Saturday, September 4, 2010

Randy Zimmer: From Track to Gravel to Track

Racing veteran Randy Zimmer is a guest contributor to Rally World News this week. Randy is the epitome of a true club racer. Here he details his journey from track to gravel and now back to track with RallyCross.

Randy Zimmer charging towards third overall in the 2WD A-final, at round one of the 2010 RallyCar/RallyCross Championship. Photo Neil McDaid/

Racing... God, I love it.
There's nothing else I'm any good at so I'm stuck; its race or just give up and end it all.
There were years of going to autocrosses with my older brother, keeping times and tire pressures,
working out meager strategies for him while reading about how the Bruce and Denny show
was stinking up the place in Competition Press.
Jim Clark was running Escorts down ski hills. A.J. Foyt ran the local dirt fairground in a 4-cam Ford powered sprint car.
Watkins Glen and Mosport were
 both close enough to get rides to see the F1 races.  And in school,
I was always the last one picked. What the fuck is an infield fly and why is there a rule about it?

Bobcor and their Alfas had won the TransAm and were local, so I ended up getting a job there.
Bob let me take cars out to autocrosses to show off and go to Lime Rock where I crewed for our Escorts that paddocked next to some Buffum guy who also had one.

After a few years of work, I found a way to get an X-1/9 and hit the track.
A pro series in Rabbit-Bilstein was next, where we were the clowns to come out when the sun
was in the eyes of the Indy Car guys or when the Can-Am cars were all broken and needed time
to change engines.
Randy Zimmer has vast experience racing on ice
and he put those skills to good use at
Kearney’s Rally Village in 2007.
Randy took fastest lap on the ice covered stage
 and also took the overall victory.
Randy is pictured here receiving his trophy from
Miss Caitlin Kearney.
I got a job with Ron Nash building tube-framed cars, mostly Nissans for road-racing that eventually
led to doing the Trans-Am cars for Sharp and the Buick Regal V-6 factory T-A project.
The money looked better in Can-Am than Rabbits so I got an old F2 car and adapted a rotary to it,
dragging it around behind an RX4 wagon that was pulled out of a swamp.

Having a rotary in the tow car helped a couple times as that engine was needed to run the feature
and get enough money to get back home. This deal backfired at Mosport when I blew both race motors
AND the tow car motor and was stranded there. That's when I met Stewart Hoo and he brought
enough gaskets and stuff to me from Toronto to get one together to get back home.
We ran Can-Am with F1 in Dallas, the Buick won the T-A with F1 at Detroit, I actually led a Can-Am
at Summit Point before an oil line burst and I did something very important in Can-Am history...
the head of SCCA pro racing proclaimed to all, "When I saw Randy Zimmer in the lead of a Can-AM,
I knew it was time to pull the plug."
That race led to a job building and driving an old ex-Rahal, ex-Stan Fox March 83C with a Weisman 4-speed.

This was more of an oval spec car but what the hey, we got a Chevy mounted in it,
had time to make seven out of eight header pipes done well and got the team its first finish at my Mosport
debut with them, replacing Buddy Lazier. Crossing the line on fire seemed like a big deal
until it became a habit; that car flamed up once a race weekend all season long.
The Can-Am/CAT team lost funding, I got rides in SCCA National Club Racing for a few more years
and eventually slammed a wall head-on and broke my neck and back.
When you're out of sight and off site from the racing, the rides disappear.
I was at the PRI show looking at what was out there to put together for a season when
I ran into Dennis Dean from SCCA where he suggested rally.
He said, "Don't worry about finding a co-driver, get a car and they'll show up."
Nine years, 50 rallies and 16 co-drivers later, Dennis knew what he was talking about!

That brings us to today.
When I tell my elderly road-racing buddies about rally, I tell them its like arriving at a track who's lap is 20 miles long,  you've never been there before, and you missed practice.
Just to make it even more interesting, its a one car, one lap qualifying format.
I love qualifying and I love driving rally on gravel where I get to slide the car like when I started racing,
before special tires were developed.
It hasn't happened often, but I've been stuck in the woods waiting for sweep and to be
totally frank, watching one car go by, through one corner, can be interesting and even exciting
but not enough to pack a lunch, drive hundreds of miles and bake in the sun and dust all weekend.
If rally is going to get lazy people such as myself to attend, it'll have to be a more comfortable setting
and the fans will need to see who's doing it right and who's doing it wrong without taking splits with a stopwatch.
That means side-by-side racing.
That's great because I also love racing the person next to me.
I don't like dive-bombs and bullshit contact but a good side-by-side battle between guys who
respect each other is a feeling like no other. There's a higher level of strategy than what you get in rally
because after a bad day, even an F1 driver has doubts. Its a driver's job to bring those doubts
to your competition's mind and work them over. I feel I've done my job well if I hear that a guy
I raced last month sold his car and bought a boat. RallyCross can be the link between all these things.
No road closings and neighbors with shotguns.  No ATV's showing up out of nowhere.
Flush toilets and grandstands.
Racing side-by-side and sliding all over the place.

If NJMP builds a better track with wider gravel roads and less straight stuff, along with TV
promotion, this thing can take off. The one thing that has to happen is that at least some of
the competitors have to continue to run Performance Rally and get the new guys to at least try it once.
Having RallyCross kill rally as we knew it would be a huge loss. Somehow, the championship should include both, even if just to be scored, a driver needs to have finished one of a list of approved (real) rallies.

If you've read this far, you love racing too and while RallyCross hasn't got anything to do with real rally,
it IS racing and there isn't anything wrong with that.

By Randy Zimmer