VIR 1963 Spring Nationals   

Today's Motor Sports, August 1963
(thanks to Gordon Warren)
Article by Donna Mae Mims

Don Devine, a relatively unknown member of the Meister Brauser team driving the five-year old C Modified ex-Reventlow ex-Pabst Chevy Scarab (Troutman/ Barnes), surprised all by coming through with an 81.01 mph win, his only real challenge being that of teammate/ owner Harry Heuer's Chaparral, rapidly closing on the young Chicagoan's Scarab at race end. Fastest qualifier of the second national race on Apyil 28 was Skip Barber's Lotus 23 which in the big modified go (including A and B Production) could do no more than settle for third (F Modified first) against the two hard charging V-8 contenders.


ABOVE LEFT: Bob Johnson and Cobra coming out of corner
ABOVE RIGHT: John Henderson blows F Jr. lead and scoots into honeysuckle patch!
BELOW LEFT: Unidentified car locks brakes and spins at station 15.
BELOW MIDDLE: Blackboard lists 19 top qualifiers. Names look familiar?
BELOW RIGHT: Dick Thompson, in first Sting Ray, comes around minus bits of right front.


Perhaps it's only just to point out that during the qualifying laps, Heuer was forced into weedsville when entering the downhill chicane by an errant Sting Ray. Commented Heuer, "I wasn't about to go back on the course with my broken exhaust blowing flames over the gas tank vent." This encounter earned Heuer dead last grid position, and the rather pathetic sight of the Chaparral worming its way up through the lesser machinery over the 3.4 mile course made it obvious that Devine's six second victory over his teammate would probably not have happened had Heuer a comparable grid spot. Mr. Heuer had some enlightening things to say about a Sting Ray's limited rear visibility.

It's interesting to observe that, of 25 entries in this 90 minute race, nine did not finish and eight more made pit stops. Bob Johnson's A Production Cobra was the only car of the first nine placers forced to pull in for repairs. Until ten minutes from the end, Johnson upheld the Ford Fanciers' hopes with a fourth overall and unquestionable AP laurels. Then mayhem broke loose as Bob stepped out of the straight turn and suddenly had a right front blow out, practically one lap from the pits. After a quick wheel change (33 seconds-wheel stop to wheel start), his crew knowingly sent him out with a hunk of the old tube inadvertently wrapped around the brake disc. All Bob was aware of was sitting in a cloud of black smoke at speed ("I was scared going into the chute") and he judiciously pitted. A shouted explanation returned him to the course but the two pit stops had taken their toll and Johnson landed second place at seventh overall.

Meanwhile, Dick Thompson in the Grady Davis AP Ray had been holding a prodigious fifth overall. In fact, he was even ahead of the Ed Lowther driven CM light-weight (Davis) Sting Ray. Following Johnson's dropdown, it looked as though Thompson had an ironclad fourth but suddenly, while being lapped by Thompson, Ed Smith's BP Corvette plain quit running through the uphill esses and Dick, a scant two feet behind, crashed into the rear of the ailing beast. This little fracas removed Thompson's right folding headlamp (the mess causing cooling problems) plus one spark plug wire. And quite soon, Lowther and Joe Buzzetta's EM Porsche slipped by to a fourth and fifth overall. From ten on, it was a real nail biter to see continued whether Thompson could hold against the Johnson Cobra's closing speed. He did, gliding into sixth with Johnson behind. Asked to comment on the fact that the Davis Sting Rays had now twice beaten the Cobras by default, Thompson replied, "We're living on borrowed time."

But, it was a good day for the Davis team. Duncan Black's Davis-owned Ray followed the Johnson Cobra home while the next finisher at ninth was the Davis 1957 BP Corvette piloted by Don Yenko, beating out the coiled up Bob Holbert Cobra (fan belt problems for Bob). Yenko was awarded the Tar Heel Trophy for greatest class domination (more than a lap beyond the next BP Vette-Bob Mouat's '57). This one was a gas squeaker, for the class B cars were only permitted 24 gallon tanks and there were several thirsty sputters on the last lap. Note: Frank Dominianni, Corvette terror and class bad boy, questionably reported in for the black flag and stared most innocently at the starter as he sat out his reprimand for too many wheels off course too many times.

The third race of the day, G Modified lumped in with the Juniors and III'S, was definitely not the usual bore. Charlie Hayes' ex-Donohue Elva Jr. was off the line ahead of John Henderson's ever-there Lotus 22, but the latter was first in and out of the straight corner, on to an immediate lead, rapidly stretching away from Hayes (who blew a head gasket in the early laps) but then snapping to a DNF when becoming entangled in the "grape vines" (it was a honey suckle patch, John) of the back turn. Hayes toured in for the overall with a huge time factor separating his Elva from Reed Rollo's seventh overall Elva., Four places back appeared Don Brady's elephantine Stanguellini while Suzy Dietrich, glamourizing the event, brought the tough handling (for a gal) Cooper to 13th overall for a class fourth.

Suzy's spouse Chuck Dietrich manned the American-made Bobsy II and led the GM gang from the start but it was Dr. M.R.J. Wyllie's Lola with a first-lap five-second lead which built up into something quite uncatchable to second overall. Oil spillage on the clutch took care of the good doctor's sure win and after a carbon tet spray fest in the pits, he zoomed out in pursuit of the now leading Bobsy and Tweedale's Lola, with Wyllie picking up 20 healthy seconds in the next two laps. So it rests after two nationals-Wyllie lost this one and Bobsy and Lola are tied for first. Not bad for the Bobsy's first serious debut (Dietrich commented it's an "awful hard car to drive.")

And the field of four III'S? It was like the Keystone Cops. The first Cooper off the line, Jerry McGammon didn't finish already at marker number three. About six laps later with the jammed throttle repaired, McGammon ventured forth to only make six thousand colorful pit stops, snarling profusely about "Les Leston" face masks coming off at 120 mph. Despite all such handicaps, McGammon caught class third (and dead last). The Coopers of Johns Gadwa and Fields were having a poppity-pop duel for first, swapping positions through the corners and even having the gall to dice their way through two dicing GM cars (the Elva and Merlyn of L.E. Johnson and Jack McLaughlin - later DNFs). With the lead in his pocket, Fields crackled down the straight but fate ruled that he was pit destined for he darted uncermoniously through the baybales and blooped to a halt-some of the ignition missing.

Paul Richards who walked away to a long overall C Production win in the second race-C, D, and E Produetion-considered that such sail-aways make for boring race watching; "The spectators hate you." Not so to appreciative drivers, one of whom mused as he admired the sweet Fiat Abarth 1000 in the impound area, "A damn good drive." Duncan Black's Daimler and Al Roger's Morgan supplied the fracas on this plateau, both driving a very. hard accelerate/brake race, and finishing in that order at second and third overall.

A blown engine in practice had negated any possibility of timed laps for grid position for the DP TR-4 of Bob Tullius. A Good Gremlin appeared in the form of poor Jim Spencer who must travel to the races in his Bonanza airplane. Spencer ferried Tullius Twin to Richmond, Virginia, where they scrounged spare parts for the "tractor"-type engine and, as a result of burning many quarts of midnight oil, Bob made last on the grid on race day. We suspected that this 30th starting place would deter him not and, sure enough, there he was half way through the pack at the end of lap one. Acquisition of second DP was somewhat facilitated by Harvey Mark's (TR-4) timely spin at the end of the straight; and class first came somewhat more handily for Tullius, too, with the demise of Dana Kellner's second overall "Four"-victim of overheating. Tullius' first registered at fifth overall, just behind the remarkably agile Jaguar XK-120 (CP) of Tom Forman. And, hanging in there at ninth overall for a big third in another TR-4 was Good Guy Jim Spencer.

Up in front of the EP fray for a time were Bill Romig (Porsche) and Bert Everett (TR-4), both of whom copped DNF'S, and Don Sesslar's Sunbeam Alpine ("It's best suited for a long course") couldn't quite match the first placer Porsche of Bill Haenelt. Ron Grables' Porsche was off to a somewhat sketchy run when the tach needle slammed to zero and the throttle jammed at the drop of the green flag. Grable cut the engine, worked the pedal loose, and played it by ear to class third.

The F, G, and H Production and H Modified event was the day's eye opener of 45 minute races. Jack Crusoe and Art Riley (Alfa and Volvo P-1800) played to a stand-up crowd as the duo presented their second treat of the season in another no-mistake duel, exchanging the lead countless times for the entire 61-mile trip, with Crusoe over the line for FP first by a mere fume.

Pete Van der Vate led the GP contingent at third overall with Phil Haloff's TR Spitfire shooting in at eighth. We were robbed of a class battle here when Frank Nagel's Morgan turned in a DNF, the only competition thus far for the full optioned Van der Vate Sprite.

My HP Sprite clung painfully to fifth and, as I dropped to third to make it through the uphill esses, Jack Bebee's ex-Hessert Fiat lapped by, followed by the first place furiously driven Sprites of Paul Hill and Bob Nagel. Actually, Hill was cruising, believing that he occupied the key spot but when his crew frantically signaled otherwise, Paul nonchalantly tromped on the gas and located and dispensed with Bebee at tenth overall. Jim Sheffield brought another of the used-to-win Fiats in to fourth while my engine blew, two laps from the end (I do not recommend the use of a standard head gasket with a .040" over bore block).

Of this 28 car field, three were the mysterious H Modifieds (are there any two alike, Martin?) and slinking into first for the only trophy was the Zink Petite of W.C. Greer followed two places later at ninth overall by Kaye Hier's Bobsy I. (Corky Willis' Fiat Abarth never saw the finish.) A subversive survey of the little old men in this class reveals that many do not plan to graduate from last year's 750 cc's to the 850 cc department. Number one, it's a little tough on the purse strings and number two, some feel it not too equitable a step, suspecting that Glenn Baldwin's 750 cc national championship last year was a victory over some 850 boys. Illegal cars in SCCA? Oh tosh.

Geography versus competitors undoubtedly explains the very light field of starters (103 total) at Danville for the challenging course is a favorite indeed among national drivers and the North Carolina Region conducts an excellent race program. However, the limited field boasted much of the cream of the national crop and was made the most of by all day radio and TV coverage of stations from Roanoke, Danville, and Durham. Although probably not a deterent to the hard core race driver, the antiquated Virginia speed laws are somewhat less than inspirational (45 mph tow limit over good, open highways). For infractions as minor as 5 mph over the limit, The Pittsburgh Gang alone fattened constabulary money belts by $120.00.

To cap off the day, Corvette mechanic Bill Hartley (suspected of Meister Browsing) drove the Davis '57 Corvette off the upper rails of the car trailer to land half on the Sting Ray below. While helping lift the fleet Yenko car back into its rightful position, Bob Johnson discovered it to be one thousand pounds underweight.
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