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IN THEIR OWN WORDS

“It’s nice to see an enthusiast on the podium”–Brian Redman


Kyle Kaulback

I had been on that podium before: once on the left, twice on the right. Class wins, but never overall. For some reason, the top spot on the podium at Brian Redman’s Jefferson 500 is a position I covet. I cannot explain why. Perhaps it is the cache of celebrity. Perhaps the beautiful trophies with names of previous winners engraved like an honor roll for posterity to adore. Perhaps even the crystal bowl held aloft on the podium, the spoils of victory, a token to keep alive the memories, smoldering embers of glory days gone by.

Not that my vintage racing career was a disappointment. I have had the occasional win. Most memorable was at Mosport, when I led most of the race in my Lotus 69 F2 with Travis Engen’s RALT RT1 nipping at my heels the entire race. Even better because Bill Brack – Canadian Formula Atlantic Champion and fellow Lotus 69 driver – was cheering me on and heartily congratulated me after the race. But alas, at Mosport, while I was able to bask in my own glory, there was no podium, no official recognition, no trophy, no cheering minions – just a bunch of ones and zeros on some hard disc, a record of my achievement.

I started my racing career in a vintage Lotus 61Mx. At the time, and still today, it is the least expensive Lotus with which to initiate a racing career. There were other less expensive non–Lotus choices as well, but, while I am a cheap bugger, I am, at heart, a Lotus man. I would have sold my grandmother to get that 61. There could be no substitutes. The Lotus 61 was a reasonably competitive car in period, but eclipsed by better designed cars almost as soon as it debuted. It was, after all, a 10–year–old design, based on the Lotus 20 Formula Junior, a fine pedigree to be sure, but dated nonetheless. The later offerings from Merlyn, Titan and Lola et al that ensued, not to mention the Lotus 69 – a much more expensive car – proved to be quicker. Although, a good driver in an old Lotus can out drive an average driver in a Titan Mark VI. I have been there many times. But a good driver in a better car will win the majority of times, which I found to be a frequent source of consternation. Through the early part of my racing career, I knew full well the limitations of my 61. I did not get another car for the following reasons:
 1) I always figured I could become a better driver.
 2) I am a Lotus enthusiast and did not want to drive anything else but a Lotus.
 3) I could not afford the Lotus 69.

I eventually did improve my car control skills, so much so that I felt that, while still fun, the 61 was no longer challenging. This and some cold cash burning a hole in my pocket convinced me to move up to a faster ride, but what to acquire? There was a Lotus 69 Formula Ford on the market at the time and I seriously considered getting it, but I did not think it would be a challenge to drive, only a better car. Thus, I decided to go to a higher formula. In the same racing group, Formula B and Lotus types 41, 59, and 69 would apply, but there was a new group on the horizon. Monoposto Racing’s Formula 70 – a group for cars of the 70’s with wings and slick tires. From a Lotus standpoint, somewhat limiting. Only Lotus F1/F5000 and F2/Atlantic cars were readily available for F70; the former was too rare and expensive, but the latter – the latter would fit the bill nicely! Although, similarly to the Lotus 61, a Lotus 69 in F2/Atlantic trim, while competitive in period, would likely not be all that competitive against the later MARCHes and RALTs I would be sparring with. I did not care. I am a Lotus enthusiast.

I knew that locating such a car could be difficult, so I made contact with German 69 enthusiast Richard Spelberg who tracks the whereabouts of such cars. He referred me to a 69 being run in the European Historic Formula 2 Series by another German, one Claudia Neuhaus. A few conversations – “Guten Tag Fraulein Neuhaus, Mir werde Sie erklrt, einen Lotus sechzig neun fr Verkauf da haben Sie” – a big fat check (wire transfer really) and a seemingly interminable wait for a train, ship and semi to deliver it, and the 69 was mine!

My car, chassis 71–69–5FB, was originally on the Lotus stand at the Motor Racing Show in London 1971. It was destined for Craig Hill, an associate of Bill Brack, who was to run it as a semi factory effort in Formula B, powered by a Lotus twin–cam, with wings, treaded tires and sponsorship from Castrol GTX. By the time I got it, the car had been restored first to a green livery with a Lucas Fuel Injected 1600cc Cosworth BD engine and slick tires, then underwent another livery change to its current yellow with a green stripe. Now I would dearly like to restore it to period specification, but the vagaries of vintage racing’s rules prevent it from running as it did back in the day. I could replace the BD with a Lotus twin–cam and remove the wings and run FB spec hand grooved tires, or – I could get on with it and run it as is, which would be the smarter move since the twin–cam engine and rebuild are more expensive than the BD, and the slick tires are cheaper to boot. In essence, going to the lower spec would mean spending more to go slower. Maybe, I’ll paint it in GTX colors if it ever needs a paint job.

Kyle Kaulback

If I wished to get the fastest car in class, I would have gotten a MARCH 79. There is something like three generations of development between 1971 and 1979. The newer cars, including those from RALT, Lola, and Chevron, all have more sophisticated chassis and suspension, and bodywork that generates a significant level of downforce. All this conspires to put me at a disadvantage. At least I have a good motor. My particular Cosworth BDA makes in the range of 250 horsepower. For the Elise to have the same hp/wt ratio it would have to have about 470 hp. The 69’s lack of downforce relative to the MARCH 79 and RALT RT1 is at least an advantage on the straights because the 69 has much less aerodynamic drag. While Lotus are world famous for their handling, mine, such as it is, is a straight line rocket. I thought that it would be challenge to drive compared to the Formula Ford. To an extent, it is, what with twice the horsepower, three times the tire, and a smattering of wing. But once you get used to the acceleration (I still giggle like a kid the first time I accelerate each race weekend) the handling is about the same. So I was right away reasonably competitive.

My first year in the 69 at Brian Redman’s Jefferson 500 I finished a surprising 3rd overall. It was a wet race. Nobody ever wants to go out in the wet, especially at Summit Point, so as race time loomed the grid remained empty. But since I want to get my full dollars worth of fun for the weekend and I am as loony for racing as a Canadian is for doughnuts, I tentatively ventured onto the false grid. Cosworth BDA rebuild – $6000, new set of Avon’s – $950, race entry fee – $350, look of disbelief on the grid marshal’s face – priceless. Misery loves company, so others joined in. It was so close to race time they ignored the proper starting order and lined us up according to arrival time. Which put me, rather than my 6th place grid spot, on the pole! I led going into turn one, then Bobby Brown – the ex–F5000 driver, not Mr. Whitney Houston – in his Chevron B27 passed me on the straight leading to Turn 3. I was at first driving tentatively, so it was not a difficult feat, but it lit a fire under my right foot, picked up the pace, and set off through the mist. I spent the next ten laps glued to Bobby’s gearbox, with Dave Handy’s RALT glued to mine. If not for a slight bobble going into Turn 5 a lap from the end that let Dave into 2nd, I might have held position. Instead, I finished 3rd. Brian Redman upon inspecting my car in the winner’s circle remarked in his classic British accent, “That’s an older car, isn’t it?” Then Bobby, as we took our place on the podium, said to me in his equally unique Longa Islant accent, “I kept lookin’ in my mirrahs thinkin’ “who’s dat guy in dat old car right behind me?” I took these comments as compliments whether they were intended to be or not.

My appetite now whetted for the glory of the podium, I now set out to do the undoable. Set my Lotus driving buttocks on the top of the podium in front of those blasted MARCHes and RALTs and Lolas, and Chevrons. All of those manufacturers that continued the development of racing cars several generations of technology beyond that which Lotus accomplished during their last chapter of customer racing car production. During Lotus’ history, even when they were the Team to beat, they were still in many ways the underdog. This is one of the reasons I am a Lotus enthusiast: to be the giant killer, to place my Lotus at the top – now that would be something.

The following year I returned to Summit Point where among the apple orchards and bucolic vistas of Jefferson County, West Virginia I had felt the thrill of victory (almost). The Jefferson 500 with it’s lobster dinner, oompah bands, and guest racing personalities (Rahal, Haywood, Hobbs et al) had always been one of the most fun events of the year. Now, however, I was more serious, more focused, intent on getting maximum performance out of myself, and my machine. I still don’t know what the problem was, but my 69 had been suffering from badly fading brakes. My crew would have to bleed the brakes every session in order to have any degree of braking performance. It was variable. Sometimes they were good, sometimes they were gone by the end of 10 laps. We replaced everything in the entire system and got incrementally better braking, but still not the rock solid performance I would have preferred. This time out, I had the misfortune, and perhaps fortune to have weak brakes. I was surprised to have started in fourth, behind two 2 liter F2 cars – the RALT RT1 of Dudley Cunningham with a 2–liter Cosworth, and the Chevron B42 of Peter Gulick motivated by BMW power – and the RALT RT1 Formula Atlantic of my good friend, Bob Goeldner. I had no delusions of beating the 2 liter cars, but hoped to be able to beat Bob, as he had been one of the benchmarks of skill I was aspiring to. As the race started, I got the jump on Goeldner to go into 3rd and tried desperately to keep up with the 2–liter cars. Three laps in, and the BMW engine in Peter’s car started to belch smoke from the exhaust. With the resulting loss of power in the BMW, Dudley passed Peter for the lead, and shortly thereafter I got the wave by as Peter headed for the pits. By now, I had a comfortable but not insurmountable lead on Bob and surprisingly, I still had Dudley in my sights. That’s when the brakes started fading. Initially it was fortuitous. My lack of brakes forced greater entry speed into all of the turns and I quickly found that I could go faster through them than I had previously thought. In fact, I was catching Dudley! Unfortunately, with two laps to go the brakes faded to almost complete worthlessness, so as I headed past start/finish with the one lap remaining signal emanating from the flagstand; Bob was in my mirrors. I gave up on trying to pass Dudley and concentrated on staying in front of Bob. An overall win would not be in the cards, but I was sure as Hell not going to give my class win to Bob. As we headed into turn one, I saw Bob move to the inside to try and pass. I consider myself to be a sportsman and will not run someone off the road to hold a position. I will also make my opponent work to get by, so I did what any self–respecting racer would do – I blocked him. I stuck my car square in front of him all the way to the inside of the turn, my right foot flailed at my soft, failing brake pedal like a woodpecker at a telephone pole, and I blocked him. And it worked. He did not make the pass. The rest of that final lap was less dramatic but no less difficult because with no brakes to speak of I was all arms and elbows through the turns. By the time we made it to the checked flag, I was still in front of Bob but barely so. I made a victory lap, then pulled into victory lane to be greeted by Brian Redman who in a bit of Dj vu remarked in his classic British accent, “That’s an older car, isn’t it?” “Yes it is, Brian, yes it is”, I responded. Then I clambered onto the podium to accept my second place laurels. The time sheets showed I had made fastest lap – to that point, the greatest moment of my racing career.

Kyle Kaulback

A broken half shaft induced a vacation for the 69. The interval was filled with a foray back into the 61. Driving the faster F2 car made me even better in the Formula Ford. The heightened perception of speed gave me more confidence and control. All weekend I dueled with a Bernard Bradpiece and his Merlyn Mk 11. For the race Bernard and I started behind 3 Formula B cars, so a podium was unlikely, but I hoped for the class win. Bernard and I went at it pretty hard, I think there were three passes for class lead during the race. But I made the last pass and marginally got the better of him in the race. One of the Formula B’s dropped out. The results: a class win in Formula Ford and 3rd on the podium, an environment that was becoming increasingly familiar.

This year’s Jefferson 500 (2006) loomed as Holger, my mechanic, not only replaced the broken bits, but also went over everything else, especially the brakes, to make sure that the car was prepared to the best possible standard. In addition, the engine had Wintered at Marcovicci–Wenz Engineering for a rebuild, and the wheels were shod with a new set of rubber. As a result, the 69 was better than ever. Unlikely to pull off an overall win, still, I was confident that I could give it a go. This year’s protagonists were different. Only one 2–liter car present, a leaking gearbox prevented its raceday start. The rest of the field gradually waned as well, but the top of the time sheets remained the same each and every practice session. Heading into qualifying the contenders were Stevie Hynes in his MARCH 78B, Dean Baker in his Lola T360, Lee Brahin his Chevron B39, and myself in my trusty Lotus 69.

The speed of the Ferrari 360 Modena for qualifying’s pace lap was way too slow. So when the green flag unfurled, with Dean and Stevie in front and Lee to my left, I floored the throttle, but my engine choked and sputtered. That is, until it got to 6000rpm, then it came on cam and sought out its 10,000rpm redline with alacrity. Fortunately, I did not lose any positions, but taking the lead or moving up for that matter was out of the question, and I was severely behind as a result. We entered Turn 1 all holding station, and the rest of qualifying was uneventful. I slowly gained on the leaders, carefully taking note of where I was gaining and where they were faster. All the while creeping up to taking Turn 4 and the Esses flat – ok, not flat but almost. For the first time I knew that the overall win was within my grasp. It would not be easy, for all three of the other contenders are fast, seasoned racers.

In preparation for the race, my crew bled the brakes.

As I climbed into the cockpit for the race, I no longer had the mild trepidation that goes with such a circumstance. There in its stead was a sublime feeling if control. I would be starting 3rd, just like the morning, but I was confident that my speed and guile would be sufficient to take the win if only I could maneuver past Stevie and Dean, all the while fending of the unwanted advances of Lee. The endeavor would be difficult at best.

That damned Ferrari did not pick up the pace this time around. I schemed to try to get a run on the leaders as we came to the green flag, not necessarily to jump to the lead but to get a decent start. Dean must have thought the same because, as we headed down the front straight to the flagman, Dean ran at a higher speed than the morning, so as the green flag waved and I hit the throttle – sputter, choke, sputter, ZOOM! We hurtled off to Turn 1. Stevie had gotten the advantage at the start and got through Turn 1 in the lead followed closely by Dean, yours truly, and Lee. For the first two laps, a blanket could cover the four bolides as they sped nose to tail through the narrow strip of tarmac that defines Summit Point Raceway. At the entry of Turn 1 on lap three, Lee cooked the brakes and half spun stalling the engine in the process; the fire could not be relit. Next lap, Dean took Stevie in Turn 1 and I started to smell blood. I noticed that Stevie braked earlier than I going into Turn 1, so this is where I, like Dean, elected to make the kill. I kept close to Stevie as we entered the front straight and stayed on his gearbox as close as I could. As we entered the braking zone, I counted the reference lines, one–two–three–Stevie braked, and I jumped to the inside–four–then hard on the brakes just short of lock up. I entered Turn 1 just in front of Stevie, held the middle of the turn to prevent a repass at the exit, and set my sights on Dean. I was planning on trying a pass on Dean in the chute – a downhill run after Turn 4 leading into the hard left hander that leads to the Carousel and Esses. I had noticed that Dean lifted into Turn 4 – a turn that I was taking flat (well, almost). He also set up for Turn 5 by going somewhat to the right before turning in. A classic line, but unnecessarily requiring a slower Turn 4 and, since Turn 5 exits to a very short bit leading to another slow turn, the Carousel, the classic line is moot. My plan was to follow closely through 3 then do 4 flat (almost) and out–brake Dean into the opening he was leaving on the left before turn in to 5. I reeled in Dean and exerted my presence, and as he entered Turn 3 – a fast left hander – the plan changed. I don’t know if it was oil on the track or an error from being pressured, but Dean went wide and off into the gravel. I almost followed him in! As Dean bounced through the gravel, I put the two right wheels off of the curbing. But I kept my cool, kept my right foot planted on the throttle and gave it a bit of opposite lock. Rocks, gravel, dust and tiny bits of Lola T360 showered me as I drove blindly into the murk, emerging from the penumbra the new leader. Stevie tried to follow suit, but Dean came on track just in front of him. I did the next three laps with my eyes glued to my mirrors until Dean’s white Lola faded from view. Stevie eventually passed Dean for third, but had nothing left for me. I saw the one lap remaining signal from the flagstand with no Lola or MARCH or Chevron lurking in my mirrors. The last lap was a mix of anxiety – “don’t screw this up” and elation – “woo–hoo!!!”

Kaulback

Victory Lane was a triumph. My entire crew, friends, teammates, various hangers – on and interested spectators applauded as photographers recorded the scene. Brian shook my hand and congratulated me on a fine race, but did not remark on the older design of my car. I did the victor’s interview, got the kiss from the race queen (Irena, my wife), held the winners bowl aloft, sprayed champagne and absorbed the adulation of my adoring fans. The time sheet showed I did the fastest lap. To date: the greatest day of my racing career.

Kaulback

The roar of applause waned as the next race got underway. The crowd dispersed. Brian turned to a colleague and was heard to say, “It’s nice to see an enthusiast on the podium.” With some hesitation, I disembarked from the podium and set a course for home.

Kyle Kaulback

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