Upon returning from Sebring the PV was treated to a fresh head gasket, a rebuilt radiator and a little cleaning up. My trusty old car was now ready for a full season of SCCA national racing. I’d become aware that my skills improved in direct proportion to that of my competition and therefore decided to concentrate on national competition for the 1969 season despite the fact that my PV wasn’t remotely competitive at this level. In addition to the aforementioned aluminum bodied Alfa Romeo’s, in 1969 Porsche 911’s were allowed (through a loophole in the rules) to compete as sedans. I won only one race, the only regional level event I entered, and that was the last running of the “Reading Road Races” held at the Reading PA airport. I was sorry to see that event fall from the schedule as it was one of the most enjoyable races I’ve ever run. On Saturday evening the local fire company would provide an all you can eat smorgasboard and beer fest, tickets for which came with the entry. Reading was a true “round the houses” in that the course ran primarily around the access roads for the civil defense barracks. After 1969 however, the insurance became impossible as a look at some of the accompanying photo’s will attest. Fire hydrants, telephone poles and drainage ditches are not recommended for race courses.
During the season I had the opportunity to attend the “Expert Drivers Seminar” at Lime Rock Park held by the prestigious “Road Racing Drivers Club”. The event was open only to SCCA national competition license holders. The instructors list read like a who’s who of American road racing. Mr. Volvo himself, Art Riley was one of the instructors assigned to my group along with Doc Vilardi and Datsun ace Bob Sharp. One of the highlights of that day was listening to a discussion between Art Riley and Bob Sharp regarding the point at which an overtaken car should give way to an overtaking car in a corner. Sharp maintained that when the overtaking car had achieved a point roughly even with the drivers seat of the car being overtaken the overtaken driver should concede the corner. Riley however, maintained that as long as any part of his car was still ahead of the other car he wasn’t about to concede anything. The two were fierce rivals on the track yet maintained great respect for each other and in the end simply agreed to disagree. I still have the certificate presented at completion of the seminar signed by chief instructor Mark Donohue.
On my to first place in the only SCCA regional race I entered in 1969.
My PV dnf’d only two times all season. One of these was a snapped rear axle shaft at Virginia International Raceway in Danville VA just as I was moving into third place for what would have been my second third pace in two events. I was still trying desperately to get back on course after tearing up a good deal of countryside (including a pretty good “yump” as the Swede’s would say) when a corner worker appeared drawing his finger across his throat. Wild eyed, I looked out the window at him and said, “did I lose a wheel?” He must have thought I was mad. The other incident was at the old Bryar Motorsport Park (now New Hampshire International Raceway) in Loudon NH. The line to the oil pressure gauge broke but not until after I’d managed to run as high as second among three Porsche 911’s in the pouring rain.
My PV on the hook at VIR.
Some weeks after the end of the season I received a letter from the SCCA national office. It appeared to be an invitation of some sort involving the championship runoffs at Daytona Speedway. I couldn’t figure if it was some type of advertisement or what it was about. I hadn’t paid any attention to the point standings. Running a PV-544 against Porsche’s and Alfa Romeo’s why should I? Sitting in my old Mercury at a traffic light while on my way to see Sandy and ask his opinion I happened to glance at the address label. In the corner it was marked “4NE”. The dawn broke. My PV and I had finished 4th in the Northeast Division SCCA national point standings. I had an invitation to the 1969 American Road Race of Champions at Daytona Speedway. When I looked up the point standings I found that I had missed third place by one point. I had finished no higher than third all season but the consistent 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th place finishes had all paid points and they added up.
Buckling in at the Reading Road Races.
My good friend Bob Theall’s considerable skills and enthusiasm were again enlisted. With a fresh lube, oil change and brake adjustment, my indomitable PV was ready to challenge the high banks of Daytona Speedway. We were off to Florida for the second time that year.
The “runoff’s” as they are known today, are quite an affair with the SCCA. The top three national competitors from each division across the country compete in a single half hour race to decide the national champion in each class. One way travel expenses and hotel accommodations are provided by the club. Bob and I enjoyed a ground floor beach front suite for the week long event.
Turn one entering the infield road course at Daytona
Luck was with us again as early on we were told that one of the competitors ahead of us would be a no show. The road course for this event left the big oval at the end of the pits after the S/F line and reentered at the top of the back straight so that only one of the high banks was used. My first trip around that banking was a daunting experience. Bob and I had walked the course the day before and were surprised at how steep 33 degrees really was. As I roared down the back straight on my first practice lap my concern was that my old PV wouldn’t have enough speed to stay up on the bank and might tumble off into the infield. I chose the second lane up and went into the banking at maybe 105-10 mph. To my surprise there was no sensation of turning at all. The PV balanced perfectly, it was as if the world had tilted under me. The infield came up on my left and the road ahead came toward me from the top left hand corner of the windshield. I discovered why stock car drivers tend to sit very low in their cars. I had to tilt my head onto my right shoulder to see ahead. I shortly received lesson in super
speedway driving when one of the A/S Camaro’s caught me on the banking. My view to the rear was even worse than looking forward and I didn’t see him coming. He blew by at maybe 160 mph or better. There was an explosion of sound on my right and as though punched by a giant boxing glove, my PV as blown to the bottom lane, sucked up to the third lane and set back where I was. I never moved the steering wheel. Driving a small car on a high speed course could be treacherous in ways one wouldn’t expect. With nothing to do but hold the wheel from the top of the back straight through the banking and tri-oval to the first turn, I let my concentration slip. I was looking at the spectators in the stand when I noticed several objects flash by on my left. I had over shot all the shut off markers for the first turn. Standing on the brakes the left side wheels locked up as I desperately searched for the best place to deposit the car with the least trauma. As I slid down into the turn something in the way the car felt told me, “try it”. When it felt right I dropped into second gear, released the brakes and put the throttle down. That amazing old PV heeled over and slid through the turn all out of shape but still on its feet.
After a couple of practice sessions it became apparent that the 4:56 axle wouldn’t do. The whole car was ringing like a bell with the engine turning over 7200 rpm in fourth round the banking and past start / finish. We talked to Bob Speakman who had built one of, if not the best racing PV’s ever. He told us that he had been watching from the outside grandstand and that my PV sounded like a formula B car coming through the tri-oval. “You’re not going to get any more out of that engine”, he told us. In fact I had taken to tucking my left foot up under the seat through the speedway part of the course. My thinking was that, should anything let go I might lose only one foot that way. We located a salvage yard in Jacksonville Fla. that had a 4:11 axle from a 122S and made a dash up there to pick it up. It didn’t seem to improve the speed but it did bring the revs down to 6800.
In the race I was able to hold my own at the rear of the pack through the infield road course but once we hit the oval I got left. An event like this has an effect on the psyche however. This is the big one and the competitive juices and adrenaline are overflowing. As we came through the tri-oval to the first turn I was a 8 or 10 car lengths behind a Lotus Cortina. I remembered the practice incident where I nearly wrecked. I thought, “if it worked by accident it can work on purpose”. I drove flat out past all the shut off markers and dove into the turn. I slid past the Cortina in a cloud of blue tire smoke. Handled properly my PV rounded the turn in much better shape this time. When I looked in the mirror the Cortina was in the grass, though I hadn’t touched him. One of our younger crew members upon seeing the smoke from his vantage point in the pits exclaimed, “oh no, he blew the engine”! Bob Theall smiled and said, “no, he’s just trying hard”. My PV and I finished tenth and last of the running once again.
The racing career of my PV had come to a close. The trusty old beast saw service on the track a few times in the ‘70’s but it was never again raced seriously. In the years that I raced the car I probably spent less than $3000 on it. Yet that PV-544 afforded me adventures, experiences and life lessons that were priceless. It really wasn’t competitive and I wasn’t a winner but for me there were things more important than a shelf full of silver cups (although the old PV did win a fair number of those). I’ve always had the “run what ya brung and give it hell” attitude toward motor sport. My satisfaction derived from doing a better job than expected for the equipment I had. My PV was ideal for this. Whenever I asked a little (or a lot) more from it, the old green car came through for me. The PV-544 Volvo will always be my top choice when it comes to enthusiast cars.
For the 1970 season I purchased half interest in a 122S for U2 Trans-Am racing, but that’s another story for an another time.
The story of my PV doesn't really end here. After my season in Trans Am with the 122S I sold my interest in the car, married the daughter of one of racing friends and moved to a farm in upstate New York to begin another chapter in my life. My PV saw the track on several occasions as I sought to keep my competition license active. Soon though, it was retired to field in upstate New York. I had plans to rebuild it that never materialized. Fortunately, I had removed the engine before relegating the body to the field where it would sit for the next 40 odd years. The story of it's resurrection and return to the track is told elsewhere on this site.
Changing the rear axle in the garage at Daytona
Crossing the S/F line at Dayton at somewhere in excess of 105 mph.
Lime Rock September 2017. My PV and I, still at it more than fifty years after we started right here at LRP.