1, and later, both the Chevy-March, and the Turbo Porsche March.

David was inducted into the Sebring Hall of Fame, and was a panelist for BMW’s celebration of decades of racing in the U.S., along with Brian Redman, David Hobbs, and several other famous race car drivers. With partner Charles Menez, David promoted the 12 Hours of Sebring race for about 5 years. And he isn’t just into arcane technology; David tells us about his fascination with the new drag racing technology at the Gatornationals he likes to attend.

My thanks to David for a great conversation, and again to his fellow Road Racing Drivers Club member, Vintage Racing Podcast subject and helper, and talented winning race car driver, Jeff Kline.

If you have been enjoying these podcasts, please tell your friends to subscribe on iTunes and subscribe to our RSS feed through our web site so you get notified of news and developments. Also, please leave positive ratings and reviews on iTunes. How do you do that? First, launch Apple’s Podcast app, then tap the search tab. Enter Vintage Racing Podcast, then tap the blue Search key at the bottom right. Tap the VRP graphic, then the Reviews tab. Tap Write a Review at the bottom, enter your iTunes password to login, then tap all 5 Stars to leave a rating. You can enter title text and content to leave a review, and then tap Send. I know, it’s a lot, but you only have to do it once to show a little love for all the effort it takes to bring these to you.

And finally, we are now on Google Play Music, for Android devices.

 

IMSA Racer, David Cowart – Part 1

Don’t let David Cowart’s soft-spoken conversation with me fool you; David was one of IMSA’s most successful GT racers in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. David started drag racing his 1956 Chevy, then moved into club road racing in 1969 in what is now an ultra-rare car – a Fiat Abarth Double Bubble.

David soon realized that road racing, and in particular, endurance racing, was for him, and he drove through his career in Porsches, including an RSR with Charles Miller, Jr., and most famously, with Kenper Miller in a BMW 3.5 CSL, and then with sponsorship and stunning livery from Red Lobster restaurant company, in a BMW M1 and then March 82G and 83G GT cars.

David and I had an hour and a half conversation, so I’ve split it into two parts. We talk about the host of other interesting race cars he’s driven (a couple of them may surprise you), including during his vintage racing exploits; David tells us about his time as an instructor, his favorite tracks, his co-drivers, and much, much more.

My thanks to David for a great conversation, and again to his fellow Road Racing Drivers Club member, Vintage Racing Podcast subject and helper, and talented winning race car driver, Jeff Kline.

If you have been enjoying these podcasts, please tell your friends to subscribe on iTunes and subscribe to our RSS feed through our web site so you get notified of news and developments. Also, please leave positive ratings and reviews on iTunes.

How do you do that? First, launch Apple’s Podcast app, then tap the search tab. Enter Vintage Racing Podcast, then tap the blue Search key at the bottom right. Tap the VRP graphic, then the Reviews tab. Tap Write a Review at the bottom, enter your iTunes password to login, then tap all 5 Stars to leave a rating. You can enter title text and content to leave a review, and then tap Send. I know, it’s a lot, but you only have to do it once to show a little love for all the effort it takes to bring these to you.

Cheers,

Greg

David Cowart and Kenper Miller’s BMW M1
David Cowart and Kenper Miller’s BMW M1
Cowart/Miller GTP March
Cowart/Miller GTP March
Cowart/Miller GTP March

 

Ed Swart on Vintage Racing Podcast!

My most recent guest is Ed Swart, who began his race career in the mid-1950s driving in International Rallies and karting in his homeland of the Netherlands, He was soon racing in road races at Zandvoort, and by 1964, Ed started his own racing team – Scuderia Auto Swart, which ran in FIA-Touring Car Challenge events in Europe, racing Fiat and Fiat-Abarth race cars. Ed won many FIA touring car races in 1964 and 1965, at which time the name was changed to Racing Team SAS, and that opened the door to factory support by Abarth.

In 1969, with team member Rein Zwolsmann, the team won commercial sponsorship from pirate radio station Radio Veronica, and the team became Team Radio Veronica. Later, again with Rein Zwolsmann, Ed started the Canon Racing Team, with major sponsorship from the Canon company.

Ed tells us of the hundreds of vintage and historic races he’s driven here in the States, as well as Europe, and South Africa. Ed has raced at 87 different tracks in 20 countries, in over 50 types of race cars, including Fiat-Abarths, various Chevrons, Ferraris, Lola T400 F5000, Shadow DN9B, and more.

Ed shares the strong organizational skills that his father used to organize Dutch rallies, and which have served him well through his many roles as Race Director, Clerk of Course, Chief Steward for the FIA, Chief Steward for SVRA, and owner for 13 years of HSR-West. Ed is completing a book about his history and racing life and experiences, which should hopefully be released early 2018.

In this conversation, we also talk about some of his favorite race cars, examples of his “never give up” attitude, and his penchant for mixing his hobbies with business.

Visit: http://vintageracingpodcast.com

Now on Google Play Music for Android users!!

https://play.google.com/music/listen#/p … dt2ks7pn64

and check out:

http://www.apexspeed.com

It’s Here – Part 2 with John Higgins!

Hello VRP listeners,

Up next is part 2 of my long interview with the entertaining, talented, and interesting John Higgins. If you listened to part 1, you will have heard a bunch of great stories about John’s pro racing years, and transition into vintage racing. Also, be sure to check my blog post from August 11 for more thoughts John shared after our conversation.

In part 2, John and I bop around from topic to topic and back; we talk about his favorite aspects of racing during the day, and vintage racing over these past many years. Then, John shares his thoughts and interests in vintage car collecting. We cover Triumph TR4s and TR6s, Lotus Elans, motorcycles, and more. We discuss pros and cons of vintage car auctions, investing in vintage cars, and the modern trend towards self-driving and all-electric vehicles.

John shares his plans for upcoming races at the 24 Hr. of Daytona in the Fabcar Porsche, GT3 Cup Car, and a Carrera, and then he shares a funny story about a vintage race at Daytona a couple of years ago that epitomize the passion behinds the grassroots level of vintage motorsports! After that, it’s stories about Bobby Rahal, Tommy Kendall, Judy Stropus, and I talk about the many commonalities and connections so many Vintage Racing Podcasts guests share with each other, and John shares how he feels about the importance of these long-term relationships. We also talk about John’s inductance into the Road Racing Drivers’ Club.

You can see why it took two episodes to cover the wide range of topics John Higgins had to share with all of us. I want to thank John again for taking the time to join us here at the podcast.

Check out the new batch of photos John provided, below.

My big thanks to John Higgins, and to you for listening. Please tell your friends and colleagues about Vintage Racing Podcast, and please rate us highly on iTunes.

Please visit: www.apexspeed.com

John Higgins: “My stabilizer and great wife, Chris, in a more docile environment for once.”

The late Chip Mead and John Higgins, Elkhart Lake in 1987. Chip was always the fast guy, and was awarded the Porsche Cup in 1987.
This is the late engine builder/chief mechanic Ray Thacker – the guy who never gave up, and was the main reason for our success” – John Higgins
Elliot Forbes-Robinson and John Higgins at 1986 Sebring. Robinson had won in the Fabcar’s first race.
John Higgins – ill fated sedan efforts that most often ended with blown motors – around 1975-6.
1978 Sebring – John Higgins, James King, and Jim Trueman.
John Higgins at Daytona 24 Hour – night shot taken with camera duct taped by photographer/team manager Jack Webster to rear wing. Caused some distress to IMSA officials – a little ahead of GOPRO era!
John Higgins: “It must have tortured him to send us this letter as we were probably his worst nightmare primarily due to our team lack of decorum”.

Nice letter from Porsche president Peter Schutz to John Higgins who probably wouldn’t have known him or his team if they had walked into his office.
John Higgins at Daytona 24 Hour. Photo Jack Webster. Light was low fuel indicator!

Tim McAdam and John Higgins enjoying some crap Champagne on the podium after finishing 2nd in the 1987 San Antonio street race.
Fabcar at last year’s Historic 24 race with Duncan Dayton who qualified it almost two seconds faster than John Higgins and team did during qualifying for the actual 87 24 Hour race.
Bobby Rahal and John Higgins after winning a 3 hour vintage race in the Porsche 910. Bobby had John so far out in front when he took over the car, John says a “trained monkey could have won!”
John Higgins with long time buddy Jurgen Barth who ran Porsche Motorsports for the factory as did his father before him. This was taken two years ago on the grid at the Historic 24 Hour race at Daytona where he was driving a 908 and John was in the 910. John’s team had out qualified him by 5 seconds and he had commented that he didn’t recall 910’s 2 liter motors having that much power to which he replied they didn’t so they had put a 2.5 liter motor in the car !!

Warm afternoon at Sebring in 1988. Photo courtesy J. Higgins.
John Higgins’ man cave in his “toy box”.
Some of John Higgins’ car collection in his “toy box”.
Some of John Higgins’ car collection in his “toy box”.
Some of John Higgins’ car collection in his “toy box”.
Some of John Higgins’ car collection in his “toy box”.
John Higgins taking the victory lap in Rick Grant’s 718 RSK. They have won a bunch of vintage races in this awesome little car since 1994.

 

 

Dave Bean – Rest in Peace

One of the big names in the Lotus world, Dave Bean, passed away yesterday, 8/13/2017. Dave was a winning race driver, and for decades, an important supplier of parts and services to vintage Lotus owners.

My thoughts go out to Roberta, Dave’s widow, and all of the fine folks at Dave Bean Engineering.

Greg Tatarian

More Thoughts and Comments from John Higgins…

After John Higgins had a chance to listen to Part 1 of our conversation together, he sent me the following thoughts and comments that he felt were very important to add. I’ve included them here, and will add them to my introduction to Part 2 of our conversation when I release that next week.

Greg, I listened to your show last night and realized how hard it is to put almost 50 years of experiences on a one hour conversation without forgetting a million things. I would like to somehow acknowledge the people who I owe for making my life way more than I could have done alone.

First I wouldn’t have ever been a Lexus dealer if Bobby Rahal didn’t secure the franchise for us due to his fame as a great race car driver. Lexus was looking for some well known Motorsports luminaries to help jump start the brand, and along with Bobby they offered dealerships to Roger Penske, Danny Sullivan, Rick Hendrick, and Rick Galles, among others. My long time business partner Rick Grant was there for me when Bobby wanted to sell our store, and he wrote a large check and allowed me to repay him with the profits from the store, and to this day allows me to race his great old cars.

The late Chip Mead was the catalyst for all of us becoming friends in the early 70’s and my long time racing team mate and partner in the Fabcar and our GT3 Cup car, Howard Cherry, has been along for the whole ride. Our crew chief and head engine builder was the late Ray Thacker who never, ever left the track until the cars were ready to run even if it meant staying all night, and he was the best I have ever known in patching up a car during a race to keep it running to the end.

Also my first wife Pam and our girls Lauren and Kara often accompanied me to the races so our young family wasn’t separated for such long periods on time, and in modern times, my wife Chris never misses a race and has come to love the sport and the people involved as much as I do. I just felt bad for making it all about me, cause if it wasn’t for faster team mates putting me in positions to win races it never would have happened. Quitting racing at this point in our lives would be like going home from a kick ass party at 10 p.m., an analogy my youngest daughter Kara offered up as the reason she wanted to go to graduate school. Thanks, jh 

—-

One more reflection that exemplifies how relationships outreach far from the track. In 2004 I was diagnosed with stage 4 neck cancer and was preparing to undergo a grueling regimen of chemo and radiation here in Dayton when I received a phone call at my house from Dr. Kerry Olson, who is one of the most  respected head and neck cancer surgeons in America at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minn. He had been contacted by Judy Dayton, Duncan’s mother, on my behalf to offer a second opinion on my diagnosis. Ironically Dayton Ohio was founded by early members of the family but Duncan’s family have been prominent Minneapolis residents for many years and are very involved with the Mayo Clinic. Just to shorten the story my wife, daughter, and friend Rick Grant were at the Mayo early the next morning and within 8 days I underwent a six hour surgery that  saved my life.
In January I began a six week intensive radiation treatment, and in early May and 40 pounds lighter, Duncan called and asked me to drive his Chevron at mid Ohio as he was running his Lola T600. I started on the outside front row beside him and he allowed me to lead for several laps before blowing by but the therapy of that race was incredible. The crux of the story is that without his friendship, I would have undergone a treatment locally that most likely would not have spared me, and I’m sure one of  the best cancer surgeons in the country wouldn’t have been in the picture and able to have me on the table in 8 days.
Ironically I was determined to be home for Christmas, and as we started down the runway leaving Rochester the private jet we were on lost the port side engine and had to abort our takeoff and we had to wait for a new plane – but I did make it home for Christmas !!
Well said, John!
Greg