CSRG Infineon Season Opener 2011 – Three to Get Ready

Friday done, and a threat of rain Saturday morning dismissed as one more weatherman miscalculation, CSRG President Jon Norman, a very quick racer in his historic Alfa Romeo GTV, and CSRG’s race director Tom Franges, a former Formula 3 Cooper pilot, called the 44th season opener’s mandatory drivers’ meeting outside the track’s registration and media building. This was the first really big vintage racing event of the year in northern California and one that also featured MG cars coming in from all over the county. [Dennis Gray has more on that.]

When I sat down to chat with Franges in Registration, Tom told me, “The drivers are getting back into the groove here, and some are starting fresh, and,” he added with a laugh, “we work very hard at manipulating the weather.” Tom raced his Cooper for 13 years before the doctor told him it was time to stop, but he stayed involved in vintage racing and speaks of the CSRG philosophy.

CSRG Race Director Tom Franges in the Registration room at Infineon Raceway.  William Edgar Photo
CSRG Race Director Tom Franges in the Registration room at Infineon Raceway. William Edgar Photo

“It’s really about the people and people talking about the cars,” Franges said. “What happens out on the track is relatively unimportant because we’re racing against ourselves for the most part. Where you finish is not going to change your career path anymore. Penske and Ganassi are not going to call.” The official CSRG Philosophy is written on its website [csrgracing.org] and it makes good sense. Basically, it’s race and have fun but don’t do it to win at all costs.

John Goodman took to the track at Infineon Raceway in his Devin SS.  William Edgar Photo
John Goodman took to the track at Infineon Raceway in his Devin SS. William Edgar Photo
Mike Collins made repairs to John Goodman's Devin after an oil-on-track mishap.  William Edgar Photo
Mike Collins made repairs to John Goodman's Devin after an oil-on-track mishap. William Edgar Photo

Nice job of matching duct tape to paint, with compliments to Goodman Racing’s crew. What happened was—during Saturday morning practice, John was nose-to-tail behind a Lotus, about to get around, when all of a sudden …

“It was Lotus oil,” said John, after hearing through others that it either came from the Lotus’ drain plug or that its engine let loose. “I went through the oil and my tires started going sideways and the rest is history,” John said to us at one of the J&L paddock tables. “But I almost saved it! The car’s still in great shape.” No serious damage then? “I don’t call duct tape ‘damage’,” he said with a chuckle, looking over at his cosmetically blemished Devin.

Meanwhile, Pete Thelander and Carl Moore worked their ways through their own racing groups’ Saturday practice sessions on track.

Pete Thelander in his 1934 MG NE Magnette was ready on on the grid at Infineon Raceway.  William Edgar Photo
Pete Thelander in his 1934 MG NE Magnette was ready on on the grid at Infineon Raceway. William Edgar Photo
Carl Moore was off and away in his 1963 Lotus 23B Twin Cam at Infineon Raceway.  William Edgar Photo
Carl Moore was off and away in his 1963 Lotus 23B Twin Cam at Infineon Raceway. William Edgar Photo

While Carl was on track in his Lotus 23B, I de-briefed Pete on what he was finding out about his MG NE, after missing a bunch of races last year because of a health issue. Pete was glad to get back into it here at Infineon, feeling fine again, even though the early April Saturday afternoon had turned summer-hot. “The car minds its P’s and Q’s and doesn’t give me much trouble,” Pete said, while cooling off in his paddock tent’s shade. I looked at his Magnette’s old drum brakes and novel pre-selective gear box and felt time slip away to the 1930s with its big bands and war clouds, the decade into which he and I were born.

Pete Thelander's 1934 MG NE, one of only seven built, pushes a lot of air once it gets going.  William Edgar Photo
Pete Thelander's 1934 MG NE, one of only seven built, pushes a lot of air once it gets going. William Edgar Photo

I asked, “How are those brakes, Pete? They good for stopping?” He grinned and said, “You don’t brake this thing very hard. You know, because it’s so ‘aerodynamic’! Right? You get off the throttle and it almost stops!”

“Reverse aerodynamics!” I said, mocking the MG’s locomotive-like front end. Yes!” said Pete, “But it’s fun. I don’t do too many races and it doesn’t need a lot of maintenance. People appreciate seeing it,” he said, “and I bring it out for their benefit as much as for my own.”

On the other hand, in qualifying for tomorrow’s race, Pete was not that pleased. His lap-time transponder hadn’t worked, and he would have to start—who knows where?

Some thirty years after Pete’s tall, blunt-nosed NE was in its prime, along came Carl’s sleek track-hugging Lotus. Colin Chapman’s race cars in those early 1960s were making huge strides in design and performance, and the 23B with strengthened chassis and Lotus-Ford 1594cc 4-cylinder twin-cam was a racing star.

The source of power in Carl Moore's 1600cc 4-cylinder Lotus 23B is this Lotus-Ford Twin Cam.  William Edgar Photo
The source of power in Carl Moore's 1600cc 4-cylinder Lotus 23B is this Lotus-Ford Twin Cam. William Edgar Photo

With a prototype “B” engine fitted in Jimmy Clark’s Lotus 23 at the Nürburgring 1000km in 1962, the result, if too brief, was sensational, as Clark led the bigger Ferraris, Aston-Martins and Porsches in a show of superior development. That reputation has survived to live on in Carl’s yellow #29. He qualified second here behind younger pole-sitter Harindra de Silva’s more powerful, particularly torquey Nerus BMW/M10-powered Elva #196.

A pair of Weber side-draft carbs feed Carl Moore's 180-hp Lotus 23B Twin Cam engine,  William Edgar Photo
A pair of Weber side-draft carbs feed Carl Moore's 180-hp Lotus 23B Twin Cam engine, William Edgar Photo

As seemingly good as it was going for Pete and Carl, a few problems were surfacing in John’s Goodman Racing Devin and Ferrari entries.

First, John’s Devin was having issues. The oil catch tank was proving to be not large enough, and engine oil was being picked up in blow-by. A larger tank easily solved that one. But the threat of another woe lingered. Oil pressure was not holding as it should for ideal engine performance. As with so many disquieting situations in racing, particularly with these older cars, this was coming down to one of “let’s try it and see”.

An oil issue with John Goodman's Devin SS in the process of being solved.  William Edgar Photo
An oil issue with John Goodman's Devin SS in the process of being solved. William Edgar Photo
The Devin's oil problem repaired, oil on the hot engine surface went away in smoke while Mike Collins and Walter Gerber watched.  William Edgar Photo
The Devin's oil problem repaired, oil on the hot engine surface went away in smoke while Mike Collins and Walter Gerber watched. William Edgar Photo

While Mike Collins ministered the Devin’s throttle, Goodman crew chief Walter Gerber watched over the engine bay until all the loose oil on the 500-hp 327 Chevy toasted away and the motor smoked no more. The Devin SS was deemed good to go for John in Sunday afternoon’s “Group C” race, a category in CSRG terminology “representative of the larger engine displacement sports and GT cars as raced in the U.S. under the racing rules of 1967 and earlier.” With Corvette power alive beneath his Devin’s hood, the competition for John to beat would be frequent winner Terry Gough’s 1965 Corvette roadster # 75. I’ve ridden Infineon’s road course as passenger with Gough to witness the meaning of g-force and what that bad white Vette of his does.

Looking again at the red V12, the first indication of trouble with John’s Ferrari was back a while, during Friday’s afternoon practice. Somewhere, for some reason, a problem made itself known in the car’s water plumbing.

Walter Gerber (left) and Mike Collins attended to driver John Goodman and his Ferrari.  William Edgar Photo
Walter Gerber (left) and Mike Collins attended to driver John Goodman and his Ferrari. William Edgar Photo
Mike Collins (left) and Walter Gerber looked for the water leak in John Goodman's Ferrari.  William Edgar photo
Mike Collins (left) and Walter Gerber looked for the water leak in John Goodman's Ferrari. William Edgar photo
Out of the car, John Goodman watched his crew add water to pinpoint the Ferrari's leak.  William Edgar Photo
Out of the car, John Goodman watched his crew add water to pinpoint the Ferrari's leak. William Edgar Photo

Returned to the paddock, Mike Collins found that a stuck water valve had prompted the leak. The Ferrari’s cooling system had been recently augmented with a water heater device more commonly seen in F1 cars that allowed hot water to run through the engine on start-up. But when the valve failed, no water passed, causing a boil-over while still on the race grid. In little time the malfunctioning gizmo was removed, and the car was ready again for a later Friday afternoon practice where the Ferrari ran fine again for John.

As Collins later explained, cold starts can be damaging to these older aluminum block engines and the “hot box” water trick was feasibly a way to go. In this case, however, it wasn’t.

Mike Collins repaired the Ferrari's water leak by removing a failed cold-start heater valve.  William Edgar Photo
Mike Collins repaired the Ferrari's water leak by removing a failed cold-start heater valve. William Edgar Photo
John Goodman's Ferrari was repaired and ready again for the track, while Mike Collins still kept an eye on it.  William Edgar Photo
John Goodman's Ferrari was repaired and ready again for the track, while Mike Collins still kept an eye on it. William Edgar Photo

John, following a good track session with his Ferrari on Friday afternoon, did well enough in Saturday’s qualifying run. He was set to start mid-pack for Sunday’s “Group F” race “representative of the earlier ‘Wings and Slicks’ sports racers and Open Wheel cars raced in the U.S.” With slicks, stick, and horses, it was bound to be wild. But before that, we turn to MG NE Magnette power again, and Pete Thelander.

The 1271cc 6-cylinder engine in Pete Thelander's 1934 MG NE is lovely to look at and has 75 bhp.  William Edgar Photo
The 1271cc 6-cylinder engine in Pete Thelander's 1934 MG NE is lovely to look at and has 75 bhp. William Edgar Photo

“I’ve finally after fifteen years got an engine that’s up to NE spec,” Pete told me, “and I’ve now got all the seventy-five horses that I should have. I’ve been running short for all these years! I actually got hold of an original NE block that says ‘NE’ on it. The first engine I rebuilt for when I restored it lost oil pressure, then I put back in the little short-stroke ‘K’ engine and maybe I was getting fifty horses out of it. Sometimes I had to go down to second gear to get up the hill here to Turn 2. But that’s no more. I get up it in fourth gear, then downshift to make the corner. It’s almost like learning to drive the car all over again.”

Pete Thelander is at home with his MG NE and pre-selective gearbox he calls 'an early Hydramatic without any brains.'  William Edgar Photo
Pete Thelander is at home with his MG NE and pre-selective gearbox he calls 'an early Hydramatic without any brains.' William Edgar Photo
Pete Thelander and his 1934 boat-tailed MG NE were ready for the go at Infineon Raceway.  William Edgar Photo
Pete Thelander and his 1934 boat-tailed MG NE were ready for the go at Infineon Raceway. William Edgar Photo
Pete Thelander's MG NE, with its fresh horsepower boost, climbed the hill to Turn 2 in fourth gear.  William Edgar Photo
Pete Thelander's MG NE, with its fresh horsepower boost, climbed the hill to Turn 2 in fourth gear. William Edgar Photo

After Pete’s Sunday races, not one but two, in his MG—he drove Group A and, an hour and a half later, again competed in the big-field all-MG go at the end of the day—he was bone-tired, but stoked. “That was a workout!” he said, toweling his face. “We had good runs and pretty well stayed out of the leaders’ ways. My car is incredibly quicker than it used to be. I’m still amazed by it.” So—Pete Thelander arrived, tested and tried what he brought, and learned what he has to work with for the rest of the season.

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Show Comments (8)

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  1. Wealthy or not, I personally thank the owners of such cars for sharing them with us. Where else are we able to literally touch the best of the best of anything other than at the vintage car events?

    Try touching your favorite painting at the local museum…and I could go on.

  2. Really nice article Mr. Edgar. It’s always great to get a behind the scenes look at these great people and the wonderful cars they pull out to “exercise” every so often.

  3. Great article and photographs. The Lotus and Devin were great and the MG just jumped off the screen. Well done that I will surely keep. Thank you.

  4. I love the stories, I have a Devin SS in my shop and the interior shot of the SS shows some side protection bars in the door. I would like to do that! Can you send along that photo for me to show my client? Safety is good even if not period, we know more now.
    Thank You in advance,
    Don Breslauer

  5. The style of Mr. Edgars’s race report is the best I’ve read in the vintage race genre. When reading it I felt I was part of each of the three teams, sharing the problems and anticpating the results. I was riveted! Much better than most race reports where only a few of the more interesting cars are described and the race results are pretty meaningless.