Al Holbert’s death in an airplane accident Friday night in Ohio could mark the beginning of the end for the Porsche involvement in Indy car racing.
Porsche has 2 years remaining in a 3-year commitment with its sponsor, Quaker State oil, and team spokesmen insist that the contract will be honored. Toward that end, Teo Fabi will drive the Porsche-March in the final two races this season, Oct. 16 at Laguna Seca and Nov. 6 in Miami.
“The Indy car project will continue,” said Robert Carlson, public relations director of Porsche Cars North America, the organization headed by Holbert. “What is uncertain is the fate of Holbert’s private Porsche 962 prototypes in IMSA (International Motor Sports Assn.) racing. No decision will be made until after the funeral.”
The funeral for the 41-year-old driver-owner was held Wednesday in Doylestown, Pa., Holbert’s hometown.
Holbert’s cars, driven by Derek Bell and Chip Robinson, were withdrawn from the IMSA race last Sunday in Columbus, Ohio. Holbert was flying home in his Aerostar after watching practice. The crash occurred in an open field about a mile from Ohio State University’s Don Scott Field.
The only remaining IMSA race is the Southern California Camel Grand Prix Oct. 22-23 at Del Mar.
Despite the backing of the German factory and the involvement of Helmut Flegl as project manager for the Indy car, Holbert was the catalyst for the entire operation. It was his idea, he sold it to the factory bosses at Stuttgart, he prepared the cars in his own garage in Warrington, Pa., and he tested them himself.
“If it hadn’t been for Al, there never would have been a Porsche at Indy,” one team associate said. “Even after the factory got involved, it might have tossed in the towel if it hadn’t been for him.”
Holbert’s desire to see a Porsche at Indy was so intense he drove the 1984 Indy car season to better familiarize himself with the series. He finished fourth in the Indy 500 and took a briefcase of information to West Germany to convince Porsche officials that the time was right to test the Indy car market.
Last May, between Indy 500 qualifying and the race, Holbert flew to Germany to confer with company bosses. When asked what prompted the trip, Holbert laughed and said, “I’m going over there to find some more horsepower.”
The real reason, was a need to shore up support for the unsuccessful team. The Porsche, flung into the Indy car wars a year ago at Laguna Seca, was a disappointment from the start--and still is.
In two races last year, the Porsche was the first car out at Laguna Seca and failed to qualify at Miami. In 13 races this season, Fabi has finished 7. His best performance was 2 weeks ago at Nazareth, Pa., where he led 2 laps and finished fourth.
Holbert’s replacement in the Indy car project will probably be Derrick Walker, who resigned Tuesday as general manager of Roger Penske’s team, the most successful in Indy car racing. Walker was discussing the move with Holbert for some time before Holbert’s death.
Walker, besides running the team that filled the front row of the Indy 500, also acted as crew chief for Danny Sullivan’s car on race days. Sullivan can clinch the PPG/Indy car championship by winning at Laguna Seca next week.
Penske named Karl Kainhofer to replace Walker. Kainhofer is the senior member of the Penske team, having joined it in 1966 as chief mechanic for the late Mark Donohue’s cars. More recently, Kainhofer was manager of the Penske engine shop in Reading, Pa., where the team’s Chevrolet V-8 Ilmor engines are prepared.
Holbert, in addition to managing the Porsche Indy car team and running his own IMSA team, was the winningest driver in IMSA history, despite not driving a race car until he was 25. He was a graduate of Lehigh University with a degree in mechanical engineering. He won 49 Camel GT races and won the season championships in 1976, 1977, 1983, 1985 and 1986. He also won the 24 Hours of LeMans three times.
SPEEDWAY MOTORCYCLES--National champion Brad Oxley will have his hands full in defending his title Saturday night in the Coors United States National Speedway championship at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
Oxley, son of speedway promoter Harry Oxley, will be challenged by Sam Ermolenko, fourth-place finisher in the World Individual championships last month in Denmark; Bobby (Boogaloo) Schwartz, winner of 14 of 26 main events at Costa Mesa this year and a past national champion; Phil Collins of England, who has ridden 2 years on the smaller American tracks to hone his skills in hopes of stealing the American title; and Gary Hicks, 19, who won track championships at Ascot and Victorville this season.
SAUGUS--Supermodifieds of the United States Auto Club will close the Saugus Speedway season Saturday night along with a parade of Western Racing Assn. vintage race cars.
Billy Vukovich III, rookie of the year at the Indianapolis 500, will try for two USAC wins in a row after taking last week’s feature at Carson City, Nev. Vukovich, last year’s series champion, will be challenged by Ken Nichols, winner of last July’s Saugus race and the current points leader, and Mike Swanson, winner of both Saugus races a year ago.
Among the vintage car drivers will be pre-World War II pilots Dickie Ferguson and Roy Prosser in historic V-8 60 midgets, and Walt James, in a 1948 sprint car powered by a ’49 GMC truck engine.
SPRINT CARS--With 7 races left in the California Racing Assn.'s Parnelli Jones Firestone series, Arizona’s Ron Shuman holds a 112-point lead over perennial runner-up Mike Sweeney. Shuman, who won last Saturday’s 30-lapper, will be on hand again Saturday night as the wingless sprinters make their final show before the winged World of Outlaws arrive Oct. 13-14-15 for the Pacific Coast Nationals. Steve Kinser, 8-time Outlaws champion, will be back to defend the Pacific Coast title he won last year.
John Redican, 43, a recent winner at Ascot, is out for the season after breaking an arm and a leg in a first-lap accident last Saturday night at Ascot. . . . The California Golden State series will conclude Saturday night at Baylands Raceway, near San Jose, with Brent Kaeding expected to successfully defend his championship.
FORMULA ONE--Veteran driver Riccardo Patrese was fined $10,000 for allegedly pulling in front of fellow driver Julian Bailey and then braking hard, causing Bailey to crash during qualifying at the Spanish Grand Prix. Patrese apparently was angry at Bailey for slowing him down during a fast lap.
INDY CARS--Scott Pruett has been named to replace national champion Bobby Rahal as driver of the Truesports car next season. Pruett, 28, won the 1987 Trans-Am championship and last Sunday clinched the International Motor Sports Assn. Camel GTO championship in Columbus, Ohio--home of the Truesports team--and also won the final International Race of Champions at Riverside.
Pruett was selected over Geoff Brabham, who has won 9 IMSA GTP races this year and the season championship in the Electromotive Nissan. Pruett was apparently chosen because the team sponsor, Budweiser, wanted an American driver. Brabham is Australian.
The Valvoline-Machinist Union American Indy-Car series concludes Sunday at Willow Springs Raceway with the Bud Light 100--a pair of 50-lap main events. Buddy Lazier, Kevin Whitesides and Bill Tempero have shots at the championship.
STOCK CARS--Cajon Speedway will end its season Saturday night with a 150-lap factory enduro on the 3/8-mile paved oval. . . . Stockers race Friday night at Ventura Raceway.
MIDGETS--The USAC Western States regional championship series will do double duty this weekend with full midget and three-quarter midget races Saturday night at Ventura Raceway and Sunday night at Ascot Park. Sprint car veterans Ron Shuman and Lealand McSpadden will both race at Ascot along with series leaders Sleepy Tripp and P. J. Jones.
POWERBOATS--Two 30-minute marathon races for the Grand National Racing Assn. championship will be held Saturday and Sunday at Castaic Lake, along with a full program of blown alcohol K boats, pro and super stocks, cracker box and endurance tunnels. Racing starts at 9 a.m.
OFF-ROAD--Steve Millen, winner of the individual truck championship in the Mickey Thompson Off-Road racing series, will leave Toyota to drive an IMSA GTO car next season for Nissan. Millen and Ivan Stewart also led Toyota to its sixth straight manufacturers crown in the season-finisher last week in Las Vegas.