Rob Dyson started racing in 1974 – in a hand-built Datsun 510. Last year Dyson Racing won five championships: the American Le Mans Series LMP1 Driver, Team, Engine Manufacturer (Mazda), and Tire (Dunlop) Championships along with the Michelin Green-X Challenge. In between, Rob Dyson and Dyson Racing has been a stalwart force in prototype racing, fielding one of the most successful teams in endurance racing. Here is the last of a three-part in-depth interview with team principal, Rob Dyson:
What kind of driver was James Weaver?
“He was a Friday, Saturday and Sunday driver. On Friday he would do everything he could to make the car go quicker. He was always trying things to make the car work better. And it always went quicker. On Saturday he would really get it on the edge so it really worked well in qualifying. That meant changing anything even the slightest bit – the ride height, a tweak on the tire pressures, a slight alteration on camber, adjusting the mirrors – whatever it took to get the absolute most out of the car. He was great at all of it. That was the difference between him and other drivers: while he was the best on Friday and Saturday, he was also the best on Sunday. When the flag dropped, he drove as hard as he could. He drove smart and he drove safe. James never put anybody off. In twenty years of driving for Dyson Racing, I never saw him or heard of him causing an accident or being in an accident or wrecking the car. And he threaded the needle between cars like you would not believe. I remember a race at Phoenix we won where he was pinched up against the wall by two cars and he just kept his foot in it and went around the guys. If he had slowed up, he would have wrecked all three cars. He did not cause them any problems, and just went around them. Plus he is a great individual and an easy guy to work with – a great sense of humor, a wonderful attitude and everyone knew when James got in the car, he would get absolutely the most out of it. Every single second he was in the car, it was being driven as hard as it could be. And he loved racing and it showed. He enjoyed it immensely.”
Best race car you’ve driven?
“Best all around race car driver would be the Riley &Scott Mark III. It was an easy car to drive fast, magnificent to drive. It was beautifully balanced, very stout and very forgiving and very adjustable. An excellent car that we won many championships with. The Porsche 962 was our first purpose-built GTP car and was also a great car. It did not necessarily have the best brakes, or the most power or the best handling, but everything worked very well together – a nicely integrated car. Nothing was A+ about it but nothing was B+ either. The whole package was so comfortable to drive and you could drive it for hours. That was why the car was so successful – it did everything with competence. And that made it easy to drive and do well in.”
Best race car driver you have driven against?
“Bob Wollek was very competitive. When he was in your mirrors, you knew you had a fight on your hands. I learned a lot from him. He had a way in traffic and always looked after his physical fitness.”
James Weaver said you had the natural ability to be a professional driver. Did that possibility ever lure you?
“No – I had business to run and a family to raise. I did not view it as a way of making a living. I had a lot of responsibilities with my businesses. I think I was pretty good at it and I was stimulated by the challenging and competitive environment, but I had a lot of demands on my time. That was one of the reasons I did not do Indianapolis. I could not find the time to do it. A.J. Foyt asked me in 1987 to come drive for him at the 500, but it would have taken a serious time commitment. I remember going to a race at Sears Point: been traveling all week on business and arriving at the track with a coat and tie and literally taking off my suit and putting on the driving suit to run the Porsche. With all my traveling, sometimes I would miss morning practice or test days.”
Was your father mechanically inclined?
“My grand father was a carpenter and my dad was a businessman. He was competitive and had a terrific work ethic and a lot of integrity. He was not mechanically inclined per se, but he was keen and very much appreciated cars and mechanical things. He was a kid of the depression: a hard working family man. He did have seats at Indianapolis – good seats and we still renew the same seats every year.”
What did your parents think of your racing?
“My mother use to come to some of my club races and I remember once at Pocono looking up and seeing my parents sitting there – they had driven three hours to see me.”
What kind of cars do you collect?
“I have various Ford Model A’s. My favorite is the first car I ever owned, a ‘31 coupe. Still have it, and it still runs, plus I have a Phaeton, a pickup, a sedan and a station wagon.”
What do Model A’s do for you?
“They are mechanical, primitive, and fun to drive – just fun to have the air blowing around you. You are involved with the driving – driving a car with mechanical brakes and no power steering. It is a friendly car – people wave at you. I drive into town and get more looks and response than people in their $100,000 Porsches. They see me coming and they wave. Kids laugh when they see the car.”
How do the disciplines of racing and business compare?
“In both racing and business, you must compete. And to be competitive you need the right hardware – in racing that means the right chassis, tires and engine, and in business the right manufacturing facilities and equipment. And you need the right people. In both, you have to make sure that everyone has the right tools to do their job.
“In both business and racing, you need to have a team that communicates effectively internally, so that the inevitable problems that come up are solved quickly. And you need a team that is cohesive. You have to give people the right agenda and keep the agenda short so everyone knows what the objective is. And that is really the essence of teamwork, both in racing and in business. Every person on the team, regardless of their discipline, has to embrace and support the core goals. Everyone on the team has to have the same ethos, integrity and work ethic and work toward the objective.
“In addition, in both racing and business, you have to be constantly updating yourself. In racing, technology never stops. You have to always stay flexible and be ready to change and adapt.”
What is the worst question you have ever been asked?
“I remember when they use to ask me what I ate before a race and I thought that was not a very serious question. I think people want to know `what it is like out there.` They do not want to hear an announcer pontificate and show off their knowledge on the subject. That is what made Chris Economaki so good at what he did: he asked you questions you could not answer yes or no to. Today, sometimes the broadcasters feel they have to show how much knowledge they have about racing and you end up with a question that a racer can say ‘yes, I agree with you,’ or ‘no, I do not.’ Economaki would ask what is it like out there and you cannot answer that with a yes or no. You cannot escape it without saying something of substance.”
What where your goals when you started out?
“I entered racing just taking it race by race. I thought I would run a little bit and see what it was like to be a racecar driver. I consider myself very fortunate to have done what I have been able to do. I won the first race I ever ran – a Watkins Glen regional SCCA race. Club racing was an interesting time – a time where we did not know how much we did not know! It was driving all Friday night after work to get to a race and than driving all night Sunday to get back to work. You would be in the middle of nowhere putting a gearbox together in the sand or rigging up a block and tackle on a tree to put an engine in the car. But it was always about doing whatever it takes whether you were in Hallett, Oklahoma, or at the 24 Hours of Daytona. When the flag drops, you had to be ready. It is a great discipline for business and a life lesson: you have to make all the effort you can – you have to make the race. That is something I tell my management – you set a date and a goal. And you do whatever you have to make those happen. Racing is a remarkable discipline and has served me well in my life.”