Racing Takes On The Elusive Sebring Win
© Gary Horrocks & Tom Kjos
New York businessman Rob Dyson attended a driving school at
Watkins Glen in 1975, and the rest, as they say, is history.
History, but also current events in the world of sports car
racing, since Dyson Racing will field its most powerful team
ever at the 2003, 51st 12 Hours of Sebring. Rob had the racing
must have bitten both fast and hard, since before 1975 was
gone, Rob had Pat Smith—friend, mechanic, crew chief,
and team manager, on board. Much of the success since then
can be attributed to Pat. Rob approached the former shop teacher
in 1975. And he has never left. "I was teaching an auto
mechanics course at Duchess County BOCES, and one day Rob came
in looking for a student who would be willing to work on his
racing efforts on weekends and during the summer. We got to
talking. It was only my second year of teaching and I needed
to work somewhere in the summertime anyway - and so I decided
I would go work for him,” said Pat.
Rob’s son, and driver of one of the team’s prototypes
added, “Pat has been with us for around 25 years and
has done an excellent job. He started in racing with my Dad,
and his first assignment was to build up a Datsun 510 for my
Dad to race. He has done a great job with our crew, getting
them to work together well with each other.”
I joined up with Rob,” continued Pat, “he had already
been racing in amateur competition. As of the 1976 season,
I was the crew chief on his Datsun. It was just Rob and I at
that point. We just kept going - won a championship in 1980,
I think - and all the while I was still teaching. In the early
'80s, Rob wanted to go Trans-Am racing, but we decided the
races were too short. We moved over to IMSA GTO and out of
the couple of years we did that, we only had one good finish.
Then Rob bought the 962, so I stopped teaching and went to
work full time for Rob in the summer of '84."
of other sports car racing events, then three or so in IMSA
GTO, brought Rob Dyson in 1984 to the place his team has been
ever since - the pinnacle of the sport - at that time IMSA
GTP. On the advice of fellow owner / driver Bob Akin, Rob purchased
Porsche 962 chassis 962-101 from Bruce Leven (the world’s
fastest garbage man), owner of Bayside Racing (and Bayside
was almost immediately successful. Drake Olson won at Lime
Rock, and the team garnered six podiums, including three wins,
in the 1985 IMSA GTP season. Olson won the Porsche Cup for
North America for the leading Porsche privateer in ’85,
followed by Price Cobb back to back in ’86 and ’87.
In the GTP
era, the best Sebring finish for Dyson was 3rd in 1988 with
Cobb and James Weaver driving. They finished 11 laps behind
the winning Bayside Porsche of Klaus Ludwig and Hans Stuck.
For whatever reason, success just did not come for Dyson at
the torch in IMSA GTP passed from Porsche to Nissan and then
Toyota, Dyson became the leading Porsche team in North America.
While Geoff Brabham was dominating the 1988 IMSA season in
a Nissan ZX turbo, Dyson Racing won two races with the already
aging Porsche 962, more than any other team. Other teams seemed
content to race what Porsche (and Andial, of course) provided.
Dyson Racing however, led by crew chief Pat Smith, continued
to develop the car. The modifications were at first subtle,
but by the end of the GTP era in the early ‘90s, very
little was left of that original 962. The last of the line
had a different tub design, of honeycomb material, and featured
a completely new suspension geometry.
adopted the World Sports Car rules for ‘94, its top class
was thrown into uncertainty. A GTO Nissan 300ZX won Daytona
and Sebring, with the new WSC cars struggling for pace and
reliability. Other than the Ferrari 333SP, the World Sports
Cars were modifications of existing GTPs. Dyson, characteristically
it seems, decided to “mark time” while the class
sorted out, and modified a Spice chassis to accept the Ferrari
V-8 from the 348.
time” doesn’t mean standing still for Rob Dyson
though, as he, Pat, the drivers and entire team worked hard
at developing the package. When it wasn’t coming together
to their satisfaction, Rob enlisted the help of Indianapolis
chassis designer-constructor Riley & Scott. By the end
of the season, the Spice-Ferrari was near the pace of the 333SP,
and a close and beneficial relationship had been established
between the New York team and the Indiana chassis builder.
Still, it was clear that the Spice-Ferrari was not the long-term
solution, so the decision was taken to acquire a Riley & Scott
Scott had a ‘factory team’, the Wayne Taylor-led
R&S Oldsmobiles. Dyson would race against the factory,
and while the Oldsmobile backed factory R&S team came out
on top in ’96, the Dyson R&S Ford became the team
to beat thereafter. There were many Ford-Ferrari battles in
that PSCR / USRRC era, and Dyson Racing would be at the center
of most of them.
broke through to realize one dream when the team won the Rolex
24 at Daytona in 1997 - with Rob furiously sweeping the pit
to burn off nervous energy in the closing minutes - and appeared
to be poised to finally win at Sebring. A Ferrari 333SP of
IMSA owner Andy Evan’s Scandia Racing was the beneficiary
of at least one controversial caution lap decision that undoubtedly
contributed to a 47 second Ferrari victory over the Dyson R&S
Ford of James Weaver, Butch Leitzinger and Andy Wallace. Eliott
Forbes-Robinson combined with John Paul Jr. and John Schneider
to finish 5th in the second team car. The loss was a bitter
one for the Dyson team. But other successes continued to flow.
Drivers Championships were won by Butch Leitzinger (’97
and ’98 PSCR - below) and James Weaver (’98 USRRC).
won neither of the legs of the 36 hours of Florida in 1998,
finishing a very disappointing 13th at Sebring, but Dyson rebounded
in ’99 with an overall win at Daytona, and again seemed
the team to beat at Sebring - in its inaugural race as a part
of the American Le Mans Series.
again it was not to be, as Tom Kristensen held on to win over
a charging Weaver, by just 9.2 seconds in the closest finish
ever at the historic track. While Forbes-Robinson was able
to win the both the USRRC and ALMS Drivers titles in 1999,
it was through consistency, not outright speed, as other new
cars joined the Sebring and Le Mans-winning BMW LMR. Again,
the sport was in a period of uncertainty, and Rob Dyson did
the conservative thing by going with the new Grand American
Racing Association, that would replace the USRRC. There his
team would continue to be competitive with its Riley and Scott
Fords. It was the beginning of a three-year absence from Sebring
for the Dyson team. But it appears that the plotting to return
was underway soon after that departure.
Dyson was ‘marking time’ again, but certainly not
standing still. He was winning races and championships in GARRA,
keeping the team’s edge, and son Chris was developing
as a driver. The racing in Grand Am was certainly serious business,
and Rob was doing everything he could to make that new series
a success. But there was still the lure of Sebring, and perhaps
Le Mans. So by 2001, Dyson Racing was known to be ‘poking
around’, testing options while they raced the model A
Riley & Scott. They tested then fielded the new R&S
Mark IIIC at Mosport and Mid Ohio. It was faster than the “A”,
but difficult to set up and drive, and in the opinion of the
team, not fast enough. . When Dyson brought back the old MK
IIIA in 2002, many thought that something was up, besides prepping
these cars for Historic Racing.
new Crawford was tried alongside the R&S IIIA in Grand
Am into the 2002 season, as the team went after the Drivers
Championship for Chris, usually racing with James Weaver. James
by now had been with the team for nearly 20 years. Andy Wallace
and Butch Leitzinger have been there a decade or more. Time
flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it? Rumors
were finally confirmed when Dyson Racing purchased an MG-Lola
and began the shake-down and development at Mosport last season.
It was immediately
clear that this was now a team with ‘an attitude’.
A good one, it seems - smiles were brighter and more frequent
as the 2002 ALMS season progressed. Chris was winning races
in GARRA, the new little MG was fast and fragile - and getting
faster, and less fragile.
at Petit Le Mans, James Weaver went head-to-head with the Team
Joest Audis, showing why so many at Dyson Racing had been wearing
those ‘cat-who-had-swallowed-the-canary’ smiles.
That was before Andy Wallace went up in flames, of course.
Still, there was Rob just a few hours later in the KnightHawk
paddock, telling racing stories and looking much happier than
a man should who has just lately watched the barbequing of
a half million dollars. Pat will fix it, of course. There we
learned that the KnightHawk MG-Lola had been purchased to become
the Dysons’ traditional second car - number 20, and got
our first real inkling of the all-out assault coming.
then, in quick succession, the team has conducted multiple
testing sessions, working on a heavily revised AER turbo motor,
new built-for-the-car Goodyears, and who knows how many suspension
improvements and tweaks. James Weaver characterized the car
as “Quicker than a rat up a drainpipe,” then Andy
Wallace admits to a Weaver-driven 1:47.8 at Sebring, a quarter-second
faster than Audi’s 2002 pole, and all that with a restrictor
designed to reduce horsepower by 10 percent. I am supposing
here that Rob Dyson knows his math. A ten percent reduction
of horsepower for both the MG and the Audi actually brings
the MG closer to the Audi in relative terms—improves
its relative weight to horsepower. We’ve learned that
former Lola designer Peter Weston joined the team full time
Rob pleads “business
obligations,” and adds Didier de Radigues to the driver
strength of the #20 car, with son Chris and Chad Block. Certainly
business might take him away from preparation and practice,
but here’s betting the highest paid pit janitor in the
sport will be at Sebring on March 15th, broom in hand. Rob
Dyson may then be burning off nervous energy for the same reason
that he was at that Rolex six years before.
is starting to think of taking up fishing full time, but admits, "I
would like to win Sebring before I quit." Fish on…