We made it to Austin Texas for the Inaugural U.S Vintage Racing National Championships and had a blast. The event was held at the Circuit of America’s Formula 1 track. But first, how this all went together.
Scot Petitt heard of the Inaugural National Championship and let us know. The problem was only 550 vintage racers would be accepted (830 applied) and our Shop ’52 race car was broken. Scot, Bill Frey and I decided to go for it. We applied and were accepted. Now to fix the race car. When last raced, a spark plug blew and damaged the head. So we would have to disassemble the engine, inspect all parts and find new heads. We had some 912 heads in decent shape in our 356Restore parts stash and Bill sent them to Competitive Engineering for machining. Bill also checked with Vic Skirmants and Greg Johnson on the best engine race parts and vendors. The split shaft carburetors were sent to Carburetor Rescue to be converted to solid shaft and rebuilt. A race cam was provided by Elgin Cams. Martin Willis machined the venturis and velocity stacks. The valve rockers were resurfaced. Every part in the race engine would be the best available.
While Bill was rebuilding the engine, the transmission was removed and taken to Trevor for a rebuild. The 6 bolt differential was replaced with a 12 bolt, all parts inspected and replaced as necessary, solid axle boots installed. New Hoosier racing tires were purchased, mounted and balanced.
Engine assembly took time and we finally installed it on Sunday the day before we were to leave for Austin. We added break in oil; seven quarts with the remote oil cooler and added 110 octane racing fuel. Time to start the engine. No go! Nothing! No voltage at the coil and distributor issues. We decided to load the 356 on the trailer and head to Austin. Scot would borrow a coil and we would debug the engine at the track.
Bill and I drove the 356 on the trailer to Austin. No problems; we arrived Tuesday night. On the way to the Circuit of Americas we gassed up the truck-$2.95 a gallon. First time in years we paid under $3 a gallon.
Bill had contacted Vic Skirmants at the track so we knew where they were parked. Vic brought five 356s and had drivers from Australia. We parked close to Vic and Paul Swanson who also races a 356. Paul also holds the land speed record for a 1300cc 356 at Bonneville-148 mph.
So we unloaded the ‘52 race car and started to find the electrical issues. We used the coil and distributor that Scot borrowed from his Dad’s 356. No go! Then we started tracing all the electrical connections. We thought it might be the starter, so we removed it and testing made us suspicious. We borrowed a starter from Vic but still had issues. Scot had flown to Austin and jumped right in to help and after a few hours he found the problem It was the positive cable connection to the battery! While it looked good, removing the clamp showed dirty wires and connections. We had not inspected the cable in over ten years. With it cleaned, we attempted to start the 356. It turned over once, twice and then started right up. Bill had a huge smile.
We let it run and Bill worked with the distributor. It was near the end of the day so we drove it to Tech and got our tech sticker with no problems. Our 356 is pretty light and we had brought extra weight if needed. But we were not weighed at Tech; they only weigh the top five finishers. So we were ready for our first practice session on Thursday. At the drivers meeting Wednesday evening it was clear this would be a disciplined event. Even though it was a National Championship, the vintage rules would be enforced. With thirty four cameras around the track no one would get away with aggressive driving. Scot went out for practice Thursday morning. Fifty five cars in his race group including twelve 356s. It was great to see them take the start and race up the hill to turn one. Practice was uneventful and we met Scot back at the pits. He had a big smile. He said it was the best 356 he had ever raced. Bill had kept Scot to 6000 rpms and Scot finished thirty fourth. Prior to the second practice session, Vic Skirmants dropped by and asked if he could be of help. Bill was having trouble seeing the timing marks on the distributor. So Vic helped set the advance, then balanced the carbs and adjusted the linkage for full throttle. The engine sounded great and when Scot went out for the second practice session he took 20 seconds off his time and finished twenty ninth, not bad for a new engine and new racetrack.
It was time to drain out the break in oil and add the race oil in preparation for Friday’s qualifying runs. Our first session on Friday was at 0800. Scot was aware that the sun would be an issue and it was, but Scot qualified well as all the cars in the group were improving.
During qualifying, Scot saw a silver 356 rear deck lid on the track off line. He thought it might be ours. The next time around he saw it was a twin grille so not his. And the next time around it was completely flattened. Some 356ers had some work to do. The second qualifying session also went well and Scot was still mid pack. Bill let him go up to 6500 rpms.
Saturday would be the Enduro and feature race both in the afternoon. We had rented a golf cart and spent the morning checking out the race track and all the race cars which were in different paddocks. In addition to the 356s there were forty one other Porsches including a Pooper, A 908 and an RSR. Other race cars of interest were a 1939 Lagonda V12, a 1925 Bugotti, a 1974 UPO Shadow DN4, a 1986 Ralt RT4, and a 1968 GT-40. For the Enduro which was an hour race with a mandatory five minute pit we thought we might run out of fuel. The ‘52 has an eight gallon fuel safe tank. So we filled it up and planned for more fuel. The Enduro started and was half over when there was a red flag. All cars stopped on the track. It was a twenty minute delay. When restarted we waved Scot in for fuel. He missed the signal and the next . When he came in we refueled just as the race ended. We don’t know our position as the results were delayed due to the red flag. Scot apologized for missing the wave ins, he said he was having too much fun. Our final race, the feature race was also delayed. Scot got a good start and was moving up, then he didn’t come around. The race ended and the 356 came into the pits on a rope tow. The car just lost power and Scot pulled off into a safe area. We think it was electrical but didn’t have the time to check it out as we had to load up and head back home the next day. The trip back was also uneventful but we don’t have much good to say about Texas roads. Many 70 mph sections were two lane without shoulders. The roads were bumpy and repaired by just putting asphalt over the tire areas. As we said at the beginning a blast of a trip. The three of us worked well together. There was tension and there was success. Our thanks to Bill for preparing a great race engine. He says he can continue to improve it. Scot thinks we can really terrorize the other small bore cars in RMVR. Stay tuned!
On another race note, we may have mentioned that the mechanics at Eurosport had been busy preparing a 356 for the Carrera Pan America race. An attractive young lady bought the 356 and wanted to learn how to race it. We advised her of the racing coaches in the area. She took some lessons and the guys at Eurosport race prepped her 356. It needed a lot of work. The 356 was ready after a lot of midnight oil and she ran the race and finished first in class! She wants to do it again and Eurosport is already thinking of a five speed and better brakes.
With the races over, Eurosport was able to get back on our projects. The Magnuson’s ‘59 Sunroof Coupe engine checked out on the test stand and we delivered the 356 for engine installation. To take its place in the shop We brought down Viney, the Shop ‘64 Coupe. This was the local 356 we bought that had been stored so long it was covered in vines. We had Viney painted awhile back and it was waiting reassembly. This past year was different, usually we have three or four 356 in restoration. This year it was two. The Magnuson’s 356 which took time to replace undamaged panels and Jim and BJ’s project which just took time,time and more time.
We are assembling the parts to dry fit on Jim and BJ’s project. This is creating subassemblies. We take the steering shaft, steering coupler, steering column, turn signal assembly and steering wheel, clean and paint and make a sub assembly. The same for the backing plates, wheel cylinders, brake lines and brake drums. This makes dry fit a lot faster. One part that will take time is the fuel tank. If you saw the project when we started, you can imagine its condition. But it is correctly dated and important to the restoration.
Grandpa (and Dad) News
Congratulations to BJ for setting a personal best time in the recent New York City Marathon. He ran this race with over fifty thousand of his closest friends. Alex has taking to the playground game of four square as a serious undertaking. She is one of the “experts” on the playground. Samantha celebrated her third birthday on Tues Nov. 12. Lots of dolls and toys.