On April 27,1970 fans at Virginia International Raceway endured a rain-soaked afternoon and were rewarded by one of the most exciting production car races in the history of VIR. The feature race of the afternoon was billed as a showdown pitting several of the nation’s best C Production teams from both the East Coast and California. John Morton had towed his BRE Datsun across the country to challenge local Datsun favorite Jim Fitzgerald and Porsche Champion Peter Gregg. Having won the SCCA B Sedan national title in 1969, Gregg was an obvious favorite in his first appearance at VIR. He commented on the track the week before the race ”I’ve heard a lot of nice things about VIR from friends who have driven there. Since it is one of the few remaining classic road-racing courses, I’m looking forward to racing there.”
The race began as a runaway for the Datsun driven by Fitzgerald who had just lapped the entire field in the previous D Production contest and had memorized each puddle and wet spot on the 3.27 mile course. However, he fell victim to the classic leader’s curse and was the first on the scene of a back-marker’s oil slick. He quickly found himself axle deep in the mud on the outside of turn 12. Gregg, Morton, and Bruce Jennings battled for the lead during much of the remainder of the 15-lap sprint but spins by Morton and Jennings allowed Gregg to lead a three-car sweep for Porsche.
His first trip to VIR’S victory circle set the stage for the Brumos Porsche team leader’s return the following year in a totally new racing series. In 1971 Gregg elected to contest a new series championship. John Bishop, former Executive Director of the SCCA had formed the International Motor Sports Association and he chose VIR as the site of his inaugural race. The format, known as the IMSA GT Series called for a single endurance-type event for both sedans and sports cars racing for the overall win and for class honors in under and over 2.5 liter engine categories.
The 1971 race at VIR was billed by local promoters as a classic dual between the brute horsepower of the American Corvettes led by Dave Heinz of Tampa, Fla. and a host of nimble, more maneuverable Porsches led by Gregg. Both Gregg and Heinz came to VIR after surprising experts by strong finishes against the factory prototypes at the Twelve Hours of Sebring in March.
The race was no disappointment for either fans or participants. Pole-sitter Heinz jumped to an early lead, showing the advantage of the Corvette’s horsepower on VIR’s long straights. The Porsche driven by Gregg never lost sight of the leader and remained in striking distance by virtue of skillful use of the superior handling produced by German engineering. The track was wet and slick causing Heinz to bend a clutch arm during an off-course excursion resulting in a stop to make repairs. Gregg jumped to take advantage and was able to hand off the Porsche to co-driver Hurley Haywood with a comfortable margin over the Corvette. For the second year in a row Gregg added a piece of VIR’s popular silver to his trophy collection.
The 1972 VIR 250 was promoted as a rematch of both the Porsche-Corvette battle and the Heinz-Gregg rivalry. The 1971 contestants were joined by much larger entries from both marques. The challengers were different, but the results were the same. On a rain-soaked track the Corvettes of Heinz, Charlie Kemp, and Denny Long were able to jump to an early lead but soon fell victim to a variety of mechanical problems. Once again the team of Gregg and Haywood was always in position to move when their rivals faltered and Gregg took home the silver for the third year in a row.
1972 was Peter Gregg’s final appearance at VIR but his dominance at the Virginia track translated into a full career as an almost unbeatable force in American endurance racing. He had been looking forward to his first appearance in 1970 and the track was certainly rewarding to him. From his early victories in the first IMSA races at VIR, he went on to win 6 IMSA Championships including three victories at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and a win at the Twelve Hours of Sebring. During the same period he also scored two consecutive podium third place finishes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. From his victory in IMSA’s inaugural event he went on to become the dominant driver in the long-running series. He also was SCCA Trans Am Champion for two years in a row in 1973 and 1974. He even found time to complete a season in the turbocharged Porsche 917-30 Can Am car.
While at VIR for a recent race, Gregg’s teammate Hurley Haywood explained his success. “ His nickname was ‘Peter Perfect’. He was a real detail-oriented person. Every single bit was planned and practiced. Nothing was left to chance. He was better prepared than everybody else. He had our crew practice pit stops to where when our car came into the pits we beat everybody out. We had every single thing that could possibly break in the race laid out and labeled so that they were ready if needed. His driving talent coupled with his preparation was the key to his success.”
Haywood feels that Gregg’s talent for organization would have led him to take a prominent position if he were alive today. “ If he had lived he would be a Roger Penske type today. He was very good with deals. He could work well with the factories . His attention to detail would have continued to make him a success.”
A friend describes visiting with Peter in his hometown. “He picked me up at the Jacksonville airport and we drove away over the backroads in his Porsche. At each start he would run through the gears singing from The Eagles ‘Take it to the limit one more time.”
After a short but rewarding life “at the limit” Peter Gregg died in 1980 at the age of 42. VIR fans and the entire racing world remember.