Baldwin – A Racing Life
© Andrew S. Hartwell
Baldwin is the kind of tall, trim and broad-shouldered mountain
of a man who could easily step into a leading role in a Hollywood
western. This Tampa, Florida native sure carries himself like
a tall Texan. And it is this same kind of strong and confident
appearance that he projects outside of a racecar that shows
up every time he is inside one and heading for the front of
the pack. But at heart, he is just a good man who has made
a lot of fans along the way.
a rugged cowboy, he got his hands dirty by working hard. He
did not have the money to saddle up a pony of choice. He earned
his place on the racetrack by perseverance and determination,
and by working jobs in areas ranging from construction to clothing.
And this strong and determined American broke into this sport
at the bottom. So there was no place for him to go but up.
racing resume begins in 1970 and includes winning the 1972
Formula Ford championship – in a car that sometimes ran
with several different brands of tires at each wheel - and
the 1992 Trans-Am Championship in the Hot Wheels Camaro. He
also took the crown as IMSA GTU Champion in 1984 and 1985,
driving a Mazda RXC-7, and he was invited to participate in
the International Race Of Champions (IROC) series in 1993 and
1994. For the last several years he has been teamed up with
George Robinson in the 74 Ranch Resort Riley & Scott MKIII
and later, the IIIC, running in Grand Am. He has won 30 races,
including wins at Daytona and Sebring.
knows how to win. And 33 years after it all began, he is still
in the game at the young age of 52, teaching future winners
how to control a racecar. This is what the Porsche website
has to say about Jack Baldwin, an instructor for The Porsche
Driving Experience, “Jack's achievements in teaching
are almost as impressive as his presence. An engaging, down-to-earth
instructor with an uncanny ability to explain the driving process,
Jack has been an instructor at the Brumos Porsche University
Driving School with Hurley Haywood.” (source: www.porschedriving.com/drivers.html)
up with Jack at the new Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama,
where he was teaching the latest crop of wannabe-winners how
to take the turns at speed. We asked him to go back over the
last 33 years and tell us how he got started and then to bring
us ‘up to speed’ on his plans for the next 33 years.
Cortina To Formula Ford
was racing a Cortina that my brother owned, but the
first real racecar for me was a Formula Ford. A buddy
of mine from college got a car that was taken as
collateral on a loan someone didn’t pay back.
He called me and said, “Hey, I got a racecar.
You want to race it?” And I said “Sure!” I
didn’t even know what it was but he said to
come up to Gainesville (Florida), we’ll get
a couple of hundred bucks and go up to Washington
to pick it up. So I went up there, went into the
warehouse where it was stored, and that’s when
I found out it was a Formula Ford.”
tend to be on the small side and we wondered if fit was a problem
really because, it was a March and I later drove Titans and
a Lola and I fit in all of them. I’m bigger now than
I was then. I was still the same height but I was lighter back
then. And those cars were so much fun to drive! They were light.
They didn’t have ground effects. You could slide them
all over the place.”
in at the start of IMSA and he recalls what it was like back
then for a poor boy with fast aspirations and a slow income.
went to one of the very first IMSA races they had at VIR (Virginia
International Raceway). John Bishop, Hurley Haywood, Peter
Gregg, they were all there. Formula Ford was the support race
for the original IMSA series. This was the beginning of IMSA.
I was around for that.”
“I was there with my teammate Bill Harris. Now, we had no money. We were
just there trying to see what we could do, trying to be a racecar driver. When
I first started driving the Formula Fords we were on what they called Firestone
No-Dots. They had tread; they were racing tires but… Then, a guy by the
name of Lee Goth from Goodyear came up to us and said, “We’re looking
for a team from the Southeast.”
He was talking to us! Now, you have to remember that, Bill
and I were trying to look like a real team – even though
we had no resources to draw on. We both had FORD vans and I
had a black one and he had a white one. I called him before
we went down to VIR and I told him he had to paint his black.
He asked why and I said because I don’t have any money
to paint mine white and we have to look like a team!
never owned a racecar in my life. At VIR, I was in a Titan,
owned by Jack Miller. We were standing side by side and I told
Bill, “When I come in from practice, let’s put
the car up on a jack stand and make us look real cool.”
Goth comes over and says they want a team to help them run
some of their new tires, and are you interested? Hello! Tires?
Are you kidding me? I used to have to go around the paddock
asking for other guy’s throwaways! Hell, if it had tread
on it, it went on my car. I even have a picture of me in a
car at the SCCA runoffs with three different brand tires on
my car. Seriously!
rule was pretty simple; if it was black and held air, I raced
was sideways a lot in those cars. I did a lot of drifting through
corners. It was pretty exciting!
the Goodyear tires were slicks. They were the first slicks
from Goodyear and when I put them on the car I was way out
in front real fast. Bruce McGinnis was a guy I raced against
a lot back then. Bruce was way behind me in no time. But the
slicks weren’t made for that car and the suspension got
into the sidewall and I had a big blowout. I didn’t win
even though I had a 45-second lead.”
Europe A Try
“For the next 15 years (from 1972 on) there was 15 years of famine. I went
to Europe for a few weeks but, because I was an American, I didn’t get
what you could call the best deal, do you know what I mean? Back then, they had
a Formula Ford Championship with the top three cars from all 18 participating
countries invited to race. Each country ran elimination races to pick their three
representatives. Here in the states, they ran it at the old Mid-America track
in Missouri. I won the race, Bruce was second, and a guy named Ron Dikes was
whole European experience was just bad. Even the American Importer
who was there was bad. So, when I got back from there I was
not interested in racing in Europe.”
In The USA - With Blood On His Hands
“I was interviewed after that Championship race at Mid America and they
asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to be a Grand National Stock
Car driver. (Back then, the Winston Cup Series was known as Grand National).
I never had a vision of being in Formula One. To me, Europe was just so far away.
have to understand that I had no help from anybody. No one
saying “Let me help you out with a gallon of gas’,
nothing. My parents weren’t supporting me. So it was
really hard for me. So I had to work where I could earn the
most money. So I took a job as an ironworker.
guy that owned my car was the superintendent on the big jobs
in Atlanta. I did that for a year because it was high pay and
no responsibility. I put my money into my car and I worked
on it every night after work. On Friday, I’d go to the
bank, take out my money, load up the car and drive to the racetrack.
was the guy who fixed the car, drove it to the track, unloaded
it, raced it, loaded it and towed it back home. A buddy of
mine, Jody Darlington, would often come with me to help me
out but, I didn’t have any money to pay him, he was just
there to help me out.
ran Formula Fords in 70, 71, 72 and in 74. I won the SCCA divisional
title each year and I won the special invitational race in
72. I never won the SCCA Runoffs but I won this special race.
It was considered bigger than the runoffs because, what they
did was they invited all the current and past champions to
race together. They had the top drivers from around the country,
all the top guns. And they held it at Mid America because it
was in the middle of the country, about 70 miles west of St.
remember that I was working on the Colony Square job site in
Atlanta. I went to the bank and took out every dime that I
had – except $25 I needed to leave in the bank to keep
the account open. I put the money in my pocket, loaded the
car and got ready to go all by myself. A friend called me just
before I left and said he’d like to come with me. So,
we jumped in the van, headed off to Missouri and I won it all.
was the first racer to get to the track and the second guy
there was Bruce McGinnis. And it was a great race. I was just
determined! And I got some good advice too. There was a local
guy there and he said, “You know you will go faster if
you go through turn two flat out”, so the next day that’s
what I did and he came up to me later and said he was only
I was out there qualifying the car, the shifter knob broke
off as I’m going through turn two. I’m driving
along with this ball in my hand and I don’t know what
the hell to do with it. Back then, you did a lot of high speed
drifting and running sideways. You were ‘brave’.
I was so pissed that the thing broke that I threw the ball
out and jammed my hand down on the shifter post. The post stuck
in my hand and by the time I finished running the car was filled
with blood all over the seat and the cockpit. It was a real
mess but I got the pole and we went on to win the race.”
A Different Wheel To The Track – And Scaring The Cops
“After the invitational race, I did get a few calls but, since I had no
money, nothing came together. After spending several years trying to get a sponsor
during hard economic times, I decided to take a job as the first-ever instructor
at Road Atlanta. They set up what was called The Georgia State Highway Patrol
Pursuit and High Speed Driving School. They had a contract with the state to
train all the state troopers. And we were the pioneers for this kind of training.
was me, Dave Sawyer, the guy who built the track, and his partner
Earl Walker. I was their only employee. I still have the original
handbook! I was 22 years old and I thought I was in heaven!
Man, I had a JOB at a racetrack!
instructed 490 troopers, 50 a week, running from Monday through
Thursday. We had 10 cars. five FORD Galaxies and five Plymouths.
They were trooper cars. Every Monday I would be in the classroom.
I would walk in with my curly hair and my beard and say “Good
Man, the old veteran patrol guys would look at me and say “Oh my
god, what have we got here?”
know, those guys couldn’t drive at all. What we did was
we took them out of the classroom that first morning and took
them out on the track. We did one lap with each guy and boy
did we get their attention! We would come out of pit road (the
old pit road, on the hill) at full speed and not back off going
into turn one. And these cars could haul butt and hit 130 on
the backstretch. And they slid a lot!
did that for two years and then got back into the Formula Fords
for a while. I finally gave up on trying to find a sponsor
and I made up a three-year plan to earn enough money to become
my own sponsor. I decided to get into the T-shirt business
at 27 years old.
“There was a T-shirt company in Atlanta called the T-Shirtery. I became
involved with them and we were huge in the Rock and Roll tour shirt business.
My accounts included Aerosmith, AC/DC, KISS, Boston and Ted Nugent. I knew the
Aerosmith guys real well. We made the shirts that they sold at the concerts.
We didn’t actually sell them.
I opened up a retail store in Atlanta that we called the T-Shirtery
Company Store. It was located across the street from the Peaches
record store, which was the largest record store in the country
at that time. And we were the largest T-shirt store in the
United States. I had all the concert tour shirts – for
everybody. You could walk into my store and ask for a Paul
McCartney WINGS tour shirt and I had it. We could get them
printed up anytime we wanted in any quantity so we had every
shirt in that store that you could think of. The Rolling Stones,
Chicago, Fleetwood Mac, everybody!
made a living at it but, the more successful I became in the
business the more it took me away from racing. After three
years I realized that it wasn’t going to get me where
I wanted to go. So I sold my share in the business and got
just wanted to go back to racing. Even though I had come up
with a lot of good ideas that helped to make the business succeed,
I was just getting fed up with it all. And then one day Joe
Varde called me. Now a few months back, I had told him he should
go make a pitch to Chrysler to race their cars. Well, he called
me and said why don’t you come with me to Mid Ohio. And
when I asked him why he said, “Because I got the factory
came by and picked me up and off we went to Mid-Ohio! From
there I went on to become his team manager for the Dodge Charger
program in the IMSA R&S Series. I drove some of the time
and worked real hard. I remember leaving the shop in Tampa
at about 5:00 in the morning - after working on the car all
night - and going back to my parent’s house. I was taking
a shower when my dad stopped by and asked me where I was going.
I said “Sears Point”. He said, “When are
you going?” I said, “Now.”
and a kid I had with me got in the truck and drove it non-stop
from Florida to California. I told him that the truck was not
to stop for any reason! We literally showed up at Sears Point
a half-hour before Joe had to get it out on the track. We pulled
up, took down the ramps, backed the car off, and Joe got in
it and went out on the track!
we had stopped along the way, we would never have made it!
Finally Gets A Break
“I got my break when Ira Young took me on board in the Malibu Grand Prix
Mazda. He let me drive his racecar and I went on to win two IMSA GTU Championships
back to back. From there I went on to race for Chevrolet and Peerless Automotive
Engineering driving the Levi Garrett GTO Camaro in the IMSA Camel GT Series.
Then I went
on to drive for Buzz McCall and American Equipment Racing driving
the famous Hot Wheels Camaro. I won the 1992 Trans Am championship
in that car. My teammates were Scott Sharp and Scott Pruett.
My job was to mentor Scott Sharp and try to help him develop
as a professional. He certainly had the talent and was fast,
but he was young and impatient and needed a bit of direction
to help him succeed. Of course, Scott Pruett came from Indy
car and he was coming back to Trans Am to be my teammate. He
was an established professional and a real asset to the team.
Those were great years.
Am I ran the IROC series for two years. It was wonderful to
get the invitation to run with some of the best names in the
business. I ran against Dale Earnhardt, Davey Allison, Ricky
Rudd, Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Harry Gant, Terry Labonte,
Al Unser Jr., Jeff Brabham and Arie Luyendyk among others.
Racing IROC door to door handle with that whole group at places
Like Daytona and Talladega was awesome! Beating Earnhardt for
second place at Talladaga in a photo finish was the absolute
high point for me. After the race, Dale comes over to my car
and sticks his head in my window and he had the biggest smile
on! He said "That was great racing with you! That was
a lot of fun!"
I really enjoyed those two years! To just have that opportunity
Director of Motorsports for Royal Oak charcoal and we built
a Grand National team running a Chevrolet for one season, with
Mike McLaughlin behind the wheel. We were doing some testing
at Talladega and I ran into my old friend Joe Varde. I told
him I wanted to drive and he suggested I call George Robinson.
bought a GTS Aurora Oldsmobile from Irv Hoerr and was going
to race it. I called him at the 74 Ranch and he said he was
going to call me! We met at Daytona and we won the 1997 12
Hours of Sebring in the Hot Wheels 74 Ranch Aurora. It was
George and Irv and I and that was a great race! We were the
American car up against the Porsches. The crowd was cheering
us on and it was fun.
rules changed after that and the Aurora was not going to be
competitive, so George decided at that time to step up and
buy a Riley & Scott. We started racing it in 1999 and it
was a great car.
We started with a Chevy engine and later switched to a Judd motor.
driving night practice at Sebring in that car was awesome!
It was the best to be out there running nose to nose with a
bunch of very fast headlights!
know, George and I met years before when he first started racing
in IMSA. I walked over to him and I said, “Hey! If you
see me coming, get the hell out of my way!” And he said, “OK,
became great friends and I can’t say enough about what
a great guy he is. I feel the sport is fortunate to have him
in it. Sportscar racing was built on the backs of the independent
owners who have contributed so much to its history. George
is one of those people.
are a lot of reasons why he just isn’t in the mood to
go racing. A big part of it is the economy and then there is
the issue of how the rules changed and how he was treated in
the transition. So he is just sitting it out this season to
consider his choices.
really too bad that, after taking five years to develop the
team we ended up with, led by Jimmy Fraser, because of circumstances
outside of our control that we aren't racing this year. Because
of the position George was put in, the team had to disband.
I sincerely hope, as we all do, that George will return to
This Cowboy Is Looking For A New Saddle
“I am not retired! Because George decided to sit out the season, we ran
our last race in November of last year. Did you see the poster called “End
of an era”? It’s a great shot of all the prototypes lined up at the
last Grand Am race. Anyway, I had an offer for a ride at Daytona if I wanted
it but I had talked to Speed Channel and they wanted me to make a commitment
for a whole year. I signed on to cover the Rolex Series and Grand Am Cup.
thought this is a good year to do that. It is an area I have
an interest in and wouldn’t mind developing. And, under
the circumstances and the way the sport is right now, I thought,
take it. Go ahead. So now I’m a car analyst for Speed
Channel and I continue working as one of the lead instructors
for the Porsche Driving Experience. I work with my friends
Hurley, Doc Bundy and David Murry.
Porsche Driving Experience has just been growing by leaps and
bounds. It is the best driving program in the country. It is
for anyone who wants to experience the fun of driving a Porsche
911 to the best of their ability. We just moved to the new
Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. And it is definitely
the nicest racetrack in North America, and probably, in the
park is a place every fan needs to come to! It will blow you
away! It is like nothing you have ever seen. Let me put it
like this, if Ritz-Carlton were to build a racetrack and a
country club this is how they would do it! There are sculptures
all over the property. There are over a million tulip bulbs
planted around the grounds. There is a 140,000 square foot
museum. The bathrooms are all beautiful with tile floors. There
is new sod and the place is landscaped like Disneyland! You
drive in here and you can’t believe it is a racetrack.
I've heard that they spent around $60 million on this place!
And they want it to be the best track in the world. And it
is so upscale you can’t believe it!”
Roots, Happy Memories, Future Trails
“All I ever wanted to do was to be a racecar driver. I had a dream, and
I had a passion. I basically set out to fulfill my dream. I’m just one
more guy who had no money, and no help, who hung in there. I can tell you all
the stories and all about the struggle that almost became a curse. It was just
my absolute passion.
didn’t know why I wanted to do it, I just did! When you
look back, it has been pretty good for me. I’ve won 30
races and four championships, run IROC twice and just had a
great run. And I can tell you stories about everybody!
life is racing and I love everything about it, especially all
the people and the friends and fans I've made through the years.
I'm still as excited as I ever was when I'm at the track. I
haven't lost the fire inside. I love to race.
am working on a program for next year, but think about it,
it’s a weak economy and the direction for sportscar racing
is still a bit cloudy. I’m for the Daytona prototypes
and I would like to see them succeed. I can get past the comments
on how they look but I do feel they need more power. Hopefully
that will evolve over time.
know that Grand Am has a solid plan and they are committed
to making it work. I wish them all the best, and I expect to
show my support throughout the season. I want to see the concept
work. I think the concept is good for racing.
use my free time to race dirt bikes! And I ride with my 11-year-old
daughter Erica. My 14 year old, Allison, is a gymnast and a
serious one too! I also race hare-scrambles and enduros! I
drive a 300 gas-gas. I love it! I figure, at my age, I don’t
want to grow up because then I’ll be old! I feel good!
I don’t have any aches and pains. I feel great! In fact,
if the phone rings I'll be ready! I am always looking forward
to my next race!"
If only sportscar
racing was as strong and vigorous as Jack Baldwin! Who knows?
Maybe Hollywood will yet call on him to make the movie that
tells the story of the cowboy that gets the gold and drives
all the cattle into one pen!