How it Began
The Back Story of PCA Club Racing
By Tony Kelley, PCA Club Racer (Potomac Region)
Reprinted from the original article in Club Racing News, Volume 11.1.
There are 29 PCA Club Races being held this year at tracks around the country, making PCA one of the largest club race programs in the nation. That’s a well known fact. What may be less well known is that the origin of PCA Club Racing was within the Potomac region. This is the story of that beginning.
The World before PCA Club Racing
Porsche’s reputation was built on its success in international motor racing. From the earliest days of Porsche production through to the present day, Porsche has carved its name on every major racing event the world over. The factory motorsports programs that produced and won with iconic racecars were a major force in world sports car racing. The cars, the designers, and the drivers were legendary. Racing was an essential part of the Porsche brand right from the beginning and a part of the attraction that drew so many to Porsche ownership. The Porsche Club of America grew rapidly from the early 1960s through the 1980s with highly successful autocross and driver education programs attracting members to explore the essence of their cars that flowed directly from the Porsche racing heritage. And yet, as late as 1991 PCA members who wanted to race had to look elsewhere. There was no racing program in PCA.
By the late 1970s, Driver Education (DE) was a well-established program in PCA regions across the country and was growing fast in the Potomac region. Inevitably, some drivers wanted to take the next step to racing, but that meant moving from PCA to Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) or to Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) for vintage racing.
Engraved pewter trophy presented to all racers at the first Potomac Region PCA Club Race
Many good drivers took this leap into a different world. The SCCA was extremely competitive, especially at the national level. The racing was close, and racing incidents that put a car out of a race were considered simply part of racing. The SVRA was serious about vintage racing and at that time only allowed cars that had documented Trans-Am or FIA history. The cost of entry was high, but the racing was less aggressive. The SVRA had a 13/13 rule, under which a driver could be put on a 13-month probation for causing an incident and disqualified from racing for 13 months for a second offense while under probation. This rule worked to limit contact between cars, and was later to become a fundamental element of PCA Club Racing rules.
Racers from PCA quickly discovered that Porches were rare in both SCCA and SVRA racing. In the SCCA case, the Porsche reputation as a giant killer meant that all Porsche models were classed unfavorably. It was extremely hard to win an SCCA race in a Porsche, which remains true today.
In the SVRA case, Porsches with the appropriate history were fewer in number and relatively expensive compared to ground-pounders from Trans-Am and some ex-FIA race cars of other manufacturers. The net result was that racers either settled for racing mid-pack with a small contingent of Porsches or switched away from Porsche to a car that was more competitive in class. PCA not only lost racers, it also lost good talent to other marques.
Against this background, the Potomac region DE program was one of the largest in the country, with some extremely capable drivers. In the early 1980s, a Time Trial event had been added to many regional DE programs, including Potomac. The Time Trial gave each competing car two timed hot laps, with the obvious objective of recording the best time possible. Only two or three cars were on track at the same time, which provided adequate spacing and avoided any suggestion of racing. Cars were classified broadly based on factory horsepower and weight.
Time trial became quite popular in many regions, and in 1983 the Porsche Atlantic Time Trial Series (PATTS) was established. PATTS was a series of time trial events held by Potomac, Reisentoter, Schattenbaum, Connecticut Valley and Jersey Shore regions. Drivers from each region would form a team to compete at each event with points awarded for both drivers and teams. The series ran through 1988 and was extremely competitive. A time trial rule set was developed that covered the classification of Porsche models into equal classes and included the concept of specific modifications being assigned points. Earn enough modification points and your car was bumped up a class. The rules also covered safety, technical aspects of car preparation and event operations. Bob Russo of Reisentoter region led the development of the time trial rules, and they were refined as the series progressed through the 1980s.
Across the Atlantic, Porsche Club of Great Britain (PCGB) had initiated a club racing program and had held its first races in 1984. This was significant in that it provided a working model for club racing within the international Porsche Club community. By the second half of the 1980s, the ingredients on which to base a PCA Club Race program were in place. It was clear that the SVRA’s 13/13 rule was effective in fostering a non-contact form of racing where drivers were more considerate of one another and where excess aggression was not acceptable.
PATTS established that a competitive inter-region series could draw a strong field of drivers willing to travel to tracks in other regions to participate in the events and had rules that supported the type of cars that most club members had at that time.
The PCGB race program demonstrated that club racing could be run in a way that was attractive to club members and allowed them to participate with their current cars. All that was required was a leader with the vision to see all these pieces plus the determination to create the program and have it approved by PCA. That leader was Alan Friedman.
Alan Friedman, the founding father of PCA Club Racing, shown here with his 2001 Cup car
A Leader Emerges
Friedman joined PCA Potomac region in 1975 and dove into the DE program immediately. His leadership skills were recognized early, when he was elected president in 1979. He was a part of the growth of the regional DE program through the early 1980s, serving a DE chair for two years then chief instructor for two years and racking up lots of track time.
During that time, Friedman noticed that some of his friends were moving from PCA DE to racing. While the spark of interest was there, the reality of SCCA racing was fender rubbing and aggressive tactics that were not what he was looking for. While serving as PCA Zone 2 representative in 1986, Friedman happened to meet Bruce Jennings who was ‘Mr. Porsche racing’ in the 1950s and early 1960s. Jennings had recently retired from pro racing and had taken up vintage racing with SVRA, which was the dominant vintage group on the East coast. Friedman said, “Bruce sang the praises of the vintage scene: real cars, neat people, and everyone racing with proper respect for the other driver’s machinery. All I needed was an early 911.”
The more Friedman learned about SVRA, the more interested he became. Even the rather surprising discovery that SVRA required not just a well prepared race car, but one with documented Tran-Am or FIA race history was not enough to put him off! He acquired a 911 with the appropriate racing provenance in late 1986, and ran his first two SVRA races in 1987 followed by a full season of races in 1988. The hook was firmly set. “I liked the cars, the people, the vintage scene, and most important, the racing itself,” says Friedman. “And it was clean – in almost 50 vintage events I’ve been tapped in the back once at a start, otherwise the paint is original. I also liked the vintage racing 13/13 rule, which did seem to support the whole concept of clean, safe, fun racing.”
Despite having a great time racing with SVRA, Friedman’s PCA roots began to seed a thought. “I found the best camaraderie at vintage races with Porsche/PCA people, and really with the very small 911 crowd (of which there were about six in SVRA),” he says. “So I thought – if this is so neat with six friends from PCA, then consider the potential if there was a similar racing venue in which a goodly portion of the (then) PCA 30,000 members could participate.” This thought was the beginning of what would become a very successful club racing program for PCA.
Inspiration is Instant — Creating a Program Takes Time
In 1989, the opportunity arose. PCA President Dennis Thovson called Friedman as the end of his four-year term as Zone
2 representative approached and asked him to take on the position as national safety chairman. While Friedman was not too keen on the position, he suggested to Thovson that he would accept the position if he could also study the concept of club racing and develop a proposal for a national club racing program. Thovson said he would have to call back. He did, and the deal was done.
In December 1989, the real work began with the imprimatur of the PCA executive committee.
The core concept of Friedman’s proposal was to bring safe, affordable, fun racing to PCA members. Any member participating in the club DE program would be able to participate in club racing with the cars they currently owned. This was important, because most forms of racing required cars that were specifically prepared for the track with roll cages and significant modifications.
The PCA objective was that all Porsche models would be eligible, with a major emphasis on stock cars with modest levels of preparation, appropriate safety equipment for car and driver and modest expense levels comparable with participation in the club DE program. Licensing would allow anyone with an appropriate level of DE experience and a good safety record to participate in PCA Club Racing.
The final critical element was that this would be a hybrid structure comprising PCA national rules, licensing and national officials including a steward and a scrutineer at each race. The races would be hosted and staffed by each region. Each race would be a stand-alone event, with such things as the schedule and trophies being decided by each region. There would be no concept of a series or points or a championship.
Translating those objectives into a simple but comprehensive rule set was a major undertaking. The rules needed to provide a path for anyone in DE who wanted to race and a safety package that would allow them to race without major modifications to their cars and would support the acceptance of racing coverage under the PCA national insurance program. Finally, the program had to make business sense for PCA. It needed to be financially self-supporting.
A team was formed to work on the rules. Led by Bob Russo, the team grew over time to include Dan McChesney, Tom Tauscher, Harry Hall, and Axel Shield. Over the next 18 months, Friedman and the team worked tirelessly. There was work on the rules, definition of a safety package that would be acceptable to both the insurance carrier and the majority of racers. There were surveys, presentations, dialog with zones and regions across the country, progress meetings with the executive committee and more. Fortunately, PCA President Dennis Thovsen had raced with SCCA and gave his support to the program. The incoming president in 1991, Bert Misevic, also had a racing background.
In 1991, Friedman presented a complete proposal to the executive board at Parade in Boston. The proposal encouraged fun racing and for participants to enjoy a competitive racing experience with a primary concern for preserving their own cars and those of their fellow competitors. There was a place for all Porsches, and a conscious de-emphasis on winning and ‘build-to-win’ arms races.
Club Racing was designed to be a rewarding experience anywhere on the grid and at any position during a race and to provide an ideal transition from DE for PCA members and their cars. This was racing for fun not for fame.
There were seven stock classes for all Porsche models based on horsepower-to-weight ratios, stock engines and drive trains, full road equipment, street tires, full factory weight and with limited improvements such as sway bar changes allowed. There were two additional classes for cars with substantial upgrades.
A modest package of safety equipment acceptable to the PCA national insurance program was required, including a roll bar or optional roll cage to rules specifications, proper seat and five or six point harnesses, window net, fire extinguisher, kill switch, Nomex driving suit, gloves, underwear, shoes and helmet. All cars were required to be in top mechanical condition and cosmetic condition indicative of the driver’s concern for the preservation of his or her car.
Finally, the proposal was adopted and the PCA Club Racing program was official.
There was little time to celebrate. The real work of setting up the program had just begun. Most important, there were races to be scheduled for the 1992 season and preparations made to ensure that these first races would be run safely and successfully. Friedman was duly installed as the first PCA Club Racing chairman, and the real work began. Bob Russo was named chief national scrutineer. Dan McChesney was named national scrutineer. Tom Tauscher started Club Racing News, and served as editor for many years. National staffer Ruth Harte managed licensing and all administration for the program.
The First Season of PCA Club Racing
Several regions, including Potomac, had expressed interest in holding a race in 1992. The initial plan was for three races: Potomac at Summit Point in June followed by Reisentoter at Pocono in August and a Lime Rock race in September. The Lime Rock race was jointly hosted by three regions: Connecticut Valley, Metro New York, and Northern New Jersey. Rocky Mountain (RMT) region then snuck under the wire to schedule their race a week before the Potomac Summit Point race. RMT grabbed the glory of hosting the first ever PCA Club Race, making the Potomac race the first east of the Mississippi. It’s a good thing Potomac doesn’t hold a grudge.
The Potomac Region First Race – June 1991
It was obvious well before the event that the Potomac region first race would be a good one. Over 70 drivers representing 16 PCA regions were registered. Drivers came from as far afield as Michigan, Chicago, the Carolinas, Connecticut Valley, New York, as well as the more local regions.
Patricia Melvin-Sommerville earned the honor of being the first in a long line of Potomac region women racers. There were only a handful of drivers with any prior race experience. This was going to be one big rookie race, which was true for most of the races in the early years.
Chuck Perilli driving his 944 Turbo Cup during practice at the first Potomac Region PCA Club Race
Alan Friedman was in command, along with fellow national committee member Bob Russo, Potomac region newly minted Club Race Chair Jim Loftis, and several Potomac enthusiastic Potomac volunteer groups. Friedman and Russo had assembled a group of experienced racers to act as mentors to this rookie field. The group included John Ashford, Axel Shield, Rasim Tugberk, Kenley Smith, Maury and Ty Hammill, and Steven Harth. They had the daunting task of watching the field from the corners through the practice sessions and delivering guidance or remedial advice to errant rookies as required.
Potomac region members Dan McChesney and Tom Tauscher led a well-prepared team of technical inspectors in a thorough inspection of the mechanical preparation and safety equipment for each car. Race control, hot pits and the false grid were expertly managed by Ed Nork and his team of marshals. Timing and Scoring Director Pat Walker led an extremely efficient team of Potomac members ably supported by experienced local SCCA volunteers.
The first day program of rookie briefings, three practice sessions, a session of practice starts and a four-lap practice race got everybody into the excitement of the racing experience and the new skills and levels of concentration that racing demanded. Seventy rookie Club Racing licenses were issued. The stage was set for the first day of real racing for PCA Potomac region.
Race day dawned warm and sunny. The practice sessions saw drivers trying both on and off line moves in anticipation of the action to come. The eight-lap qualifying sessions saw remarkably few car-versus-car duels with drivers wisely looking for open track. Qualifying times were fast, and the grid was set for each of four race groups.
The sheer fun and camaraderie of Club Racing is still present almost 20 years later. Some things have changed. The rules have become far more comprehensive to keep pace with new Porsche models, new safety equipment requirements and the endless creativity of those who look for loopholes in the rules. We’ve also seen some less obvious changes over the years.
At the first Potomac race almost all of the cars competing were driven to the track and driven home, which we rarely see at club races today. Timing and scoring was manned by a long row of scorers in folding chairs with clipboards and two stopwatches, each scorer responsible for two cars. The watches did not handle split times, so the scorers had to do the mental arithmetic to keep lap times for both of their cars. Today, the cars carry transponders. The crack National T&S team arrives with trunks of laptop computers and electronic timing gear. The results are available quickly and individual lap timing for each car is on the internet soon after the race. That’s obviously more efficient, but that line of scorers with stopwatches was impressive!
For the record, the Potomac region Summit Point race is now the longest running event in the PCA Club Racing calendar. Rocky Mountain region no longer races at Second Creek but now has a new track at High Plains Raceway.
The field of Group 4 racecars paces around Summit Point Raceway awaiting the start at the first Potomac Region club race
Success Begets Success
There were two more races in that first year: Pocono and Lime Rock Park. Both were well run, safe and fun for all who participated. There were six races in the 1993 season, and it wasn’t long before more regions began hosting races. This year there are 29 Club Races being held at tracks around the country, and approximately 2,200 members hold a current PCA racing license.
While producing professional drivers was never part of the plan, many racers who got their start in PCA Club Racing have gone on to great success in professional racing. As an example, since entering the Rolex Grand Am series in 2001, Potomac member Mike Levitas has won 12 races in the series, finished second eight times, finished third 10 times, and racked up an additional 25 top-10 finishes. Levitas’s TPC Racing team was crowned Grand American SGS-class champions in 2004. At the 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona, Levitas and his TPC team won the GT class.
Kevin Buckler, another example of club racer-turned-pro, ran his first-ever race with the PCA Rocky Mountain region in 1992. Kevin subsequently went on to form The Racers Group and to win the Porsche Cup series, Daytona and LeMans. Potomac club racer Darryl Carlisle currently holds second place in the IMSA Patron GT3 Challenge series, with only the Petit Le Mans left to decide the series. There are many more examples.
To say that the program has been a success is an understatement. The best way to get a real sense of the program is to talk to PCA Club Racers or stand close to them after a race and see the grins and hear the laughs as they relive bits of the race with their fellow racers. Some of these stories are legendary. All of these friendships forged by racing are unbreakable.
Alan Friedman served as PCA Club Race chairman until 1997 and was national chief steward through 2006. Ironically, he was so heavily committed to growing the program that he was not able to do his first PCA Club Race until 1994. Friedman had kept his hand in with a few SVRA vintage races in his 1967 ex-Tran Am 911, so he was in good racing form for his first PCA race. Friedman has continued racing and is now campaigning his 2001 Cup in as many PCA races as he can each year. His love for racing is as strong as ever.
Friedman’s vision created a strong and growing PCA program. It is a part of the Potomac region legacy of which any Potomac region member can be rightfully proud.
Tony Kelly was president of Potomac Region in 2008 and before that, vice president for two years. He was twice champion of the 944 Super Cup series and has participated in a number of PCA Club Races.