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 !!
John Higgins is deeply involved in the sport of racing, highly accomplished, and connected to a myriad of other participants and professionals in the sport. Like so many of my guests on Vintage Racing Podcast, John is rightly proud of the accomplishments, friendships, and partnerships developed over an almost 50-year career, but at the same time he is humble and almost self-effacing.
John calls himself just a used car dealer, but he owns what was the nation’s first standalone pre-owned Lexus dealership, building it into a $55 million business that carries new, pre-owned, and lease vehicles, and has grown ever since he and Bobby Rahal first joined forces to start the company. He later bought out Bobby Rahal’s interest, and both his business, and his past and present racing activities have been the topic of many press interviews. John is also a member of the prestigious Road Racing Driver’s Club.
John’s races include a bunch of IMSA events, 12 or 13 Daytona 24-hour races, at least that many events at Sebring, Camel Light races and many, many more. For many of those years, he and Chip Mead were co-drivers, but John shared wheel duties with a list of other professional and amateur drivers (John tells us a funny story about a certain celebrity driver).
By his calculation, John has driven in 573 race and vintage race events, often in more than one class per race! His long list of races is almost equaled by his long list of race cars, just a few of which include the Fabcar Camel Light car, a bunch of Porsches, including the 1969 LeMans winning 910 now residing in the Bruce Myers collection. John still races one of the only 6 center-steer 718 RSKs ever built, in which he and his cohorts have won dozens of vintage races, and which also won a best in class award at the Amelia Island Concours. John is also a car collector, and he shares his philosophy of car selection that many of us can relate to.
It hasn’t all been gravy; John battled cancer in 2006, but after successful surgery and recover, continues to run Lexus of Dayton, Ohio and enjoyS a busy schedule of vintage racing.
John spent almost two hours talking with me, sharing some of this rich history, some funny stories of life on the racing circuit, and the importance of building friendships and associations throughout his life. I’ve split our conversation into two parts to be released about a week apart, and I am confident that when you listen to part 1, you will not want to pass over part 2 – you’d miss too many fascinating stories about some of the most interesting people in racing. I also recommend you listen when you can go online to look at many of John’s race cars.
John sent the photos below to run with his episode, and there are more great photos I’ll include with Part 2 when it is released in about a week.
As always, I want to thank all of you listeners of Vintage Racing Podcast for your support and encouragement. Please tell your friends about the podcast, and tell others about it at your next race event. I don’t participate in social networking, so word of mouth and positive reviews on iTunes are important.
Also, a big thank you to John for this interview, and to Jeff Kline for his time and energy to promote Vintage Racing Podcast, and for asking his friends and colleagues to participate. Thanks for listening!
Thanks for coming back to the Vintage Racing Podcast! My guest this time is Jeff Kline, hugely successful past professional race car driver, and now active vintage race car driver. Jeff was my guest in January of this year, when we learned about Jeff’s start in racing, and his decades-long career in the sport.
This time around, I wanted to catch up with him after his return from the Weathertech International Challenge with Brian Redman at Road America at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Listeners will have heard many of my guests talk about how much they like that track, and Jeff is no exception. However, this time around, Jeff’s fortunes at the race ended early with a failed engine, and Jeff will tell us about that.
Jeff has also been a great help to me with recent and upcoming episodes of Vintage Racing Podcast, by getting his friends and colleagues to join me for conversations, including Roger Mandeville, Joe Cavaglierie, and Rick Knoop, with more to come.
You will have noticed that it’s been awhile since our last episode; as happened last year during the summer, my own schedule, and the schedules of my intended guests, get very busy with work, races, travel, and other commitments. Thanks for being patient during these quiet periods.
Also, a big thank you for listening, and to those loyal listeners who have been supportive with positive emails, contributions to our web site, and more. If you enjoy the podcast, please tell a friend, and please rate us accordingly on iTunes.
P.S. Be sure to visit ApexSpeed.com for a great forum for racers, classified ads, and more!
Summer is a challenging time for me to connect with new interview subjects; either I’m traveling for work, or my upcoming/potential guests are traveling to and from races. While I work on getting us hooked up with another great guest, here’s an announcement from past guest and CSRG President, Locke de Bretteville:
CSRG is the oldest vintage race car club in the West (http://www.csrgracing.org/) & we are the second oldest one in the U.S. We put on five events per year & the Charity Challenge is our showcase event. Typically our race weekends have 200-250 vintage race cars divided into eight or nine Race Groups. Saturday each group will have a morning qualifying & an afternoon race. On Sunday we may have two races or simply a morning warm up & an afternoon race.
The competing cars run the gamut from Production Sports Cars to F1, Formula Atlantic & Formula Ford to exotics like Maseratis, Ferraris & Alfas, as well as Endurance racers like Lola T290s, Chevron B16s, Can-Am like Lola T70s & McLaren M8s, etc.
If you are interested & have at least 20-30 cars who want to attend, we can organize a car corral for you in either the paddock or at one of the turns. Since entrants get first choice on paddock space, we will not know what space is available until entries are firmed up a few days before the event. If you have a smaller group, let us know & we will try to put something together that will work for you.
Those clubs with a corral will be issued a pass at the gate & will be given directions to their corral. We ask that you provide a representative to coordinate with us & to organize the corral.
Here are some bullet points to give you a better idea of what is on offer:
Full access to the paddock, garages & all spectator areas–this is intended to be an automotive immersion.
Three Lap, at speed track rides in one of the cars entered for the weekend in return for a donation to the Speedway Children’s Charities. Rides start at $75 Riders must wear pants, shoes, a long sleeve shirt & must be in good health.
Can-Am Austin Mini Challenge
A vintage plane gathering at Schelville Airport with shuttles
Grid walk for Spectators
Car Display outside Turn 11
Vintage Plane Flyover
Series Finale of the Crossflow Cup for Formula Fords
If you think you are interested, please let me know & I will put the process in motion.
Joining me today is Roger Mandeville, one of IMSA’s most dominant racecar drivers in the 1970’s and 1980s, and raced professionally for 26 years. Roger began his professional career in 1971, starting with an Open Kadett, then a Ford Pinto, even an AMC Pacer, but became inextricably linked with Mazdas. Roger has been known not only as a winning race driver and team owner, but as an eminent rotary engine builder for 40 years.
Roger spent most of his career in endurance races, with a few longer sprint races whenever they occurred on the IMSA schedule. At his race team’s peak, Mandeville Racing Enterprises ran two cars and several drivers, and during his professional career, Roger has raced in around 200 events.
In this episode, we learn about Roger’s start in racing, his early years racing Mazdas which later developed into some factory support, as he moved up the ladder from RS-2s to RX-7s, and ever-increasing horsepower and road speeds.
Although he is modest about his contributions to the development of the Mazda rotary engine, listeners will get a good idea in this episode just some of his accomplishments that keep Roger in demand as a rotary race engine builder. We go into some technical detail about 2 rotor, 3 rotor, and 4 rotor engines.
After retiring from professional racing, Roger drove vintage cars from the Briggs Cunningham collection; he tells us about his favorite race car from those years, and he also tells us about some of his many co-drivers, some of his toughest competitors, and his favorite tracks.
Thanks for joining us!
Here are some links to other web sites about Roger:
My guest this time on Vintage Racing Podcast is a master fabricator and top-level restorer of cars that define an era of racing and race car innovation and development. Joe Cavaglieri is known world-wide for the quality of work he and the craftsmen at his shop, Cavaglieri Restorations, in southern California, have performed on Porsche Spyders, and Joe was recently honored with the Peter Bryant Award for outstanding service and personal dedication to motorsports engineering.
As you might gather from that award, Joe’s 50 years of experience stems from his many years working on an impressive array of race teams and builders that include Peter Brock, Brad Friselle, Ryan Falconer, Frank Garcia and others, preparing cars for top level race drivers that include previous guest, John Morton, as well as Al Unser Jr., George Follmer, James Hunt, Leila Lombardi, John Hotchkis, Robert Kirby, and more. Joe spent those years in high-intensity learning mode on F5000 cars, the Frisbee Can-Am car, Indy cars, managing race cars, race teams, handling mechanical and fabrication duties, and more. This experience provided the foundation for Joe when he started his restoration business in 1984, first restoring a Lotus 19, with more work being referred by clients and colleagues since that first day.
Joe and I spoke for over an hour about many of the details of his early years in racing, through to beginning his restoration business, in which he has become known as a top-level master craftsman with a focus on ultra-rare and unique Porsches for wealthy car collectors and celebrities. Joe and I talk about the range of Porsche Spyders he has restored, and we discuss some of his philosophy on the degree, and the point of a car’s history to which it should be restored. We also get a little technical, with a discussion about panel forming in aluminum, tools he uses and prefers, and metal shaping techniques, and Joe shares his favorite aspects, and most notable challenges with his work.
My thanks to Joe Cavaglieri for taking time out of a very busy schedule, and to Jeff Kline, another previous guest on Vintage Racing Podcast, for putting me in touch with Joe and many other colleagues and friends.
You can learn more about Joe Cavaglieri’s work by visiting these web sites:
By now, many Vintage Racing Podcast listeners have heard Part One of my conversation with Rick Knoop, longtime professional race car driver. Rick’s passion for all things mechanical, and all aspects about race cars and racing have helped propel him through a successful career, which we have started to learn about in Part One, and will learn more about in Part Two of our conversation, which will be released soon.
Produced by Rick Knoop and Dean Kirkland as a tribute to Fred Knoop, Racing Through the Forest is a documentary filmed over about 3 years, and is packed with 50 interviews with luminaries including Sir Stirling Moss, Bill Pollack, Jim Hall, Phil Remington, Pete Brock, Jim Hall, and many, many more. The documentary provides a concise, engaging, and fascinating look at early American sports car racing in California, and is at times funny, poignant, and surprising.
With a career spanning 5 decades, my conversation with successful race car driver, Rick Knoop, is only the tip of the iceberg. Here we learn about many of the wide variety of race cars he’s driven, many of the co-drivers with whom he’s shared a cockpit (Rick is at home with sprints as with endurance races), and Rick shares some of his philosophy on racing, and importantly, keeping a car on the track and in the race until the finish.
Rick presents little sidebars and story gems that help paint the picture of his racing days, past and present (be sure to search the internet for videos of Rick driving the 1972 McLaren M8F, and his Pikes Peak Hill Climb footage).
This is a long conversation, so I’m splitting it up into two episodes. If you listen to part one, you will definitely want to also listen to part two, because there is a LOT covered in each episode.
A big thank you goes out to Jeff Kline, who has been helping me line up new guests for upcoming conversations! Jeff’s episodes are among the most-often downloaded of all here at Vintage Racing Podcast – check them out if you haven’t already.
Clark writes: “Also in this event was Peter Greenfield, who now regularly pilots this amazing 8C Alfa on the East Coast”.
I’m back from my work travels, but now stuck in jury duty, but I am working on bringing you more great conversations with a variety of vintage racing folks. Jeff Kline, also a previous guest, is pitching in to help, by making some introductions to future potential guests.