Shifting gears into the warmer seasons affords the motoring aficionado many joyous opportunities.
Up here in the Eastern Sierra, with the threat of big winter storms passed, road crews sweep off the gravel concoction they’d spread during the thick of it—allowing for more spirited driving (and additionally, in my case, riding the superbike). Snow finally melts in the forested areas, opening up the gravel roads, Jeep trails, and whoop-de-doo punctuated singletrack to all manner of Off-Highway Vehicles (I like to rock a two-stroke dirtbike for this application).
The opportunity for really epic road trips can also be realized.
Often, my road trips are done on two-wheels (on a superbike, not Chitwood-style in an automobile!), and involve—often as the focal point—some form of motor racing event, along the way.
Which brings us to our topic for the week.
I imagine that anyone as involved in wrenching on automobiles as I have been will at some point cross paths with the racing world, even as I have.
So, for the next couple of weeks, I’ll be relating some of the more interesting stories I’ve had, courtesy of the portal extant from my auto repair connections.
The first one I’ll relate, while by no means near the beginning of events chronological, seems to be the appropriate choice.
When I was transitioning into my own auto repair business, I did a relatively brief stint sharing shop space in a garage that serviced mostly German cars. The proprietor—who I will refer to as “Joe”—had some interesting racing connections going back to when he lived in an “Eastern Bloc” country, some years before. (Hopefully, I’ll one day be able to relate many stories about my experience working with Joe—especially regarding his “Old Country” wisdom.)
Apparently, Vasek Polak—who can, among other cool things, be considered a central figure in post WWII sports car racing here in the U.S. (esp. involving the Porsche brand and here on the West Coast)—was instrumental in getting Joe and his family here to The States.
Not long after Vasek died, Joe came by my shop and invited me to a sort of underground open house/ estate sale at Vasek’s race warehouse in Torrance, CA. Sounded like a good idea to me, so we went later that day.
To say it was a revelatory experience would probably be an understatement! There was stuff of all sorts, spanning Vasek’s entire saga in motor racing: boxes of used Speedster and 550 components, vintage Martini & Rossi promo items, including racing calendars, complete racecars and rolling chassis’ from a variety of classes—more cool material goods than I can recall, right now.
But to me, the real mindblow was what had to be at least a half-dozen COMPLETE 917 (as in the boxer-twelve turbo-powered nineoneseven) engine/ transaxle units, stacked in sturdy wire-mesh cages opposite the race car “display”. Even then—or maybe, especially then—as vintage road racing was approaching a zenith in popularity, I understood the gravity of what my eyes were taking in. I mean, what were the odds that so many of what had become so rare and important an item in auto racing history could be in the same place at the same time?!!
I don’t know where all of that wonderful stuff ended up (I did snag one of those 1972 M & R racing calendars, which is still on regular display), but undoubtedly the proceeds from its sale went to honorable use. The V. Polak name is on display prominently at the local medical center, for instance.
But while it was being used for its first intended purpose, it made automotive history, for sure!
Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage