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Speed News May 2017

Speed News Magazine - The Official Magazine of the National Auto Sport Association

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Among The Greats Back in March, Mazda Motorsports communications officer Dean Case was kind enough to invite me to a “Tribute to IMSA: The John Bishop Years, 1969-1988” at the Wally Parks NHRA Museum in Pomona, Calif. Ask any motorsports fan when the glory days of professional American sports car racing took place, and they’ll give you one of three answers: the Can Am years, the IMSA GTP years in the 1980s or, ironically enough, right now. We’ll know whether that holds true in about 20 years, I suppose. The evening was a celebration of greatness, which started with a little history of IMSA as told by Mitch Bishop, the son of IMSA’s founder John. Mitch spoke of the early years of IMSA in much the same way any child who grew up in a family business would. Dad ran the show, mom kept the books and the kids worked the gate, and timing and scoring. From those humble beginnings, sports car racing began its inexorable march to the sport we all enjoy today, including and especially racing in NASA. After the presentation, the organizer invited on stage past drivers Nick Craw, John Morton, Jim Busby, Jeff Kline, Tom Kendall, Rick Knoop and John Fitzpatrick. I have to say it was an honor to be in a room among those great drivers, even if I was not familiar with some of them. Others, like Tommy Kendall, I remember well from his Trans Am and IMSA racing and from his television appearances, and one, Rick Knoop, is an active NASA member here in Southern California. Even though some of those older drivers were in their 60s and 70s, one of the more remarkable things about them was their youthfulness. They were all still reasonably fit and looked as though they had taken care of themselves over the years. I don’t think that happens with old lawyers and accountants. I’m convinced racing keeps you young — at heart and physically. These guys got to make a living at something for which most of us is only a dream. They still had that spark that only racing can provide and, as they told tales of pulling pranks on one another in the paddock, they still had a healthy sense of humor. Some of them still compete, too, in vintage races, sometimes in the cars they drove in their younger days. In fact, just a few years ago at the 2012 25 Hours of Thunderhill, John Morton was one of the drivers in Taz Harvey’s Datsun 510 team sponsored by Dublin Nissan. And, yes, he was still quick. It was great to see those guys on that stage and hear them tell the same kinds of stories we NASA racers get to tell our friends. Sitting there watching them, I wanted to be like them when I grow up, still having fun, still pulling pranks and laughing at bawdy jokes in the paddock and, of course, still racing cars. Their stories that evening reminded me of a passage in Smokey Yunick’s book, “Best Damn Garage in Town.” I’m paraphrasing, but he wrote something like, “We worked 80 hours a week for 40 years in racing all so we could avoid boring 40-hour a week jobs.” Even amateur racing can take as much time as you’re willing to devote to it. As I’ve said this before in this column, you get out of something what you put into it. But here’s the thing about racing, whether it’s among amateurs or among the greats, I think that if you put in a solid effort, you get back more than you put in. You also end up with the best stories. SN

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