By Louis Scalzo | Photos by Tom Morgan
Renngruppe Motorsports is located in Lexington, North Carolina in a industrial park area looking like a very ordinary brick fronted metal building, blending in with all the others in the area. When you enter the spacious facility, formerly home of a NASCAR team, you quickly realize that this place is anything but ordinary! It can only be described as a Porsche Mecca, or Holy Land of sorts. As you enter the large shop area, instantly you see magnificent, historic Porsche race cars of all eras that you would only see normally in a book or on a computer screen. It’s visually stunning for sure. The bright white walls are adorned with pictures of racing Porsches and posters from events from all over the world and the floors are painted a sterile gray. There are two engine rooms off to the right of the main gallery, and I can only describe this place as hospital clean and very professional.
RennGruppe Motorsports owner Dave Brown insists on keeping this shop this way and instructs his crew to do so as well, “I look at it as a honor to have these cars here to work on, and I insist on cleanliness here.”
Currently parked in the building where two Coca-Cola Porsche 962s, one of which was an overall Sebring winner in 1985, a Porsche 908, Porsche Carrera 906, an original 1973 Porsche 911 RSR IROC driven by Emerson Fittipaldi, and three Porsche 935s – JLP 2, Desperado, and Bob Akin’s Coca-Cola-sponsored 935. There are also three early 911s, one being Al Holbert’s personal car.
Also present were two of the McLaren-powered Greenwood Corvettes from the mid-70s. One of these is undergoing a full restoration to be completed and delivered for the 2012 Goodwood Festival of Speed. One of the engine rooms had a nearly finished original 1974 RSR 3.0 motor, and there were various race engines in different states of overhaul.
“High performance engine building is really my specialty and what I enjoy doing more than anything. My first engine build was a Bug Eye Sprite when I was 14 1/2 years old, and I’ve been doing this ever since,” said Dave Brown. He realized early on that he had a natural mechanical ability, much of which was self-taught, and the skill to get the best performance with limited resources. Dave then went on to elaborate a little further, “Since the early eighties I have worked on many different race teams, many on very tight privateer budgets, but competing with large budget factory teams.”
“To me, it was a real challenge being the ‘underdog,’ so I would try to be very resourceful when finding horsepower, and enjoyed the challenge. The ’90s where a fun time, the rules formula was way more flexible back then. We would compete against the factory teams using the 3.8 liter motors (such as Alex Job) and they were more restricted. We would use 3.6 rules that had more flexibility, such as a lighter minimum car weight of 2252 lbs and more tube framing for the chassis, 16” tires, but the fun part was engine mods- we could do pretty much anything with the 3.6 block.”
Dave did just that – he showed me an engine that had been radically modified using spacers under the cylinder barrels and cam housings so that they could go to a shorter stroke and Chevy NASCAR rods. This created higher rpms and gained horsepower, with a 103.6mm bore and a 70.00mm stroke. “The other teams really looked at that engine, but couldn’t put a finger on what was different. It was actually wider by an inch or so. There was a lot of satisfaction being able to sometime beat the big guys – and we did.” Over the years Dave has built over 770 full race engines. “In 2000 the factory went to the factory sealed ‘water’ cars and the rules changed with Grand-Am. We couldn’t build and modify engines anymore, so the game was over.”
The thing I noticed about Dave he is really an enthusiast about what he does for a living, and has a total passion for it. It really shows. I was at his shop for 5 1/2 hours, and he spent the entire time with me talking about Porsche and all the cars he has worked on. I’m sure we could have talked for another five hours. Time just flew by. “I love getting up and going to work every day, and can’t wait to work on a car or engine project.” But Dave is also very humble about his accomplishments, he didn’t want me to write this article about him, but about the cars and the shop. But I told him I had to share a little bit on his background with the club, and how he got to where he is today – I apologize Dave.
It all started down in Sarasota, Florida. “I lived there for 6 1/2 years as a kid. My Dad had a metal fabrication shop and worked on privateer’s race cars, sometimes building roll cages and exhaust systems, mostly on English cars. “My Dad took me to the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1971 as spectators in our 1963 Country Squire station wagon. I was really impressed the way Mario Andretti, who was down by many laps, caught up with Steve McQueen at the final lap to win. I was hooked right then and there.”
Dave’s family then moved to North Carolina in 1972, “Dad wanted to get away from the Florida heat and worked at Florida Steel on Highway 21 near Huntersville. As a teenager, he worked at Stowe’s Exxon in Davidson and attended North Mecklenberg High School. “The Exxon had some drag cars, but I really wanted to wrench on Porsches.” Dave attended Florida State and graduated in 1980.
“I would try and attend as many races as possible back then, Daytona 24 Hour, the Paul Revere, Sebring 12 Hours, to name a few. I would always end up in the garage area observing the crews and see what was going on. I knew what I wanted to do, I just had to figure out how to get a steady paycheck out of it.” That turned out to be somewhat difficult at times. “In the early days sometimes I had to call Dad to help pay the electric bills.” Dave started by working for several privateers who did just a few races a year. Most didn’t run the full season, so Dave’s work would last sometimes only several weeks at a time. In the mid-80s Dave found steady work for a couple years full time with the Firehawk Series – “Jim Hicks (retired NFL) was the team owner, and we ran a couple Porsche 944 S2 cars. It was worth moving to Atlanta for that, a good experience and a steady paycheck.”