We typically post a lengthy interview once a month, on average.
Frank Muller put a lot of effort into this lengthy with
Rob Dyson, one of the most significant entrants in the
Dyson – Interviewed by Frank Muller
Racing has always been a favorite of mine. Rob Dyson and his
team have been a fixture of American sportscar racing for nearly
thirty years. In my opinion, they grew into the premier American
privateer operation. I recently heard that Pat Smith, chief mechanic
for 28 years, would be retiring as of the Sears Point ALMS date.
I thought the Road Atlanta race would be the perfect opportunity
to talk to Pat about his wonderful career just prior to its conclusion.
I made arrangements with Chris Dyson and all was set.
the paddock last Friday I discovered that Pat would not be
in attendance. He and the team had jointly decided that it
would be better for everyone if the team began getting used
to working without relying on Pat’s presence.
want to let the interview slip totally away. I asked Chris
to set up a time during which I could talk with the senior
Dyson. Saturday morning, after the first LMP practice I met
with Rob. We spent a fascinating forty minutes talking about
the history of the team, his years with Pat Smith, and the
cars they had run. And I got a little glimpse into the future
of the team. That interview follows below:
FM: You have been working with Pat Smith since
1975, from your earliest days in SCCA club racing. How did
you and he hook up initially?
Pat taught auto mechanics at our local VoTech (vocational technical
school). I needed someone to help me out. At that time it was
just me and couple of kids from our farm that would come along
on the weekends. A friend of mine introduced me to Pat. I said
to him, “Why don’t you come on by?” He came
over one day, looked around my shop and said, “You better
get some sandwiches, we’re gonna be here for a while”.
Did he have any formal engineering background?
No, no, he’s just smart and he also never forgets… anything.
Did Pat have any background in racing before you met?
Pat had done a lot of drag racing, in his own car and another
guy’s car. He was a great mechanic. He made his living
being a mechanic.
You started SCCA club racing in 1975, running a Datsun 510.
In those days who went to the races? Pat worked on the car
back in New York while you went to the races?
Oh, no, no, no, when Pat and I first started working together,
even though we both had full-time jobs, Pat, he’d work
on the car after school. Then I’d get out there at night.
Sometimes we’d meet one another, although rarely. I just
picked up where he left off. Pat was better at transmissions,
but I was better at fabrication. We both kind of muddled through
all the various things. Then we’d go to the races, sometimes
driving all night.
So it was just the two of you doing all the work?
Yes, except for the bodywork, we farmed a little bit of that
In 1982, you decided to build a Firebird for IMSA GTO.
I said to Smitty (Pat Smith), “I think we ought to move
up”. I thought we were capable at that time. We had a
couple more guys hanging out with us. We had a crew of three… Pat,
two other guys, and me. I thought the Firebird would work.
Another guy built it, and to be charitable, I’d call
it a learning experience. The car really didn’t do anything
very well. But it taught us a lot. In 1983 and ’84 we
ran a very mixed schedule, some Trans Am, some IMSA, finishing
third overall at the Elkhart Lake 500 miler, which was pretty
interesting when you think about it. Here we were running a
car that was clearly outclassed but we just outlasted everybody.
FM: You were still running the Firebird when you started thinking
about the Porsche 962?
Bob Akin was a very dear friend. So I asked him, “These
Porsches look pretty slick. What’s the story on them?”.
He told me, “If you’re gonna run a car, you’ve
got to run a Porsche, they’ve got the customer backing.
It’s a little bit more expensive, but you’re around
at the end. So you have a shot. The car that you’re running,
first, it’s a lower level class. To get it running right
you’ll have to build a whole new car, why bother. Why
don’t you move up?”
So I talked
to Al Holbert, who I knew a little. He worked a deal to get
a 962 from Bruce Leven, the 101 chassis.
What was Pat’s reaction to the 962, after tube-framed
cars, and things he understood very clearly?
Well, I said to Pat, “Look, with the Firebird, we’re
racing a prototype. It’s just not called that. It’s
a one-off, with everything made by us or the guy who built
it. So we absolutely had to do all that stuff. The problem
was, the car was just so unique. It was flawed in every respect.
So we were constantly updating and redoing stuff, many times
all by ourselves.
So you were very used to being creative?
We were used to being, not only creative, but having to work
very hard to make the car work. So we took a look at the Marches,
we took a look at the Porsches. Lola had a car. Bob Akin said, “Look,
it’s simple, nobody collects Marches”. And he was
right. “You gotta get a Porsche,” and that’s
what happened. So we worked with Al and got the deal.
I would imagine the fact that Al Holbert and Porsche in general
supported the car helped a bit?
Well, they supported us to a point. When we got the Porsche
we sent a couple of the guys down there (to Holbert’s
shop in Pennsylvania) and they were explaining it to us, you
know little quirks and that kind of thing. I think, in essence,
they were blowing us off. You know, “who the hell are
these guys?” So we decided that we were going to go testing
and learn the car. And we were going to run Atlanta, which
in those days was in April. Alwin Springer was a real help.
He came to a couple of the tests and showed us how the engines
worked. He showed us a whole lot of things related to chassis
setups and how to run the car. So that was a real plus.
thing was, we were a fairly keen team. I mean Pat was very
keen, very smart with the basics. We just out-worked everybody.
So when we showed up at Lime Rock, on Memorial Day weekend,
we had the car pretty well sorted. By golly, we kicked their
asses (taking first with some clever pit strategy).
later, they took fourth at Mid-Ohio and a month later a third
at Watkins Glen. And they continued to impress, finishing third
at Portland, third at Sears Point, first at Road America, eleventh
at Pocono, seventh at the second Watkins Glen event, first
in Columbus and finally an eighth at the Daytona Finale. Quite
an impressive record for a team’s first season with a
When you moved into the GTP class, did you have a team in place
that could run that car?
No, we were just four guys. We had to add a couple more guys.
And that’s what we had, a close six, running a GTP.
Dick Yagami made some valuable contributions to your 962. How
was he attracted to the team?
(Dick Yagami was a designer/aerodynamicist who was responsible for a lot of
the tweaks used on Dyson 962s.)
Yeah, when Yag came with us, he worked part-time. Dick knew
Drake Olson and kind of came along with Drake. And then we
did bring him on full-time. He was a general, overall kind
of… he was an aerodynamic guy and an industrial designer
by trade. That helped, he got us thinking ‘different’.
With the kind of success you were demonstrating did other teams
try to steal away any of your talent?
Well, ultimately, Yag did leave. He went to Nissan.
What about Pat? With his reputation, did anyone ever try to
entice him away?
I’m sure they did, but he never mentioned it. But I’m
sure people talked to Pat.
At the peak of the IMSA GTP era, how many 962 chassis did Dyson
Racing own at any one time?
Maximum was three, that was because we were running two cars
and we had number 101 put away.
And that’s the one that is restored today, in the original
orange, yellow, and white colors?
Yeah, yeah, a beautiful car.
The DR2, really fascinates me. The really radical-tailed car?
(The DR2 was possibly the most radical 962 variant raced in
RD: The DR2 was a Nigel Stroud design for Richard
Lloyd. It had a rising-rate front suspension. So I worked a deal
to buy a copy of that car. We put a lot of work into it and I
think it actually didn’t work on our American tracks. Our
tracks were too rough. The suspension was a little tighter and
it just didn’t quite work right. We won a bunch of races
with it but it was not the leap forward that we thought it would
You mentioned it was a Lloyd copy. Did Fabcar build that for
No, it was built over in England.
I saw a picture of the tub with a Fabcar plate on the sill.
Did they do enough on it to make that valid?
Well, Dave (Dave Klym of Fabcar) did a lot on it. He’s
consistently done a lot of work for us. The only car he’s
not working on for us now is our Lola. Although we’ve
asked him to do some stuff, but he’s so backed up with
all of his other projects he hasn’t been able to do it.
But Dave has been a supplier of ours for a long time.
Does the DR2 still exist today?
You know, I don’t know where it is. I mean it may be
at some of these vintage deals, you know, Porsche things. It
was sold off and the only one I’ve got is the 101.
As IMSA GTP died out (1993) were you still running the DR2?
No, we abandoned the DR2 because that was an air-cooled car.
We bought chassis number 148, the last all Weissach-built 962.
By that, I mean, the tub and everything was built by Porsche.
After that, any of the ones after 148, the tubs were built
by Klym (Fabcar) under a contract with Porsche. We ran the
148, which was a Group C car, and we put it into IMSA trim.
FM: After the demise of the IMSA GTP class (1993) you jumped right
into WSC with a Ferrari-engined Spice.
Well, we bought a Spice and then adapted a Ferrari engine to
it. I looked at the regulations and they said it had to be
a street-derived engine. Well, one man’s “street-derived” is
another man’s “all-race” engine. I looked
at all the street cars. I got out a Road & Track and looked
at all the specs of all the cars they tested in 1993 and I
looked for displacement. I saw the 348 Ferrari and thought, “that
So we checked
around at junk yards and found a couple of 348 engines for
literally nothing and pulled them apart. We looked them over
and felt they looked pretty slick. So I called Bob Akin again,
and I said, “Bob, I’ve got a Ferrari engine I’ve
got to trick up to run in this Spice”. He replied, “Well,
you’ve got to go see Ted Wenz”. So we went to Wenz
and he and Peter Marcovicci did a phenomenal job of rebuilding
the engines, great engines.
But the Spice
car was a disaster from the word go. It was the worst car,
no, it was the second worst car I’ve ever driven. The
worst car was our Firebird. Everything was a disaster. You
couldn’t make it work. The steering was a disaster.
We did run
it and it was a great car because it was exciting. We didn’t
do very well with it but the fans loved it. It sounded great
with a flat crank, in essence a derivation of the Cosworth
V-8, and it was loud, and throaty, and high-pitched and all
of that stuff. It wasn’t like the 333SP though. But,
you know, it was a Ferrari. And then all of a sudden everybody
started showing up with all the Spice cars with the Oldsmobile
Aurora race engines in them. The class went from a “street-derived” engine,
normally aspirated, to race engines. Well, we were clearly
out-classed. So that car went away.
So you’re saying the engine spec for the class slid away
from what you had prepared for?
Yeah! The rules said “street-derived”. Anyway,
we went on from there, we realized that wasn’t going
to work. We had used Bob (Bob Riley) to make the Spice work
a little bit better. We called him and he came to take a look
at some stuff. Bob re-fabricated some uprights and some other
pieces to make them work better. But he kept saying, “I
don’t want to keep selling you parts. I want to sell
you a car”.
So Pat and
I went out there (Indianapolis) late in the season and looked
at what Bob had drawn up. As soon as he showed us what he had
done, with the separate coils and shocks and the overall packaging,
I told him to build us one with an option on a second car.
You could literally change all the springs in the pits, in
five minutes. And that’s what got us into the Riley & Scott
Pat has been integral in the success of the team almost out
of gut instinct and intuitive decisions. He’s been able
to adapt to whatever you’ve decided to do.
Pat has been… uh… whatever I throw at him he’s
been able to work with it. It’s… uh… we always
stick to basics. We always run for the race. We always run
the whole weekend to get the race setup. We don’t spend
any effort other than getting into the show and qualifying.
We want to run the car with a race setup. We never run light
fuel loads or in this case, high boost, either with the Porsche
or now with the MG-Lola. We always run it to ensure that it’s
Just a very practical, functional setup?
With Pat, that’s one of the great things about him. It
was always basics, oil in the engine, water in the radiator,
gas in the tank, a battery that works, steering that works,
brakes that work. I mean it was just very basic stuff. We never
got ahead of ourselves. We always stood on our basics.
That leads me to the next question. When you decided to go with
the MG-Lola, on a technical level, how much of a leap was it
from the Riley & Scott to the Lola?
Significant, I think. It brought back all the complexity we
had got away from. It brought back turbos, which add a whole
roster of complexity that you just don’t have in a normally
aspirated engine, particularly one like the Lozano (Ford/Lincoln).
The Lozano fellows have just done a terrific job. They virtually
eliminated all the problems for us. You bring a turbo back
and that’s a whole other thing.
is a very light car, all carbon chassis. We had had that with
the Spice. That adds complexity. You know if you want to add
a bracket on a tube-frame car you just weld it on or drill
it into a bulkhead. But with the carbon, that makes a difference.
Aero load, the whole complexity went up significantly. But
it was kind of a combination of all that we had learned, a
culmination of all our time together.
I noticed in your pits here there was a fellow wearing a Lola
sweatshirt. Do you get fairly close support from Lola?
Yeah, well we’ve established ourselves as running these
cars pretty well. Lola provides us with a couple of people
and it helps, mostly on the mechanical side, the engineering
When you went with the MG did you need to hire new people with
special technical skills?
Yes, we brought two people on. We hired Peter Weston to be
our chief engineer. We had worked with Peter when we tested
the first Lola 900 car, four years ago, I guess. Everybody
was pretty impressed with him. So I had a meeting with him.
I’ve got a business over in England so I called him and
said, “Why don’t you show up and we’ll talk”.
I hired him late last year to come on board with us to add,
to elevate, our game in the engineering area, also to allow
us to get a little more logistic support in England as far
as parts and that sort of thing.
And “Big Steve” is from AER?
Yeah, Steve, Stevie is a full-time employee of AER and he shepherds
I noticed, walking around the paddock, that your front-end
aero is very different from the Field car. Is that a Lola tweak
or is that tweaks you guys have come up with yourselves?
Well we spent… that was Peter, and we spent some time
in a wind tunnel, like about a week. And it created a whole
lot of things for us to make our cars run better. We had to
get the aero down. We were not doing a good job in that area.
We had the engine and the drive train and we got the suspension
stiffened up and we got all that straightened out. We needed
a little tweak with the aero and my son (Chris) worked a deal
with the Lola people to get some wind tunnel time, in exchange
for some things they owed us and off we went.
Pat Smith isn’t with the team this weekend. Has he officially
Pat and I have been talking about it for a couple of years.
Pat had said, “sixty, I want to retire”. Pat and
I worked together for 28 years. So, uh… he just felt
that it was time. He took all of this to heart. And after a
while, it was time to retire. It was him, Pat said it was time.
It wasn’t me saying, “Smitty, you’re getting
soft or old or you’re forgetting half the stuff you used
to remember “. It was just that Pat said, “There
are a lot of things I want to do in my life”. I’ve
got all the time in the world for Pat Smith so I told him to
name his date. So the idea was that the official start date
of his retirement was his sixtieth birthday, which is in less
than two weeks, so Pat’s retiring. But we decided that
now, if he was here, the guys would continue to rely on him.
So they need to stand on their own now.
I feel confident
that it was the right decision for him. I am as close to Pat
Smith as any human being I know. We have had a wonderful experience,
a lifetime experience. We were in the truck in the old days,
it was he and I, 3:00 in the morning, on the way to Nelsons
Ledges (an SCCA club track in northeastern Ohio) sleeping in
the truck before the gates opened.
Would you say Pat was still enjoying the racing but just realized
that it was time to get on with some other things.
I think that’s part of it. I think the other thing that
he felt was, “I’ve got other things that I want
to do. I’ve got my health so I want to do them.” And
Pat’s got a very sophisticated mind. I think he wants
to go to the opera. He wants to do some photography. He’s
got a couple of cars he wants to fix up. He’s got a 1962
Corvette, he’s got his old drag car, he’s got a
1948 Chevy sedan he’d like to get squared away, he just
wants to get a lot of things done.
If you go to Le Mans next year, will you be able to persuade
Pat to come with you or would you rather not impose on him?
Would he want to do it?
You know, I hadn’t thought about it. I think that Pat… uh… that’s
interesting. I can’t speculate on that, whether I would
ask, or whether he would come.
FM: With the two of you being so close, Pate must almost feel that
Chris is like a son to him.
Well, he is Chris’ godfather so I think there is an element
of closeness there. I also think that the other aspect of it
is that our families are very close. His kids started coming
to the races when they were 10 and 13. So as adults, we know
each other’s kids.
Any mixed feelings about Chris racing?
(Dyson chuckles) Ummm… yeah, I think they are mixed.
It’s funny, when Chris started expressing an interest
in racing, I was down in Florida at an ISC (International Speedway
Corporation) meeting in Daytona. The Chevy drivers were down
there testing for the 500… and I ran into Dale Earnhardt. “I
see your son’s getting interested in racing, my son is
too”, I said. “What are you going to do?”
He told me, “Well, I’m gonna get him the best stuff so he can’t
blame it on the equipment.” So I thought, I’ll do that too.
mixed, it is mixed. This sport is very, ignoring the financial
drain which is significant, but ignoring that, it’s just
money. And I don’t mean to be flip about it. This is
a physically and emotionally draining sport. It sucks a lot
out of you. And I don’t mean that in a negative sense.
It requires an intense, high level of commitment… if
you want to win. If you want to show up and participate, well
you know, don’t go to the gym six days a week, go twice
a week. You know, if you’re content to be an “also
ran” that’s fine. But if you want to run up front,
like we do, and have been, you’ve got to be committed,
I was concerned,
you know. Chris is well-educated, erudite, articulate, mature
beyond his years and a terrific athlete. He was all–county
baseball, lettered in basketball, lettered in baseball and
can hit a golfball a ton. And I was not hoping, but thinking
that maybe he really wouldn’t want to get involved in
Because he would be missing out on a lot of other opportunities?
Yeah, I gravitated towards mechanics because it was something
I could master. Chris has mastered everything he’s tried.
He was not a “garage rat”. It wasn’t like
he was interested in the mechanics and all that stuff. He came
up from the other end, from the athletic side, not unlike a
lot of these guys.
In the old
days every driver came up from the mechanical side, ‘cause
you had to. If you wanted to race, you had to bring your own
car. Nowadays, in Chris’ case and whole lot of other
guys, they can show up with their helmets, and with the data
dumps they’re able to get, they can get up to speed right
away using all the traces and all the other stuff from the
our day, in order to tune a car, you had to get your ass in
it to try it. It either worked better, or it didn’t.
And if anybody was going to be doing any adjusting, it was
going to be you. But Chris has got this opportunity, with an
established team. With the data dumps and all that stuff, it
really enhances a driver’s ability to get up to speed.
And Chris has become a solid, solid racecar driver whose performance,
speed and confidence is remarkable. He has really ramped up.
And it’s not hanging on by his fingernails either. He
is swimming in it, not drowning in it.
How are his enthusiasms divided as far as driving and/or ultimately
taking over your role as a manager?
Well, I think he’s mastering that too. In many ways he
has recognized that it is going to be, ongoing, his responsibility
to maintain the viability of Dyson Racing. I’ve told
him, “look, my life is changing”. Whether he agrees
with the direction, his effort is now concentrated. This has
got to become his deal. That’s really the bottom line
of what’s going on. Chris is assuming a greater role,
in procurement, in purchasing, getting the guys, getting us
spiffed up. He’s doing a much better job at that than
Pat or I ever did.
You must feel a great sense of satisfaction over the long run
of successes achieved at Dyson. Is there any one period that
stands out now as your favorite?
Well, it’s a time-based thing. When we were running the
Datsun, you know, we were very competitive in the northeast.
That was a very competitive series (SCCA ). That kind of set
the stage for us to be able to compete. There were eight or
ten guys every weekend that had a chance of winning. That was
very competitive racing. And while we are in competitive racing
here (ALMS), the numbers aren’t any different. There
are eight or ten guys that are really good in this level of
racing. The only variant is that the cars are a little different.
But the level of competition and the emotional and physical
commitment that you have to make is exactly the same.
We took our
club racing very seriously. We were not there just to participate.
I’ve never shown up to a race, and Smitty and I never
showed up to a race just to show up. We showed up to win the
race. We always wanted to compete, at the highest levels, no
matter where we were. And that has remained the same throughout
all of our racing history. It wasn’t like, gee, we turned
it on in the last three years when we got the MG.
So, to follow up on that, do you have a most favorite time?
I think each period had its own attributes. It used to be me
and Pat and one other guy, Duane Smith. The three of us would
go to the races, leave at 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon and
drive all night to get to Nelsons Ledges or we’d drive
all night to get to Summit Point. We’d sleep in the truck
if we had to because we were too late for a hotel room.
When I look
back on that, it was kind of the innocence of it all, the lack
of complexity, even though we thought it was complex. So I
guess at every time it’s just a little bit different.
At any one time though, there was something, a spark of emotion
because we wanted to absolutely compete.