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The Peter Gregg I Knew


Peter Gregg exiting car, Sebring 1978. Courtesy Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Peter Gregg exiting car, Sebring 1978. Courtesy Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Courtesy: Louis Galanos

Courtesy: Louis Galanos

Courtesy: Louis Galanos

Courtesy: Louis Galanos

Courtesy: Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Courtesy: Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Courtesy: Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Courtesy: Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Courtesy: Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Courtesy: Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Courtesy: Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Courtesy: Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Courtesy: Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Courtesy: Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Courtesy: Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Courtesy: Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Courtesy: Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Courtesy: Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd.

Sebring 1971, at the Hairpin

Sebring 1971, at the Hairpin

Sebring, Warehouse Straight

Sebring, Warehouse Straight

Sebring, Exiting the Chicane

Sebring, Exiting the Chicane

 

Peter Gregg and Brumos Racing are among the Class of 2014 to enter the 12 Hours of Sebring Hall of Fame, a long overdue posthumous honor for the late driver and his legendary team which almost single handedly revolutionized American sports car racing from the late 1960s through the 1970s.

Gregg’s Brumos Porsche teams won nearly every major GT championship from IMSA GT to SCCA TransAm over the course of the turbulent decade of American sports car racing. Thanks in no small part to Peter Gregg’s efforts professionalizing the emerging series which began as little more than organized club races, he demanded (and got) driver appearance money and broke through rules barriers by bringing in all the latest high tech hardware from Stuttgart. Camel GT endurance events at Daytona and Sebring became World Championship points paying affairs once again featuring works and semiworks teams which paved the way for the GTP era.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the massive Ferrari and Porsche prototype battles across the globe where the Italian 512Ms and 312Ps went to war with the German 917s and garnered all of the international motor sport headlines. Further down the order though, the Jacksonville, Florida-based Brumos Porsche team began to make noise in the GT categories. First, notably with 914/6s in the early orange company colors and later with 911s, the model which helped deliver the historic team many of its accomplishments with the iconic white with red and blue striped “Made in Jacksonville” examples.

Brumos Porsche team owner and lead driver Peter Gregg emerged from an impressive crop of a new generation of distinguished young American sports car drivers that rose to prominence and international renown during the later stages of the FIA World Endurance Championship days and the IMSA Camel GT era.

Gregg was born in New York City in 1940. He was Harvard educated with a degree in English Literature and served in the Navy as an intelligence officer with an interest in cars and racing when he arrived at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville.

Upon leaving the Navy, Gregg purchased the local Porsche dealership after the death of owner Hubert Brundage (BRUndage MOtorS) and began entering gymkhanas and rallies during the mid-sixties where he impressed with his smooth driving style that earned him attention from Porsche.

As the FIA withdrew it’s sanction of America’s most prominent endurance races, notably the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring, the timing could not have been better for Gregg and his Brumos team. The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) with sponsorship from Camel began its sanction of American sports car racing, known as the Camel GT. And, as IMSA founder John Bishop noted at the time, Peter Gregg was the first to enthusiastically commit to the upstart series.

Gregg had already made some headlines winning the GTU category and an amazing fifth overall with a Porsche 911 in the 1972 12 Hours of Sebring teamed with his racing protégé Hurley Haywood. He was also competing in the SCCA TransAm series driving one of Budd Moore’s famous Mustangs alongside long time rival George Follmer. Gregg also participated in the CanAm series with Haywood with the potent Porsche 917/10s.

In 1973, sports car racing in America was changing. The FIA World Championship prototypes were gone in favor of full fields of GT cars featuring production model Porsches, BMWs, Ferraris, Datsuns, Ford Mustangs, Chevrolet Corvettes and Camaros along with an assortment of modified street cars all competing for overall victories. The IMSA Camel GT series emerged out of a need to fill the void left by the FIA’s withdraw and to present a U.S. based professional sports car series which kept the traditional races at Daytona and Sebring alive.

IMSA’s Camel GT would be an organized and professional series competing on famous and not so famous tracks across North America for not only trophies but a season points championship with bonus prize money. IMSA began in 1969 but really hit its stride in 1973 when the Camel GT series featured some of the largest fields of contenders ever seen at the major endurance races such as the 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring and 6 Hours of Riverside.

Peter Gregg and his famous #59 Porsches found a home in GT racing and IMSA provided the perfect platform for his driving ambitions and marketing his rapidly growing “we race what we sell” dealership at home in Jacksonville as the series grew in stature and importance.

Gregg was famously quoted by Sports Illustrated magazine in 1979 that he would have been happy to race open cockpit Indy Cars or prototypes if he had less concern for his life. Obviously he was content to race the famous Porsche coupes with enclosed wheels, roofs and full roll cages rather than the notoriously dangerous Formula One or Indy Cars of the time where Gregg could have achieved more fame but driver’s life expectancies were still ominously short.

My first recollections of the Brumos Porsches were from the 1971 12 Hours of Sebring where the orange liveried 914/6s competed for GTU class honors. Rather than being from far away places like Germany, Italy, Monaco or Great Britain, the Brumos Porsche team was from right here in Florida; finally some worthy local participation!

We first met Peter and some of the team at the Sebring technical inspections which, during those days, took place downtown in the parking lot of the old shuffleboard club when we recognized that the team was from Florida. He was impressed that we met him again in the paddock out at the track the next day as promised where he took the time to show us some of the finer points of the 914/6 which, to a wide eyed seven year old kid from Sebring, made a huge impression.

An extremely open, accessible and winning team right from our own state, the always well prepared Brumos team set the standard for all other competitors in the Camel GT paddocks to follow with team manager Jack Atkinson and chief mechanic Michael Colucci fine tuning the cars at the race shops in Jacksonville in order to be immediately fast right off the trailer at race meetings.

Brumos’ level of preparation was interesting to witness as in nearly every case, the glimmering team cars would sit on jack stands in the paddock, virtually untouched. At the same time, competing teams scrambled to get their cars ready for the track with tools flying and a lot of commotion, the Brumos team crew sat quietly by the car in lawn chairs eating ice cream or bumming cigarettes waiting for the next session to start.

This was the result of detailed journals Peter Gregg kept from each race he participated in, intensive engineering notes Atkinson took from past experiences at the tracks and the long hard hours of work the team put in at the shop back in Jacksonville.

Sebring International Raceway became Gregg’s second home track and while he scored only a single overall victory with Hurley Haywood and Dr. Dave Helmick in 1973, the list of Gregg’s accomplishments at Sebring were the stuff of legend as each year passed, he would show up with the coolest cars in the paddock featuring the latest factory bits and pieces that pushed the boundaries of the IMSA rules which were, at the time, at least two years behind what was happening in Europe.

Peter Gregg made the notoriously difficult to drive Porsche 911s, with the engine and most of the car’s weight located behind the rear wheels, look easy. His ultra-smooth style behind the wheel belied the contrary engineering which went into the all-conquering 911s. Where other 911 drivers lost valuable time keeping their cars under control in the turns, missing braking points, hopping curbs, lifting wheels, or wildly oversteering with rear tires sliding (spectacular but hardly effective), Gregg’s cars appeared to be on rails, never harried, always in control, smooth and consistent.

Somehow Gregg made it all look so routine that one journalist famously opined that a trained gorilla could win driving his Porsches. That was until the journalist drove one of the Brumos Porsche 935s at speed with Peter’s instruction and discovered for himself this was hardly the case.

Through out all of Peter’s many racing successes which I eagerly read about in Autoweek and Formula magazines, Peter always took the time to personally return letters of congratulations or thank me for the crude drawings I made of his cars that he always got such a kick out of. He would also send post cards to remind me not to miss one race or another that would be televised as back in those days, sports car racing on television was a very rare treat. The fact that Peter would take the time to do all of this during the height of the racing season had a great impact.

In that decade growing up in Sebring and watching the races with great interest, Peter Gregg’s efforts were always my focus. He was always genuinely happy to see us at the track and he would allow us to watch events up close in the paddock and pit box. When security would usher people out, Peter would point to my buddy Nathan Benjamin and me and say, “Not these guys, they stay right here!”. You tend not to forget stuff like that. There are obviously a lot of great personal recollections from that era and aside from overall victory in 1973, some of Peter’s most memorable drives at Sebring did not result in victory but certainly provided most of the fireworks as he was nearly always at or near the lead one way or another.

After the 1974 layoff for the “fuel crisis”, the 12 Hours of Sebring returned in 1975 under new promoter, John Greenwood, famous for his “Monster Corvettes” and bombastic style. Peter entered The Race with his now familiar white #59 Porsche RSR with Hurley Haywood. Things were looking good early on but the car ran afoul of a back marker causing enough damage to end the team’s race early. The well earned victory went to the works BMW 3.0 CSL team of Brian Redman, Allan Moffat, Hans Stuck and Sam Posey.

During the 1975 season, a controversy was brewing in IMSA regarding liberalizing rules to allow turbo charging and radical body work as seen in the European FIA Group 5 series where the top Porsche teams were running turbo engines with crazy wings and body work making virtual prototypes of the silhouette formula production cars. On the American side, IMSA opted to run the cars as close in appearance to their road going production counterparts as possible and put a moratorium on turbo charging and strictly regulated elaborate body work.

For 1976, Peter Gregg decided instead to enter a BMW 3.0 CSL with backing from BMW of North America. The 3.0 CSL was same model which came away with the improbable but never the less well judged victory at Sebring in 1975. Peter won overall with the 3.0 CSL at the 24 Hours of Daytona along with Brian Redman and John Fitzpatrick in the famous rain-shortened race that saw the race stopped as water contaminated the fuel supply and made the infield portion of the course a soggy mess.

Fresh from victory at Daytona, Peter returned to Sebring with long time co-driver Hurley Haywood in the potent 3.0 CSL. The main competitors included another works 3.0 CSL driven by David Hobbs and NASCAR star Benny Parsons, the “Monster Corvette” driven by John Greenwood and Michael Brockman and a slew of Porsche 911 RSRs driven notably by Al Holbert and Michael Keyser.

Peter qualified second alongside the enormously powerful Corvette and at the drop of the green flag, the two immediately battled for the lead on the first lap until entering the Hairpin where on the exit of the turn the BMW and Corvette collided resulting in a huge amount of fiberglass body work from both cars flying in all directions. The top two cars nearly eliminated themselves barely before a minute of The Race was in the books, dropping each down the order as both cars limped back to the pits for repairs. The Corvette’s body work was a mess held together with several rolls of 200MPH tape. The BMW was far less fortunate as the huge air duct aft the driver’s side door and ahead of the rear wheel arch was completely crushed. The damaged body work was bad enough but the air box also housed the huge radiator that kept the 3.0 litre straight six engine cool and it necessitated a long repair which dropped the entry down to 47th place, several laps behind the leaders.

In what may only be described as one of the most intense drives in Sebring history, Gregg and Haywood drove the battle scarred BMW flat out through the remainder of the race. The BMW 3.0 CSL’s body work may have been damaged but the straight six engine was very much intact and could literally be heard screaming all the way around the 5.2 mile circuit clawing back much of the lost time eventually finishing in seventh place overall behind winners Al Holbert and Michael Keyser, the two long time Porsche entrants teaming up for an historic win in Holbert’s 911 RSR.

The 1976 result was not what Gregg and Haywood wanted but it was a testament to the resolve of the team and the strength of the BMW 3.0 CSL’s engine which ran virtual qualifying lap times the entire race in order to make up for the lost time after the early gaffe.

For 1977, IMSA had finally relented and allowed turbo charging and more radical body work into the Camel GT series so the series slowly began to take on the look of its Group 5 counterpart. Porsche responded by sending two brand new 934 turbos that arrived at Sebring directly by air freight from Stuttgart for The Race weekend, minutes before the first practice sessions. The two 934s featured huge radiators tucked inside their snowplow noses, improved aerodynamics, enormous rear wings and the battle tested flat six turbo engines which spit fire on every up and down shift.

Both of the cars were so new, they were delivered in all-white for Ted Field’s Interscope team for Field and Danny Ongias and the other for long time Porsche entrant and Brumos client Jim Busby who would co-drive the car with Peter, sponsored by Brumos Porsche and Busby’s long time sponsorship partner Mitcom.

Due to the car’s late arrival, literally still in their shipping crates, the Brumos and Interscope teams had to uncharacteristically scramble to get the cars ready for The Race which basically meant that all the teams could do was put on extra lights and race liveries. The Busby entry sported the familiar red and blue Brumos stripes on the front bonnet and Busby’s designated #61 on the nose and doors. The Interscope team which became better known for their menacing black with red, orange and pink striped livery ran completely in white save for a black #0 stuck on the car.

Despite all of this, the two brand new Porsche 934 turbos were immediately fast, staking out the top times in practice and qualifying. The fire breathing 934 turbos were hugely exciting and gave the Sebring fans a taste of what was happening in Europe at the time. The remainder of the field consisted mainly of a slew of Porsche RSRs that were looking rather dated next to the brand new arrivals from Stuttgart and the usual assortment of BMWs and Corvettes.

To be sure though, all of the attention was on the two Porsche 934s on the pointy end of the grid. Both the Brumos and Interscope teams were supremely confident with their new factory equipment and their confidence was well founded as they romped away from the field together at the start of The Race.

This was Sebring though, and as usual the crumbling, old track had its say in matters. By mid-afternoon, the Interscope entry had fallen back with mechanical problems while Gregg and Busby stretched to an almost embarrassing dozen or more lap lead with no one left able to come close to the stunning pace of the Brumos 934. Around sun down, as happened so many times before at Sebring, the race took a dramatic turn as the unbeatable Gregg/Busby 934 slowed when a wheel separated from the car necessitating a long pit stop for repairs on the intercoolers and bodywork wiping out the seemingly insurmountable lead the team had built up.

There was still enough time left to make up the deficit the team lost repairing the damaged 934 and it was down to Gregg and Busby to grind their way back to the lead. They set about to regain the lead, lapping in qualifying times as Peter set the race’s fastest lap while chasing down the lead Porsche 911 RSR of George Dyer and Brad Frisselle but ran out of time in the end, Gregg and Busby finishing third overall.

1977 was also a significant year for Hurley Haywood and Peter Gregg at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. While not team mates at Le Mans, the American duo, who were becoming household names in U.S. sports car circles, had a big impact at the world’s most important race. Hurley took the first of his three overall victories at Le Mans teaming with Jurgen Barth and endurance racing legend Jacky Ickx driving the factory Porsche 936 in a staggering come from behind win. Just as impressively, Peter scored a decisive GT class win and third overall driving with French sports car racing legend Claude Ballot-Lena in the Jean Marc Smadja (JMS) Racing Porsche 935.

In 1978, IMSA at long last allowed the use of the full fendered body work and turbo engined Porsche 935s and BMW 320is to compete for the newly renamed GTX championship. The 935s and 320is had been a familiar sight in Europe for a couple of seasons in Group 5 and finally the American fans were going to get a chance to see what they had been missing.

The season started strongly for Brumos Porsche at Daytona as two white 935s were entered in the 24 Hours for Gregg, Claude Ballot-Lena and Brad Frisselle in the #59 with support from JMS Racing. The second Brumos entry, #99 in identical livery, was driven by experienced European sports car stars Rolf Stommelen and Antonie Hezemans with Gregg, who was serving double duty for his team, supported by George Loos Racing. A resounding victory was scored at Daytona by the #99 Brumos Porsche 935 with Stommelen, Hezemans and Gregg while the #59 fell off of the sister car’s staggering performance salvaging ninth overall.

At Sebring, Brumos arrived with a good deal of confidence and a single entry for Gregg and Frisselle sharing #59. Frisselle was very much on the up as a young American sports car driver and had dominated the GTU category with his self-entered Datsun Zs, earning many important race wins and season championships.

Just as at Daytona, the Sebring field was full of beautiful all new Porsche 935s with the Dick Barbour team entering three cars. Other 935 entrants included Bob Hagstead and Ted Field’s Interscope team among a stellar field of contenders.

Pole at Sebring was taken by the BMW 320i turbo entry driven by David Hobbs and Formula One star Ronnie Peterson with the Brumos entry a close second. With Gregg taking the start, The Race for Brumos ended almost as soon as it began as a proverbial $5.00 part broke in the steering rack as Gregg entered the high speed Esses section. Gregg lost all directional control of the 935 which went careening off course and came to rest upside down on top of a sand dune. The now iconic image of Peter exiting the car being assisted by corner workers appeared in nearly every major American newspaper the next day. It was a terribly disappointing result but Peter was okay and on his way back to Jacksonville within an hour of the incident.

The 1978 Race was won overall by new Sebring promoter Charles Mendez co-driving the Dick Barbour Racing entry with Brian Redman and Bob Garretson. Mendez not only won his own race, he restored Sebring to its rightful place among the FIA World Endurance Championship points paying races by investing in all new tire barriers and upgrades around the circuit.

Brumos Porsche had no official entry at Sebring in 1979. None the less, Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood were reunited this time driving for South Florida entrepreneur Preston Henn’s T-Bird Swap Shop Porsche 935 team. Henn, an accomplished sports car driver and personality in his own right, had just obtained one of Interscope’s 935s and the car was menacing looking in all black and red stripes, renumbered #09, with sponsorship from Swap Shop and Michelob Light.

Weeks before however, the International Race of Champions (IROC) announced their schedule and there was a direct conflict for Gregg as he had to appear as reigning IMSA GTX Champion in the IROC event at Atlanta Motor Speedway before he could join the team at Sebring. Gregg was infuriated with the situation but there was nothing else that could be done.

The 1979 12 Hours of Sebring was once again, an all Porsche 935 affair with several multi-car entries headed by the three-car entry from Dick Barbour Racing. Charles Mendez entered his own 935 with Busch Beer sponsorship. These, along with about a dozen other worthy 935 entries, made sure it wasn’t so much a question of if a Porsche would win but rather which one!

Dick Barbour, the famous Californian entrant, brought a 935 for himself, Rolf Stommelen and Indy Car star Rick Mears in the lead team car and American sports car stalwarts Bob Akin, Roy Woods and Rob McFarlin in the second car.

With Gregg off at Atlanta going roundy-round with the NASCAR boys, it was down to Haywood and the able Henn to hold up the Swap Shop team’s honor. Right from the green flag, Haywood and Stommelen diced for the lead hammer and tongs, trading the lead lap after lap in a riveting duel as the two Porsche veterans pushed each other and their cars to the very limits during the hectic opening laps.

It became obvious the red Stommelen-Mears-Barbour 935 would be the hare and take the Haywood-Henn 935 along with it while the blue Akin-Woods-McFarlin entry would be the tortoise and hang back in case anything happened to the lead Barbour entry. With IROC duties and a long flight from Atlanta completed, Gregg finally arrived on the scene at Sebring by mid-afternoon and jumped straight into the Swap Shop 935 which was still holding pace in or near the lead for most of the race and things really got interesting. The frantic early pace had not taken it’s toll so far as the Barbour and Henn entries continued their battle, swapping the lead on pit stops while setting a record pace which looked more like an all out sprint than an endurance race.

Almost predictably, sundown at Sebring produced its share of drama as both of the front runners whose strategy seemed to be “Win or blow up trying” ran into trouble. The Stommelen-Mears-Barbour 935 experienced a blown turbo. With the pressure somewhat off, Gregg circulated in the Swap Shop 935 but suddenly began blowing out copious amounts of white smoke on upshifts. The smoke was visible at spots all the way around the circuit. Gregg brought the smoking 935 into the pits where the crew diagnosed a burned valve. Race over.

1980

The 1980 IMSA Camel GTX season was set up at Le Mans in 1979 where the upstart Florida-based racing brothers Don and Bill Whittington won overall with Klaus Ludwig driving the Kremer Brothers entered K3 bodied Porsche 935. The resounding victory with the new look K3 body work was not ignored back in the U.S. It seemed everyone started showing up with their own vision of what they thought a 935 should be and suddenly the Kremers had a lot of customers lined up for their cars after their success at Le Mans.

The Kremer 935 K3 derivative was a radical departure from the factory 935s featuring revised aerodynamics with a smooth raised roofline that directed air to rear wing, a more pointed nose, sculpted fenders and air box intakes. Perhaps a dozen or more of the K3 cars landed in the U.S. in the hands of Dick Barbour Racing, Swap Shop Racing, Interscope Racing, Whittington Brothers Racing, Charles Mendez and Bob Akin among other multi-car teams.

Peter Gregg, the official Porsche factory entrant, stuck with the traditional Porsche 935 that had provided him with so much success in 1978 and 1979. For 1980, the factory 935 featured some subtle aerodynamic tweaks, squared off fenders with air outlets behind the front wheel arches but keeping the traditional factory rear wing. Gregg had formed a partnership with client Bruce Leven who entered Sebring with his Bayside Disposal #86 Brumos prepared 935 for himself, Gregg and Hurley Haywood.

The Bayside Disposal 935 appeared much in the same livery as the traditional white Brumos entries but instead of red and blue stripes, the car featured two shades of purple stripes giving the cars an interesting new look. Bruce Leven was in the waste disposal business in the Seattle, Washington area and the subtle purple livery was a regular theme throughout most of his early participation in sports car racing.

For Sebring, the battle lines were clearly drawn. The single factory 935 was up against a staggering amount of Kremer K3 and other creative aerodynamic interpretation 935 entries. To no one’s surprise, the fastest among the K3 cars was the Dick Barbour entered Sachs sponsored example driven by British sports car veteran John Fitzpatrick and Barbour himself. Barbour also entered a second K3 bodied 935 with sponsorship from Apple Computer for drivers Bobby Rahal, Kees Nierop and Bob Garretson.

Much in the same mode as 1979, the start of the 1980 12 Hours of Sebring saw the Barbour entry with Fitzpatrick sprinting off into the distance with Haywood in the Bayside car right under his wing lap after lap. The see-saw battle between the two protagonist teams picked up right where things had left off the previous year, the thrilling dice was riveting especially since Gregg wasn’t distracted by IROC duties and could focus his full attention on Sebring.

As sundown neared, it was a forgone conclusion that the race-long pace and the old track would eventually take its toll and trouble struck the Bayside Disposal entry with a blown turbo. With Gregg, Haywood and Levin sidelined, Fitzpatrick and Barbour were able to stroke the Sachs entry home uncontested, Barbour’s third consecutive Sebring victory as a team entrant and first as a driver. That was the last time I saw Peter race.

We lost him on December 15, two days before my seventeenth birthday, 1980.

While everyone still had heavy hearts, the racing calendar came around again in 1981 and the Brumos team lived on in the form of the all new Bayside Disposal factory Porsche 935 entry at Sebring. The driving lineup included Hurley Haywood, Bruce Leven and long time arch rival Al Holbert joining forces in a thrilling “loaded for bear” victory in the 12 Hours giving all of Peter’s fans, friends, family and associates a much needed lift.

Hurley would go on to team with Al Holbert again to win Le Mans with Vern Schuppan for the Porsche factory in 1983. This, along with so many more of Hurley’s great racing accomplishments over the years, earned him the mantle of America’s most accomplished sports car driver and one of the most respected gentlemen in the business.

Hurley and I have remained friends all of these years. He was instrumental in my early aspirations as a racing photographer, getting me access to races as a guest of his teams allowing me to gain experience and develop my photographic style and making valuable contacts. This will never be forgotten.

We might wonder what the American sports car racing scene might be like today had we not lost Peter Gregg in 1980. The GTP era may well have taken on a completely different direction and it definitely would have begun earlier on a more solid footing. And, we very likely wouldn’t have had the absurd fifteen-year split that we’ve recently endured as Peter never would have stood for turning the clock back on sports car racing by twenty years.

What I remember most is the quote that Porsche of North America ran as a full-page advertisement in every major motoring magazine and newspaper across the country to memorialize Peter:

"The excellence of his example changed us forever."

 

Story: Barton Workman
Photos: Courtesy of Motorsports Marketing Associates, Ltd, or Barton Workman