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November Highlights

Rennsport Reunion III:  

A Fly And Drive Program

                 
 

[by john miller and jack white]

Let me jump right to the summary….and, if I may be permitted, put the words in your mouth that you might understandably utter: “THIS guy has to be one of the luckiest SOBs on the face of the planet.” Of course, luck may be, in part, putting yourself in the right place at the right time, but there’s no denying---I couldn’t have planned fortune this good. Recapping last weekend, in the space of 48 hours, having flown to Daytona for the Rennsport Reunion 3:
* I drove a 2007 Porsche Boxster S and a Cayman S around the track at Daytona Speedway.
* I snagged a ride with legendary race driver Hurley Haywood at the track.
* I scored (with the help of a friend) a coveted ticket to the sold out Rennsport dinner.
* I helped a (former) Porsche mechanic and (unknown to me at the time) noted Porsche collector/owner of 2 917’s break into his rental car in which he had locked the keys.
* I was close enough to so many rare racing Porsches that I could smell the burning brake pads.
* I met and had a brief chat with noted race driver nd TV sports commentator Sam Posey while waiting to board our flight out of Daytona.


Rennsport Reunion (now being billed as ‘held every three years’), is an unprecedented gathering of significant vintage and current Porsche racecars and famous (and infamous) Porsche race drivers. The third edition of the Rennsport Reunion was held at Daytona International Speedway November 2-3, & 4, 2007, with Co-Grand Marshals Peter Schwarzenbauer, President/CEO of Porsche Cars North America, and the Porsche Clubs Betty Jo Turner (editor of Porsche Panorama) kicking off the event. The three day schedule included a concours d’elegance, now called the Concours d’Sport (a concours exclusively for Porsche race cars), plus five on-track ‘features’ races for current and vintage Porsche race cars.
The concours classes included 917 Coupes, 917 Spyders, 956s, 962s, 550 Spyders, RS60/61s, 904s 906’s 908’and 910s, production-based race cars and few miscellaneous 9xx cars including a bunch of 935’s and a couple of 959s. Other events included street car lapping of the full track, a Porsche-only literature, toy, and memorabilia Swap Meet, and Porsche model car contest. But it’s safe to say that the Big Draw were the ‘Big Guns’. Rennsport Reunion is known for attracting large numbers of 917 entries and Reunion 3 was no exception. The draw included four cars from the Porsche Museum in Germany: a 917 Long-tail, the 917/20 “Pink Pig”, the 1971 Le Mans winning 917/K, and the 16-cylinder 917 Can Am Spyder (making its first trip to North America). Other 917s appearing were the 1970 Le Mans winning 917/K, the 1972 Can Am winning 917/10, and the 1973 Can Am winning 917/30 (photos 1, 2, & 3).
Joining the cars were the drivers that drove them in the world’s most high profile races around the world. The organizers graciously brought them all onstage at the event opening on Friday ----so many that they filled the stage and had to squeeze together to keep from being pushed off (photo 4). A small sampling of the names included, Brian Redman, Vic Elford, Hurley Haywood, Willi Kauhsen, Jurgen Barth, Gerald Larrousse, David Piper, Brian Redman, Sam Posey, David Hobbs, David Donohue, Derek Bell, Bruce Leven, Chip Robinson and scores of others.
A special low-speed track lapping session for street Porsches kicked off the weekend on Friday and made me truly regret not having my own Porsche on hand. For a paltry sum of money, one was permitted to drive their Porsche around one of the most historic racetracks in the world. Organized by the Porsche Club, the session event provided the opportunity to tour the entire Daytona International Speedway layout including the high banking and the full infield road course. I didn’t get an exact count, but no less than 200 private Porsche street cars passed in front of me at the infield hairpin turn, as I gritted my teeth for not having a Porsche at my disposal. (In spite of numerous ramblings about going to a Porsche event without a Porsche (i.e. flying), my own Boxster was back in Chicago). My luck improved from that moment on.

Not billed as an official event, but quickly discovered to be a ‘must-do’: The Sport Driving School. Porsche had brought the entire 987 line – base and S Boxsters and Caymans to the Speedway infield short course (the ‘go-cart’ track) and for a $10 donation to charity, participants were allowed three laps around the course. Naturally, a Porsche instructor went along for the ride, but that didn’t discourage any of the hundreds that waited in the endless line all three days of the event. I gladly donated $20 to the cause---and found myself sliding this Boxster S and Cayman S (photo 5) through the Daytona chicane as the Porsche ‘instructor’ was yanking up on the emergency brake from the passenger seat and yelling at me for going too fast. Nahhhh. I had it ON the edge, not over. And never has driving Porsches been any more fun than that.

And then the ‘right-place, right-time’ gods smiled down on me. Porsche had arranged for Hurley Haywood to come to the lapping sessions at the go-cart course. I wasn’t aware until it was over that Mr. Haywood was on the track at the same time I was (in a different Cayman; photo 6), but we both exited the course at the same time. As I walked back towards the main track, Mr. Haywood was climbing into his ride to drive back to the main track. I looked over and caught his attention and in a most generous gesture, Mr. Haywood asked if wanted a ride. ARE YOU NUTS? I ran over, jumped in and in between laughing at my good fortune, had a brief conversation with him about the event for the best 40 seconds of the weekend. No, he wasn’t driving a Cayman, or a 911….or even a Porsche….but, to coin a phrase, I’d take a ride with him even if he were driving a golf cart (photo 7). I could have gone home happy at that point…but….. my luck improved from that moment on.

Joining me on this jaunt to Daytona.…actually, I was joining them, as they arrived first and knew their way around, were (photo 8, L-R) friends Terry and Jack White and Nikki and Larry White from Palm Coast, Florida. When we could tear Larry away from the Boxster-Cayman lapping sessions (he must have run 4 or 5 sessions and was still lapping on Sunday when I left), Larry and Jack provided narrative and insights about the Daytona track and the Porsches on display as we wandered through the endless garage–pit areas (photo 9). And Jack was instrumental in my snagging of a coveted ticket to the Saturday event dinner. This event was oversubscribed, sold out within hours of being announced, and the selection defaulted to a lottery system for picking attendees…..and my luck had run short in getting a ticket. But I advised Jack to keep and eye open and post a message at the track that I was looking for a ticket…..me and about 50 other people! And yet fortune smiled again. One of the 50 or so other people looking for an extra ticket couldn’t acquire one and thus elected to sell her ticket. And the first person to inquire about it was the person she called to sell it to….one Jack White. BINGO, I was on my way to dinner that would feature numerous Porsche race car drivers telling fabulous stories of the Porsche racing program of the 1960’s and 70’s. But first……

As Jack, Larry and I were walking back to the infield bleacher at the track, a distraught German gentleman rushed up to us asking for help. It seems he locked his keys (along with all his possessions) in his rental car…..and the motor was still running. Not to worry. Thanks to an unfortunate incident at a recent Porsche Club rally, I witnessed the procedure to unlocking a car door when the keys are ‘unavailable’. We chatted as he poked a coat hanger through the space in the door frame that I had opened and he mentioned how embarrassing it was for him –being a Porsche mechanic at one time. He would go on to tell us that he was a collector of Porsches and with not even the slightest hint of arrogance or ego, mentioned he owned two 917’s. Little did I know. It wasn’t until I returned home and looked him up did I realize whom I had just assisted in  ‘breaking and entering’:  Heir Heemeyer owns two very original, very significant Porsche 917’s –the Team AAW 917/10 CanAm car and one of the original Vasek Polak 917/10 CanAm cars. Before parting ways, I managed to convince him that he should attend the PCA dinner that evening and (apparently) someone of his stature had no trouble persuading PCA to ‘find’ a ticket for him.

The Sunday schedule consisted of five classes of qualifying sessions for afternoon feature races with another parade-exhibition of significant racing Porsche separating the two. Words can’t capture this appropriately. And pictures (photos 10, 11 & 12)…still photos at least, can’t give you a sense for the immense power and driving difficulty associated with these cars ---some of them almost half a century old. The racing was intense. While the 917 certainly drew the interest of all, the 956/962 class provided some of the most intense wheel to wheel racing of the day. The drivers were pushing their cars (and you don’t even want to think about the value of these machines) to the absolute limit. To my dismay, I had a late afternoon flight out of Daytona and thus I could only stay for the first two feature races before leaving for the airport…… but….. my luck improved from that moment on.

Once through airport security, I made my way to the gate. For those of you not familiar with Daytona airport, it sits right next to the Speedway. And so, it was only necessary to find an open space at the window across from my departure gate. Along with 20 or so other fans, we were able to watch the feature race –at least the part on the banked oval portion of the speedway from the airport. This would have been a good ending to my weekend……until I sat down at the gate after the race. By pure chance I sat down next to (retired) race driver and race commentator Sam Posey. Mr. Posey was gracious enough to allow me to interrupt his afternoon and we chatted for a bit about Rennsport Reunion and the gathering of drivers and cars and the likely hood of such a significant gathering ever occurring again. 

I can’t recommend this event highly enough. If there is a Rennsport 4, I can suggest the following: Go early. Plan to attend EVERYTHING. Take a Camera…take two cameras. Find a hotel as close to the event as possible and only go there when absolutely necessary. Drink lots of coffee and don’t sleep more than 5 minutes. You might miss the opportunity of a lifetime….two or three times over.

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