Going Big Time....
On June 6th 1973, I married my high school sweetheart. We planned a Honeymoon in San Francisco (my future wife thought it was a very romantic location).
I knew it was just south of San Rafael, home to Huffaker Engineering. They had just finished building a new race motor for our Austin Healey Sprite. When I arrived at Huffakers, out front were five black Jensen Healeys, fresh from England and ready for the full Huffaker treatment to make them into winning race cars.
In October, at the Sport Car Club of America Champion Spark Plug National Championships, Lee Mueller drove one of those Jensens to a win against the best that Datsun, Triumph, Lotus, and General Motors had to offer. After that race John Weinberger, who was the distributor for Jensen and Jensen Healey in the Midwest, announced he bought two Huffaker team cars including the recently crowned champion. He further announced that Lind Bros Racing would campaign them under the sponsorship of The Midwest Jensen Healey Dealers. Now, we had plenty of success racing our Sprite, but this was the big leagues - a two car team, actual sponsorship, and plenty of expectations. Huffaker agreed to take the cars back to California and freshen them up. When ready, we would go pick them up.
So now it’s December and John Weinberger calls to see if the cars are ready. I tell him they are but we have a little problem. We have a one car trailer and haven’t quite figured out how to get them both back to Iowa . John says "I will call you back". Literally five minutes later, he is back and says "I bought the Huffaker two car transporter so get on a plane ASAP". Three days later, Tim and I are standing at Huffaker Engineering looking at a 1970 Ford F-350 that had been designed and custom built to carry a MGB in the belly and a MG Midget on the upper deck. Sitting on the truck were our Jensen Healeys. Now, a MGB and a Jensen are close to the same size so the bottom car fit perfect. The Jensen above not so much. Most of the right side tires are hanging off the ramp. Looks to me that the whole thing would fall off with the slightest movement. To ally our fears, Joe Huffaker Sr. came out, looked it over, and in his quiet way said "Should be OK". Yikes! So off we go heading toward Iowa . Tim is driving and I am staring at the side view mirror waiting for the car to fall off the upper deck into I-80 traffic. To our relief both cars seem to be riding along with no movement. Our next concern is gas mileage. We aren’t even to Sacramento, and the gauge is heading to empty. We assume they didn’t fill the tank but are shocked when we determine the tank only holds 15 gallons. For the next two days we stopped and topped off at every opportunity and sweated the whole way home.
By April the snow was gone and it was time to shake down our new babies. We went to Black Farms in Illinois for a test session and developed a tick in the motor. Took the motor apart and found a broken wrist pin. Huffaker recommended a wrist pin from a Chrysler Hemi. Our first race was Grattan Raceway in Michigan. We qualified on the pole and were leading the race. While coming down the front straight, the lower ball joint in the front suspension breaks . Huffaker recommended the new updated "big" ball joints.
Our next race is The June Sprints at Elkhart Lake Wisconsin. It is the biggest event of it’s type in North America. 500 entries from all over America and 60,000 spectators. It is the ultimate bucket list event for sports car racers. The Midwest Jensen Healey Dealers were there in force along with many customers and potential customers. Our patron Saint, John Weinberger was there with his family and many Chicagoland friends. The pressure was on for a good showing. In those days, on Saturday you had a practice session, and later in the day, a qualifying session to determine your starting position for the race. On Sunday, you raced. Practice went well. Tim was fast and confident. During qualifying, Tim came in and said there is a vibration. I crawled under the car, inspected what I could, and saw nothing obvious. Being young and maybe a little dumb, sometimes keep you from making good decisions. The smart move would be take the car back to the paddock, put it up on jack stands, and double check everything. I/we decided it must be no big deal. So Tim headed back out flying thru turn one down the hill to turn three and out onto the long fast back straight. Fourth gear 8000 rpm as fast as the car can go and at that moment, the front u joint on the driveshaft seizes . By the time he gets stopped the tail shaft on the gearbox is bent like a pretzel and the driveshaft has done it’s best to destroy the tunnel structure down the middle of the car. Luckily, Huffaker built cars are designed to be fast and safe. The driveshaft by design was kept from dropping down to the track or from contacting the driver. Towed the car back inspect the damage and come up with a plan. We have no spare gearbox or driveshaft so our first thought - Dr Larry Betts. We know Larry and his wife Jackie are in attendance and we know they are driving a Jensen Healey because we just sold it to them. Suppose they would "loan" us a few parts? Again, being young and dumb, why not ask?
Sunday morning, the car is back together (race car not Larry’s). Tim will start mid pack. Our general attitude is what else could go wrong.
Great start... Tim is slicing thru the field. He passes the Datsun of Bob Sharp for the overall lead. He whistles by the pits onto the final lap. John Weinberger and his nine year old son Joel are standing by to ride with Tim on the victory lap while holding the checkered flag. The Road America track is four miles long and like most road courses when standing in the pits you only see a small section of the track. I always like to stand near a speaker that lets you listen to the corner workers and track officials that monitor and report on the whole track . We are living the dream of winning one of the biggest race of the year when I hear "turn 14 metal to metal cars 40 / 41". It took me a few seconds to remember turn 14 is the final turn and cars 40+41 are our team cars! I was ready to scream when Tim comes into sight, with the front spoiler and front brake cooling hoses are mostly gone, and what's left is flopping and flailing around trying to rip off. But there is no stopping him, as he takes the checker...we won! 1st in class 1st overall! Back to turn 14 for a moment... The second Jensen was driven by a gentleman who paid John Weinberger for the ride. We maintained it, brought it to the track, and he drove it. Tim was coming up to lap him on the final lap and he proceeded to shove Tim off the track (Said he didn’t see him)!
We were on our way and everyone was excited including our sponsors. Last job of the day was to figure out how to get Larry and Jackie Betts back home to Waterloo.