Dyson – Interviewed
by Frank Muller
Dyson 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
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
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
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?
RD: 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”.
FM: Did he have any formal engineering background?
RD: No, no,
he’s just smart and he also never forgets… anything.
FM: Did Pat have any background in racing before you met?
RD: 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.
FM: 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?
RD: Oh, no,
no, no, when Pat and I first started working together, even though
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
FM: So it was just the two of you doing all the work?
RD: Yes, except for the bodywork, we farmed a little bit of that
FM: In 1982, you decided to build a Firebird for IMSA GTO.
RD: 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.
IMSA GTP Era
FM: You were still running the Firebird when you started thinking
about the Porsche 962?
RD: 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
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.
reaction to the 962, after tube-framed cars, and things he understood
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.
FM: So you were very used to being creative?
RD: We were
used to being, not only creative, but having to work very hard
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.
FM: I would imagine the fact that Al Holbert and Porsche in general
supported the car helped a bit?
RD: Well, they
supported us to a point. When we got the Porsche we sent a couple
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.
The other 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).
Two weeks 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 new car.
FM: When you moved into the GTP class, did you have a team in
place that could run that car?
RD: 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.
FM: 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.)
RD: Yeah, when
Yag came with us, he worked part-time. Dick knew Drake Olson
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’.
FM: With the kind of success you were demonstrating did other
teams try to steal away any of your talent?
RD: Well, ultimately, Yag did leave. He went to Nissan.
FM: What about Pat? With his reputation, did anyone ever try to
entice him away?
RD: I’m sure they did, but he never mentioned it. But I’m
sure people talked to Pat.
FM: At the peak of the IMSA GTP era, how many 962 chassis did
Dyson Racing own at any one time?
RD: Maximum was three, that was because we were running two cars
and we had number 101 put away.
FM: And that’s
the one that is restored today, in the original orange, yellow,
and white colors?
RD: Yeah, yeah, a beautiful car.
FM: The DR2, really fascinates me. The really radical-tailed car?
(The DR2 was possibly the most radical 962 variant raced in IMSA.)
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 be.
FM: You mentioned it was a Lloyd copy. Did Fabcar build that for
RD: No, it was built over in England.
FM: I saw a picture of the tub with a Fabcar plate on the sill.
Did they do enough on it to make that valid?
RD: 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.
FM: Does the DR2 still exist today?
RD: 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.
FM: As IMSA GTP died out (1993) were you still running the DR2?
RD: 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.
RD: Well, we
bought a Spice and then adapted a Ferrari engine to it. I looked
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,
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.
FM: So you’re
saying the engine spec for the class slid away from what you
had prepared for?
RD: 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
FM: Pat has
been integral in the success of the team almost out of gut instinct
decisions. He’s been able to
adapt to whatever you’ve decided to do.
RD: 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 raceable.
FM: Just a very practical, functional setup?
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.
IMSA LMP MG-Lola
That leads me to the next question. When you decided to go
with the MG-Lola,
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.
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.
The Lola 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.
FM: I noticed in your pits here there was a fellow wearing a Lola
sweatshirt. Do you get fairly close support from Lola?
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 we handle.
FM: When you went with the MG did you need to hire new people
with special technical skills?
RD: Yes, we
brought two people on. We hired Peter Weston to be our chief
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
FM: And “Big Steve” is
RD: Yeah, Steve, Stevie is a full-time employee of AER and he
shepherds our engines.
FM: 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?
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 retired?
RD: 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.
FM: Would you say Pat was still enjoying the racing but just realized
that it was time to get on with some other things.
RD: 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
FM: 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?
RD: 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.
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
FM: Any mixed feelings about Chris racing?
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.
It’s 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, intensely committed.
I was concerned,
you know. Chris is well-educated, erudite, articulate, mature
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 racing.
FM: Because he would be missing out on a lot of other opportunities?
RD: Yeah, I
gravitated towards mechanics because it was something I could
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
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 computer.
Well, in our
day, in order to tune a car, you had to get your ass in it to
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
FM: How are his enthusiasms divided as far as driving and/or ultimately
taking over your role as a manager?
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.
FM: 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?
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.
FM: So, to follow up on that, do you have a most favorite time?
RD: 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
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.