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FLAT OUT IN A WEE GRAND PRIX
Coles Phinizy
May 05, 1975
Tiny cars are careening through twisty circuits at a dollar a lap in a fast new race-it-yourself game
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May 05, 1975

Flat Out In A Wee Grand Prix

Tiny cars are careening through twisty circuits at a dollar a lap in a fast new race-it-yourself game

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The most talented drivers at the Troy track, a 20-year-old printing clerk named Renee Bove and a 34-year-old Fisher Corporation draftsman named Mike Moretti, enjoy almost total obscurity (the modest limelight at Troy is barely worth basking in). Renee Bove is the only woman who has turned the course in less than 46 seconds—a worthy mark considering that both Roger Penske and Carroll Shelby, two authentic knights of the roaring road who have run at Troy, needed more than a dozen laps to get down to 48 seconds. However, last September when Renee clocked 45.82 to lower her own record for the umpteenth time, the local press gave her no notice. All she got for her feat was a ripple of applause from three of the five spectators in the stands and 10 free lap tickets (which she used immediately to lower the women's record still further, to 45.65). The male record holder, Moretti, who in height, weight and feature is a fair facsimile of Mario Andretti, does get some recognition, not ail of it deserved. Out of the 80,000 who have run at Troy, only three drivers have clocked under 45 seconds: in addition to Moretti, a trucker named Doug Kwarsick and a printer named Larry Swift, who now works for GPA at the Pomona track. Because Moretti has knocked off 44-second laps so often and holds the track record of 44.01, whenever either Kwarsick or Swift turned a hot lap, habitu�s seeing the time flash up on the board simply thought it was the great Moretti out there doing his customary thing.

Both of the tracks at Pomona are 124 feet longer than the Troy course, and one of them, called the South Track, has 21 curves. However, because they both have two straights more than 100 feet long, allowing top speed of 45 mph, the clockings are not much slower than Troy's. The best time made to date on the faster, 19-curve North Track is 47.20 seconds—an unofficial mark since it was made by Swift. The official record by a customer is 47.78 seconds, set by Bill Willett, a 22-year-old machinist who, before getting into a mini-McLaren, had never driven anything spunkier than a hearse. Although the Pomona region is overrun with hot-rodding young bucks, only Willett and a laborer named Mike Maierhoffer have gotten under 49 seconds.

The idea of offering the public something better to race than a Go-kart was borrowed by GPA from a man who gave birth to it largely out of desperation. Five years ago Malcolm Bricklin, currently the proud father of a new sports car, was sole U.S. importer of the Japanese vehicle known as Subaru. At a time when Bricklin was well-stocked with Subaru 360s, the smallest model in the line, Consumers Report solidly denounced the 360 as a dangerous highway machine. To get at least his bait back out of an inventory that was suddenly unwanted, Bricklin put the little Subarus to work on five small dirt tracks in New Jersey, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and California. For people afflicted with the racer's itch the Subarus were definitely more appealing than Go-karts. The response was very good, but for a welter of reasons—decibels of noise, two-cycle emission problems, poor track layout and whatnot—the enterprise failed.

One of Bricklin's managers, Zachary DeLorean (who prefers to be known as Jack rather than Zach), asked for and was given permission to pursue the idea his own way. Jack Zachary DeLorean took the proposition to his brother John Zachary DeLorean, who is commonly known as John, not Jack or Zach. By any name, in any automotive venture, John Z. DeLorean would smell as sweet. For 25 years he was a very constant winner, first with Chrysler, then Packard, and finally upward through the divisional mazes and into the corporate mangle of General Motors. In the spring of 1973, half a year after being named GM group vice-president for domestic cars and trucks, John DeLorean quit because, to oversimplify slightly, he felt he had been confined too long in one industry. Although as an engineer and management consultant John DeLorean has irons in quite a few fires, his only concrete automotive involvement at present is the little track in Troy—a bit of a comedown for a man once responsible for 86% of the action in the biggest auto business of them all. When his brother Jack left Troy, John DeLorean, as major investor, was left holding a small but very expensive bag. As it turned out, however, also a bag of great promise.

At present, mini-tracks are under construction in Phoenix and Dallas, with openings scheduled for early summer. By the end of this year there will probably be two more in Southern California and one in Florida. GPA anticipates that in time there will be a demand for longer, faster and more challenging circuits and beefier cars for experienced lead-foots who have earned the right to ride a trifle harder. The present operations are perfectly suitable for the Walter Mittys of today but not quite enough for the Willetts, Morettis and Maierhoffers of tomorrow.

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