Porsche Daytona Rennsport in Retrospective
There is something about a museum. If people are correct in preferring pictures
to words, then it is little wonder that museums –filled with the images of history –
are so popular. During the final week in April, the Daytona International Speedway
was transformed into a living museum when it hosted Rennsport Reunion II, the
second time the cars and people who helped create the legend of Porsche
motorsport were gathered together to celebrate the historical reality in which they
had played such a critical role.
Trilogies always come in three’s
In an era, which has seen an explosion in the popularity of retrospective
competition, most, if not all of the Porsches have been seen before, most at the
first Rennsport gathering in 2001 at Lime Rock Park. Even so, no matter how
many times one has come face-to-face with them, the sheer number of Porsche
race cars residing in one place. at one time. Is overwhelming to the mind.
Such was the case during the 50th anniversary celebrations for Porsche at the
Monterey Historics and Watkins Glen in 1998. Such was also the case at Lime
Rock three years ago. Such was certainly the case at Daytona, where in all, there
were more than 550 racing Porsches on the grounds. Yet, for me, the history was
personal. As a young reporter for a Connecticut newspaper I had covered the
1969 edition of the Daytona 24 Hours, witnessing for the first time the Porsche
factory at work.
Unfortunately for Zuffenhausen, that was the year that improperly treated layshafts,
deep with in the flat eight-cylinder powerplants of the works 908s had put the
Porsche prototype fleet out of action, leaving the Mark Donohue-Chuck Parsons-
crewed Penske Lola T70 MKIIIB to claim the honors despite spending an hour
and a half in the pits having its exhaust system rewelded. Although I had followed
the Trans-Am, and even had covered the U.S. Grand Prix at the Glen during 1968,
the sight of the Porsche mechanics in their red overalls, essentially marching
through the garage area in step was unforgettable.
Yet, the focus of my presence wasn’t so much on the Porsche factory, or its
opposition, but rather on the mundane 911T driven by my friend Tony Adamowicz,
along with Bruce Jennings and car owner Herb Wetanson. The previous summer
Adamowicz has stunned the Trans-Am Under Two Liter division behind the wheel
of the Milestone 911, winning the top honors in the class, largely on their basis of
the six straight victories he posted in July and August with the car that was run out
of Wilton, Connecticut – a twenty minute jaunt from my newspaper. At the end of
1968, Wetanson had bought the car, which had been modified by Crew Chief Mac
Tilton with solid bushings in its suspension, and had Tilton and company
duplicate its changes on his own 911. That latter Porsche was the one in which
Adamowicz would take a stunning fourth overall, and first in class at Daytona, this
in spite of a crash in practice, and some early electrical problems in the race.
As I walked around the Speedway this April, I recalled that weekend with a degree
of fondness, but also sadness as well. My mentor, Chris Economaki has
preached at me for many years now that racing in general has lived beyond its
means, something not true back in 1968 when Adamowicz, Tilton and Don
Breslauer sustained themselves and the team on their Trans-Am winnings.
The picket fence of life
It was, indeed a more simple time, when the three, who constituted the total team
staff (and who were expected to pump gas out front for the customers of the
Milestone Garage when not working on their racer ) went to the events in a
cramped Ford Econoline van towing the Porsche behind on a flat bed trailer. In
fact, the 911 wasn’t even really a 911, but rather a stripped 912 shell purchased at
auction from a New York City Police impound and built into a race contender. Nor
was Wetanson’s operation much different, although his Porsche had started life
as a competition-oriented 911L.
That was the norm back then. Today, however, even in the “cost effective” Grand
American Rolex Sports Car Series, a Porsche 911 GT3R will cost more than a
quarter of a million to purchase and, perhaps three times that to run for a season.
And, that’s just the modern version of Adamaowicz’ original 911. Consider what a
current prototype costs or an IRL or Open Wheel Racing Series single seater, and
one can begin to see why the top classes in the American Le Mans Series, or the
field for this year’s Indy 500 are well below full strength.
Indeed, Formula One, which has built its foundation on the altar of high
technology is now thinking about switching to what is almost, but not quite a
“spec” vehicle, not unlike the Daytona Prototype coupes of the Grand Am. Racing
as a sport has matured greatly since the 1960’s. It has a far greater reach in
terms of its audience. It is far more technology driven, and it is far more
professional. Yet, all of this has come at a far greater price. In a time of economic
uncertainty, and subsequent cost cutting, one has to wonder whether or not
Economaki’s point will come to haunt the industry, or whether the clever minds
that have brought us to where we are today will figure a means of leading the
sport back from the valley it currently finds itself in to yet another summit. As for
me, I think I’ll hibernate for awhile with my memories.