Race car

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This article is part of "Robin's Personal Memories Project"
The information on this page is from my personal history and memories
and should NOT be used for any reason other than reading enjoyment

Most of this article is written about my father and "His Sports Car Racing Days".

In the mid 60s, my father was having fun racing sports cars as a family affair; and Mom, Pop and all of the kids were involved. While he was campaigning a series of TR-3s, TR-4s and Lotus Elites on the track, I was rallying TR-3s and MGAs on the back roads of the Bay Area.

Prepping a TR-3

My father raced both TR-3s and TR-4s. My brother and I were usually part of his pit crew. My father was always a very strong competitor in almost everything he got involved with. My brother would race wheel-to-wheel with my dad and almost always lost. Being a little bit smarter, I took up Sports Car Rallying, and I joined United States Auto Race Marshalls. My dad might be racing on the track, but I held a flag that could pull him off the track. <g>

  • To prepare his TR-3, he used computer modeling to configure how air moved into, through and out of a four-cylinder engine. As air moves through the twin Stuart-Union carburetors, gasoline is added to the air moving through them. The idea is to find a way to thoroughly mix the air fuel mixture so it burns evenly. My fathers idea was to grind the inside of intake manifolds to create a venturi effect that spin the air into very tight patterns.
  • To lighten the car, my dad removed almost every bolt in the car and cut them so only 1 1/2 turns of the bolt showed above its matching nut. He removed more than a "two pound coffee can" full of bolt ends, reducing the weight of the car by quite a few pounds.
  • He used a large hole saw to cut circular sections from the frame. More of the "sinkers" were removed from the drivers side of the car to balance the weight of the car with him in the seat.
  • "Dsuz Fasteners" replaced strategically placed nuts and bolts to allow sections of the body to be quickly removed for access to engine and transmission components.
  • The hoses connecting the radiator to the engine were lengthened by running them through the body frame, increasing the amount of water in the cooling system. More water mean better engine cooling.
  • He used the Magna-flux process to insure there were no microscopic cracks in any key engine components.
  • My dad designed a "drop-deck trailer" for hauling the race car. Regular car trailers have a deck mounted above the trailers fixed-axle wheels. The deck (about thirty inches above the ground) tips to allow its load to be driven off the trailer, but the angle is quite steep. The deck on a drop-deck trailer is between the wheels, about ten inches above ground. This means the angle is a lot less steep; the center of gravity is lower so it's much more stable; and the trailer is much more aerodynamic so less pulling force is required.

"Cutty Sark" Scotch was being shipped in wooden boxes with rope handles. We found these boxes to be almost the perfect size to carry spare parts. My dad had a friend who owned a liquor store who saved them for us. We would take the empty boxes, varnish them, and fill them with parts and load them onto the trailer. At the track, we would stack all of our spare parts boxes (about thirty or so) and create a little work space. By putting a couple of 2x12 across the top of the boxes, we had a wonderfully stable work bench. We would get the, "Look at all the Cutty Sark. Now that's the way to go racing!" To which my dad would retort, "They are all empty, but do you know how I sacrificed to empty all thos boxes!"

Race Weekends, Laguna Seca
On one occasion, The Roberts Family put the Triumph on the trailer and headed South to Laguna Seca. We usually stayed at Mark Hopkins Inn, now the Hyatt Regency Monterrey. It is not far from the track, so it became a de facto "Race Central". People like Augie (Pabst Brewery) Pabst, Briggs (Briggs & Stratton) Cunningham, Dan Gurney and many other big names stayed at the "Mark" as well.
Warm weather, a bar, and testosterone-filled masculinity created several well-documented (and hilarious) events.
  • A race team from Italy decided to "test" their car on our California Highways. When they turned onto State Highway 158, they thought the "new signs" were speed limit signs, and accelerated. Local Sheriffs spotted the car and gave chase, but they couldn't get anywhere close. Radioing ahead, a road block was set up on the south side of San Jose, and the driver was arrested. Because he didn't "speak so much English", he was taken before the night court magistrate and an interpreter was produced. He said he did not understand why all the excitement, and he explained about the 158 mile an hour speed limit sign. The California Highway Patrol officer quipped, "Well then, I'm really glad we got him stopped him before he got to Highway 880!"
  • The "Big Money Boys" were sitting in the bar comparing the driving abilities versus the abilities of the racing machine. One of them declared, "The driver is so much more important than car." Several minutes later, A "Well, I can drive ANY car faster than you!" challenge was issued. A Ferrari vs Corvair (Yes, CORVAIR) race was put together. To make it a little more fair, the Ferrari would drive the race course in reverse.
  • On another occasion, a challenge was made that a car couldn't drive on water. A challenge to drive a car across the swimming pool was issued and Hertz rental car appeared. (A bigger car was first choice, but it couldn't fit between the buildings of the hotel.) The audience watched as the engine revved, and the car dashed across the pool. It entered the pool, and skipped/slid across the pool to the far end, because of the lip at the edge of the pool, but the car didn't exit the pool. Instead, it sank and rolled to the deep of the pool where it took up residency, lights still on. The Sheriff investigating the "car in the pool" accident listened intently to the all of the witnesses. "Yes, Officer, the car just rolled into the pool all by itself!" The Sheriff asked in total amazement, "How did the car roll UP HILL and into the pool?" but there was no one who could further explain the strange event. Oh, the car? A local towing company had to hand carry and deploy a derrick over the pool to remove the car from the pool because the tow truck could not get close enough. The following year, the hotel management floated an inner tube in the pool with a sign attached. You guessed it: the sign read "No Parking".
  • Another year, one of the female guests had been in the bar and had a little bit to much to drink. When she left the building, she was struck by the evening heat and decided to go for a swim. The pool was dark, there was no one around, so she slipped out of her clothes and into the cool water. It was just a little bit too cool, and she started splashing. The management hearing the ruckus, turned the lights in the pool, and gave everyone who had gathered a terrific view. She starting screaming. She couldn't understand where the crowd had come from (the bar was thirty feet) or why everyone had congregated (naked lady in a swimming pool). She didn't want to leave the pool which was well lighted and showing everyone her natural hair color. She couldn't understand why we were trying to get her out of the pool (and the light) onto the pool deck (and the dark) although there was a large audience. Another exciting weekend at Laguna Seca!
Racing at Point Richmond
Point Richmond was an old, abandoned Army Supply Base. Some of the streets were blocked off, and a race course "appeared". My brother-in-law was racing a bug-eyed Sprite that my dad had prepared for racing. Dave in his Sprite raced in a different class than we did, so we often watched his races, and he would watch ours. Dave was complaining that the Sprite wasn't "running quite fast enough", so my Dad took the car around the track a couple of times, and beat Dave's lap time by quite a few seconds per lap. Dave asked my Dad why his times were faster.
"When you get to turn four ..."
"Don't come to a full stop at the sign!" <lol>
Racing at Cotati
Cotati had an old, abandoned private air port that got converted to a race track. Depending on the type of cars, they could make the wide runway into a fast straight away, or a sequence of tight serpentine curves called chicanes. When Carroll Shelby built his first Cobra, it was introduced at Cotati. Carroll and my dad both had engineering backgrounds and they were good friends. The Cobra rolled onto the track, and the engine started producing a LOT of noise. After all, race cars "don't need no stinkin' muffler!" Above the noise, Carroll yelled, "Come on Ger', let's go for a ride!" Three laps later, my dad tapped Carroll on the top of his helmet, and indicated that he wanted out. The next lap, Carroll pulled into the pits and my father got out to be replaced by "victim number two".
Carroll made two more lap at even higher speeds. As you passed the start-finish line, you're supposed to make a sixty-degree turn to the left. The suspension on the right side of the Cobra "broke" and Carroll made a thirty degree turn. With the wheel front dangling and the front of the car bouncing on the ground, Carroll left the race and skidded across the damp grass. Quite a way from the track itself, there was a ditch filled with water. The car ALMOST jumped the ditch. The nose cleared the ditch, but the wheels didn't, and the car fell into the water-filled ditch, engine still at full throttle. Now, for those people that don't know it, the primary task of an automotive engines is to compress air but water does not compress. Water entered the engine of the Cobra, and the engine immediately stopped, nearly tearing itself apart. The cold water hit the red-hot manifolds, and the rest of the engine crystallized. Carroll climbed out of the car, waded ashore, and kicked the car saying, "Fix the f..king thing!" It was at that moment that the Roberts Racing Axiom ("Cubic inches can not compete with cubic dollars") was born and it remains to this date.
We often "set up camp" at tracks. One year, the race fell on my folks' wedding anniversary. Always ready to have fun, my folks set up a folding table, complete with white linen table cloth, fine china and candelabra. They started the BBQ to cook the steaks for their dinner and the wind shifted. The smell of cooking steaks wafted up into the old airport control tower (now being used as the "Officials Viewing Stand") and Larry (the racing announcer) made several announcements about the cruelty of my folks: he had cold peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a flat coke.
Racing at Riverside
The Riverside track was always a challenge. It had a different geometry, length and weather than most of the Northern California race tracks. On one trip, A TV program called "The FBI" was filming at the Riverside track. If you get a chance to see this episode, watch it closely. Efrem Zimbalist is driving a silver TR3 with number 53 on it.
Zimbalist and crew had rented my dads TR3 for the film. To deal with insurance issues, Zimbalist would race the car across start-finish with the cameras rolling and then stop. My father would take the wheel and drive the rest of the course with the cameras still rolling. Bill Reynolds (Zimbalists' side-kick) was the head of the Car 153 pit crew, but didn't know "much about wrenches".
Zimbalist had several close-ups showing grease all over his face. If you race, you don't want (and won't allow) grease anywhere. Yet another continuity error, oh well. <g>
Roger Smith (Efram Zimbalist's "side kick") is married to Ann-Margret


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