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Daytona Revisited

Porsche Fabcar at speed. [Photo by Jack Webster]

Porsche Fabcar at speed. [Photo by Jack Webster]

By Jack Webster

Walking through the garage area at Daytona for the HSR Classic 24 at Daytona presented by IMSA I was at first struck by a familiar smell, that sweet unmistakable smell of gear oil from a GTP car having its gears changed.

That smell instantly transported me back thirty years, to 1987 when I was the team manager for the Porsche Fabcar team and we were preparing our car for the Sunbank 24 Hours. Weeks and months of preparation had come down to that singular moment, the start of the grueling 24 Hours of Daytona, where both men and machine would be tested to their limits and often beyond.

That race was our first 24-hour contest with the Porsche Fabcar, and it was to be an eventful one. Emotional ups and downs ruled the endurance contest for us, as we fought hard to keep our car in contention for the win the entire race. Alas, the victory was not to be, as late on Sunday morning we broke an axle while leading the Camel Lights class. Our crew was not one to give up, however, and we made hasty repairs and got back into the race, finishing second in class. Daytona taught us that we had the car, team and capability to be a winner and that in an endurance race you should never give up and always keep fighting for victory.

Victories and triumphs did come to us during that eventful season thirty years ago, as after Daytona our team and the Porsche Fabcar went on to victories at Miami, West Palm Beach and Sebring – a sweep of the Florida races with the exception of Daytona (and later in the season victory at Sears Point as well).

How fitting it was to see our old car, looking better than it ever did back when we were racing it every few weeks, entered in the Group C class at the HSR Classic 24 at Daytona. The car was 30 years older, but in splendid condition as prepared by Dale Oakes and his excellent crew at Euro Classics in Dayton, Ohio. It was also fitting that one of our original crewmen, Bill Tate, was also on hand to wrench on the car at this event. Just like the car, he was looking better than ever – just a bit grayer.

Also how fitting to see a couple of our original drivers from 1987 as well – John Higgins and Charlie Monk, who combined for a class win in the Fabcar at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1987, among other successes. They had aged thirty years also, and although not as fresh looking as the Fabcar they were to drive, they were still fit and still quick and ready to race.

The Porsche Fabcar, chassis #FEP001 is the only remaining example of the Camel Lights cars built by Dave Klym for the IMSA Camel GT series. The sister car to chassis 001 was sold to a European collector a number of years ago and sadly burned to the ground in a shop fire recently.

Higgins owned #FEP001 back in 1987 and continues to own it to this day. Not only does he still own it, he still races it on a regular basis. As he would tell you, race cars are meant to be driven, not just looked at as objects of art.

The HSR Classic 24 at Daytona is a unique and great idea – bring back classic race cars from the past and race them flat out on the high banks at Daytona, just as they did when they ran the real 24 hours back in the day. Of course, these cars are too valuable now and parts too hard to find to race them for 24 straight hours any longer, so HSR came up with a brilliant plan. Each of the 6 classes of cars for the event would get to race in 4 separate 1-hour contests. They would all be driven in the light of day, gloom of night and the dawn of a new day. They would be alive again.

The Porsche Fabcar was in the Group C class, which included a couple of Group 44 Jaguars and some Porsche 962s, cars that were in the top GTP class in IMSA back in the day, while the non-turbocharged Fabcar ran a flat-six air cooled Porsche engine, just as it did back in 1987 in the Lights class.

Higgins started the race on Saturday afternoon at 1pm, the start of the combined 24-hour race. Later, Charlie Monk piloted the car at 9pm and 3am, while Higgins finished off things at 9am on Sunday morning.

Lo and behold, the old girl (who we all refer to as the “Fat Lady”) finished on the podium in third place in Group C, defeated by only a couple of Porsche 962 turbos, making for a Porsche sweep in Group C.

The Fabcar finished without a mark on her and just as fresh as when she started the race, thanks to clean driving by Higgins and Monk and the flawless prep work by Dale Oakes and his group of craftsmen at Euro Classics.

Just goes to show you that sometimes you can relive history and it can be just as rewarding the second time around as it was the first.

Aw, the smell of gear oil in the garage. It makes thirty year old memories as fresh as yesterday.

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Jack Webster has been shooting motorsports since the early 1970’s, covering Formula One, CanAm, F5000, TransAm, GrandAm and American Le Mans races, among others. In addition to his photography, he has also worked on racing teams, both in IMSA and IndyCar, so has a complete knowledge of the inner workings of motorsport. Both his photography and writing can be seen here on racingnation.com