The 1981 24 Hours of Daytona shaped up to be another battle of Porsche 935s. The 935 had won the last three Daytona endurance races in a row starting in 1978. Although the 935 was based on a street 930, it was fast and reliable when properly prepared. Dick Barbour, after winning the IMSA championship with driver John Fitzpatrick in 1980, had stopped racing. That gave Bob Garretson the opportunity to continue with the same crew on his car in 1981 – a Porsche 935 (chassis 009 0030) which the team had built from a bare factory chassis in 1979. Bob had signed a new deal for 1981 to prepare the Cooke-Woods cars. This was a partnership between Roy Woods and Ralph Cooke. New Lola T600s had been ordered but would not be ready until later in the year, so the Porsche 935 would be run in the meantime. In any case, the Porsche would be more reliable for the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Team principal Bob Garretson just prior to the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1981.
The car would be driven at Daytona by Bob, Brian Redman, and Bobby Rahal. We seemed to struggle a bit in getting everything ready and prepared up to our normal standards. We were still putting the car together at the track, missing a few practice sessions. We had to send Brian Redman out to qualify using the session as a brake pad bedding session, so we ended up only 16th on the grid. Brian, however, was happy with the car and told us not to worry, all was well for the race.
The race featured no less than 15 or so Porsche 935s or derivatives, as well as the factory Lancia team, running the 2.0-liter MonteCarlos in the World Championship. At the green flag most took off at high speed, pushing like it was a one-hour sprint race. It wasn’t long before engines were blowing up left and right. Many of these cars came into the pits to change engines, which was legal back then. Several went through two engines.
One of the 2.0-liter turbocharged factory Lancia Betas that ran against an onslaught of Porsche 935s in the 1981 Daytona endurance classic. This one was driven by Formula One standout Ricardo Patrese, along with Hans Heyer and Henri Pescarolo. They would finish 18th. Photo: Martin Raffauf
In contrast, we ran to our pace and soon were running at the front from the 16th starting position. At one driver change in the early evening, Brian was furious with Bobby Rahal, as he had taken the lead during his stint; Brian told Bobby he was pushing too hard! Bobby was apologetic and said, “I didn’t pass anyone, they are all falling out.” Brian wandered off muttering, “It’s too early, it’s too early.”
The Garretson Porsche 935 on the tri-oval during practice for the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1981. Photo: Martin Raffauf
Around midnight, the Interscope 935 crashed with a backmarker and our car ran over some debris from the incident, which broke an exhaust pipe. This was quickly changed in the ensuing pit stop. By Sunday morning we were cruising and had a large lead of some 10-15 laps. Brian came in at about 6:45 am after a double stint, handed over to Bobby and asked, “Where’s breakfast?” Well, we said, nothing has been organized on that front yet. “Ok, he said, I’ll take care of it.” I remember thinking, how is he going to get breakfast? About 20 minutes later, Brian came back to the pits with bags of McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches. He had driven across the street to the McDonalds across from the speedway, still in his driving uniform, picked up food for the crew and had brought it back to the pits. He sat and ate with the mechanics in the pit, then went off to prepare for his next stint.
One of the friends of the team at this time, who was in our pit a lot, was Olivier Chandon, son of the French champagne house. By early Sunday, he began to get concerned, as he thought we would win, and there was crappy champagne on hand from the speedway for the Victory Lane celebration (in his view). The crew, of course, were not interested in any of this and ignored him, as we knew it was not “over until it’s over” as Yogi Berra used to say. We were just focused on making it to the end, not worrying about what kind of champagne we would drink, if any! In any case, Olivier was calling all over Daytona looking for Moet & Chandon but none was to be found. So, bless his soul, he jumped in a rental car, drove to Orlando, found the right stuff, and sped back to the circuit with the Moet & Chandon by noon or so.
The Garretson crew rushes towards the finish line to salute their car as it wins the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1981. That’s the author on the far right in the blue overalls, raising his red hat in celebration. Race organizers were not pleased with this behavior and outlawed such displays in the future due to safety concerns. Photo: Peter Gloede
We ran off the remaining laps without issue and won the race. An Egg McMuffin paired with Moet & Chandon; does it get any better? It was a grand celebration and Olivier was happy he could provide “the proper champagne!” Sadly, Olivier lost his life a few years later in a Formula Atlantic crash at West Palm Beach. But we always remember and salute the Moet & Chandon!
Victory Lane celebrations were sweet in 1981 with the right champagne! Photo: Peter Gloede
The race-winning ANDIAL-powered, tube-frame Porsche 935 with full “Moby Dick” Le Mans bodywork at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1983. The team of Wollek, Ballot-Lena, Foyt and Henn would go on to win the race. Photo: Bob Harmeyer
At the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1983, the Aston Martin brand was represented by two Nimrod V8 cars, one driven by A.J. Foyt and Darrell Waltrip and painted in Pepsi Challenger colors. On the pole was the ANDIAL tube frame 935, now converted to full “Moby Dick” long tail bodywork specially made for Le Mans. It was the monster of all 935s – the new body was on the same chassis that Rolf Stommelen had driven to the three straight long-distance victories in 1981. European veterans Bob Wollek and Claude Ballot-Lena were entered to co-drive with car owner and T-Bird Swap Shop entrepreneur Preston Henn.
Early on in the 1983 24 Hours of Daytona, the Swap Shop Porsche 935 leads the Pepsi-sponsored Aston Martin Nimrod GTP shared by A.J. Foyt and Darrell Waltrip. The Nimrod would drop out after 121 laps. Photo: Peter Gloede
Early retirements by JLP, Interscope, Bob Akin Racing and others kept the Swap Shop Porsche in close contact with first place through the first half of the race. After Foyt’s Nimrod also retired, Henn asked A.J. if he wanted to drive his car since it had a chance to win. Foyt agreed and got ready to climb in early Sunday morning at the beginning of what turned out to be an extended full course caution caused by heavy rain. The problem? Henn didn’t tell the other drivers.
Rain delayed the 1983 24 Hours of Daytona with a lengthy caution period and a red flag situation on Sunday morning. Photo: Bob Harmeyer
When Wollek pulled into the pits and opened the door to climb out, he saw Foyt on the pit wall dressed for battle and instantly realized what was about to transpire. Upset by Foyt taking over the car with a lead he had established and fearful the Texan would ruin the team’s race, Wollek tried to close the door and drive off. But the team physically pulled him from the car. Wollek was disgusted. He had put the car at the front and believed Henn was throwing the race away because Foyt had never driven the car before – nor driven at Daytona in the wet. But Foyt used a nearly two-hour full course caution period to learn the car and when the race was finally restarted, took off in the lead. Once again, Foyt affirmed his status as one of the all-time greats. The team went on to win the race.
Bob Wollek watches as A.J. Foyt climbs into the Swap Shop Porsche 935 early Sunday morning. Wollek’s body language tells a story in itself. Note the heavy media interest. Photo: Peter Gloede
All was forgiven in Victory Lane, but Wollek was still a bit perturbed with the whole episode. Reportedly Foyt turned to Wollek after the race and asked him; “How many times have you been to Le Mans?” Wollek answered; “At least a dozen times!” Foyt retorted: “How many times have you won?” Wollek, of course, had not won Le Mans. Foyt reminded him; “I’ve been to Le Mans once, and won.” They eventually became good friends and team mates, driving to victory together at Daytona and Sebring two years later in a Porsche 962.
The 1976 24 Hours of Daytona was possibly the most unusual Camel GT race ever run. A record 72 entries showed up and the event had a relatively normal first 15 hours. After racing through the night, the BMW CSL of Peter Gregg and Brian Redman held an enormous 17-lap lead as the sun came up Sunday morning. But when Redman stopped for fuel and tires just after 9:00 a.m., the car misfired and then stalled coming out of the pits. Stranded out on the course, Redman tried to get the car re-fired, to no avail. He eventually borrowed jumper cables and a battery from some helpful fans beside the track and somehow managed to coax the BMW back to life and limped back to the pits. In the meantime, nine of the top ten cars in the race began to suffer the same symptoms, they were coughing and coming to a halt after refueling. The culprit? Water in the gasoline.
Brian Redman’s stricken BMW CSL during the 1976 24 Hours of Daytona, after stalling out on course with water tainted gasoline. Redman is trying to get it restarted with coaching from his crew, who were not allowed to touch the car. Photo credit: ISC Archives & Research Center/Getty Image
The decision was made to red flag the race an hour after the problems first started appearing; IMSA wanted to avoid having the entire field suffer the same fate. After some investigation, it was determined that the affected teams had all been serviced by a single gasoline truck. Somehow, water had been introduced into the fuel carried by that one truck.
John Bishop conferred with Chief Steward Charlie Rainville and the decision was made to roll back timing and scoring to the last complete lap before the problem first emerged at 9:01 a.m. on Sunday morning. That call was cheered by some teams and derided by others, depending on whether their car had been felled by the bad fuel or not.
As John later recalled: “Rolling back scoring of the race seemed like the only fair thing to do. Some of the teams that had dodged the bad fuel issue were upset, but you have to remember that this was an extraordinary, unprecedented situation that was out of the control of even the most well-prepared teams or the track.”
By the time a replacement truck with fuel arrived from Jacksonville, 90 miles away, two and a half hours had elapsed. Normally, teams were not allowed to work on their cars under red flag conditions, but in this case, IMSA officials told everyone they could use the time to purge their fuel systems to get running again. Those with foam-filled fuel cells were doomed, however, because the water had been absorbed into the lining of the cell.
The BMW teams are serviced in the pit lane at Daytona in 1976 after the 24 hour race was red flagged. Teams were allowed to work on their cars to purge their fuel tanks, which had become contaminated with water. Red and green barrels were used to indicate which contained “good” and “bad” fuel. Photo credit: autosportsltd.com
The #14 Al Holbert/Claude Ballot-Lena Porsche Carrera RSR is serviced during the lengthy red flag due to water contaminated gasoline during the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1976. The pair would go on to finish second in the race. Photo credit: autosportsltd.com
Once their fuel system had been cleaned, Redman and Gregg resumed the race with their 17-lap lead intact, almost three hours after the race had been red flagged and almost four hours since the last officially scored lap. Just 29 cars restarted the race, the rest having fallen out prior to the fuel issue or having been done in by the tainted gasoline. The duo of Redman and Gregg went on to win by 14 laps over Al Holbert and Claude Ballot-Lena in a Carrera RSR. It would be the third 24 Hours of Daytona victory for Gregg.
The winning BMW CSL of Brian Redman and Peter Gregg at the 1976 24 Hours of Daytona. Photo credit: autosportsltd.com
The second place Porsche Carrera RSR of Al Holbert and Claude Ballot-Lena flies through the tri-oval in the rain at the 1976 24 Hours of Daytona. Photo credit: International Motor Racing Research Center/IMSA Collection