She Is Chasing After Dreams, Leaving the Nightmare Behind : Widow of Peter Gregg Has Taken the Wheel

Times Staff Writer

Fast cars, fast money, life in the fast lane--it all came so suddenly, but cruelly, for Deborah Gregg.

“I’m an automobile dealer, I’m racing cars, trying to enjoy life and learn things and do what makes me happy,” she said. “A lot of people don’t get to do that . . . to be able to pursue dreams, to be able to do that when you’re young. I think I’m real fortunate.”

Today, at 31, her career will move up a notch as the only woman entrant in the 60-lap Bendix Trans-Am sedan race on the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach shoreline circuit. Her only disappointment would be that a major part of her dream is missing.


Nine days a bride, the next day a widow.

On Dec. 6, 1980, she married Peter Gregg, car dealer and a star of the international sports car racing set. On Dec. 15, he killed himself with a .38 on a beach near their Jacksonville, Fla., home. He left a note, but it didn’t explain much:

“I don’t want to live with my lifelong (unintelligible) of driving everything away, with making myself and others miserable. I just don’t enjoy life anymore. I must have the right to end it.”

For more than six years Deborah Gregg has carried on, with only an occasional glance in her rear-view mirror for the benefit of new, curious reporters she encounters as her career expands.

“After a while you begin to understand that that was a part of your life,” she says. “It takes time. The severe grief, the initial shock, the hurt, the anger, the resentment--you go through a lot of phases. It’s hardest in the evening when you’re home by yourself.

“You can busy yourself during the day and take your mind off it. At the time, we had a lot of reconstruction to do with the dealerships and keeping things moving.

“I hope I’ve learned a lot from it. It made me a little more insightful. It’s something I wouldn’t want people to experience. It’s very unusual. I mean, this only happens in the movies, right?”

Peter Gregg left his racing operation and Porsche and Mercedes-Benz dealerships to his bride, who continues to run them under the Brumos name they long carried. She also chose to keep her married name.

“It was important because the dealerships are associated with that name,” she said. “I’m very proud to have his name, to be able to have been that close to that individual. I’m glad I was able to have that opportunity, as short as it was.”

A few months after the tragedy, Deborah Gregg took race driving lessons, then entered Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) competition in 1982. While also managing the Brumos Porsche team, she drove in endurance races in the U.S. and Europe and in ’84 was the first woman to score points in a European Formula Drivers Assn. event.

She has served her apprenticeship, which this year earned her an offer from Trans-Am kingpin Jack Roush to join Pete Halsmer and Scott Pruett as part of his Lincoln-Mercury-Merkur factory team that has dominated the series for three years.

“I’m the token female here,” she said.

Her parents, David and Arlene Marrs, are with her. David is a retired Air Force bomber pilot--B-24s in World War II and B-29s in Korea--from whom she must have inherited her spirit of adventure. A younger sister is a teacher.

“We wanted them both to be independent and take care of themselves,” David Marrs said. “We think they’ve been able to do that.”

Still, there are some misgivings.

“Every time I know she’s going to be in that car I worry about her,” her mother said. “But she’s always been a good driver--a fast driver, but a good driver.”

Gregg said. “I like racing. I’m not technically oriented. It’s interesting to see what they do to the car. I’ve been able to fit in pretty well. Shirley Muldowney and Denise McCluggage and others made the inroads and allowed it to be a little easier.

“I hope when I’m 65 I’ll be able to look back and think, ‘Gee, I really did get to do all the things I wanted to do in life.’ ”

Trans-Am Notes Scott Pruett, who won the Pro-Kart races at Long Beach in 1982 and ‘83, returned to the track to win the pole for today’s 4 p.m. race at an average speed of 78.4723 m.p.h. “Long Beach is a sentimental place,” Pruett, 26, said. “I first came here to see the races in ‘77, when my parents gave me a ticket.” The difference in a Trans-Am car, Pruett said, is that “it’s real close between us and the walls.” . . . Wally Dallenbach Jr., who won the Trans-Am series in ’85 and ‘86, is now competing in the IMSA GTP series. . . . Pete Halsmer of Anaheim, the ’86 series runner-up, had electrical problems and was sixth fastest at 75.323 m.p.h.