I’m pretty sure that I’ll be getting some comments from you wonderful readers telling me that I am one lucky guy. I know that I am, thank you very much! You’re probably wondering why I’m so lucky. Allow me to explain.
In the beginning of March, my uncle set me up with one of his friends who was going to be lapping his 1970 Datsun 240Z at Sonoma Raceway. Emails were exchanged, and then we got to the track early. We saw the Z (pictures will be near the bottom of this post!), and went into that garage. The team mechanics were going through the checklist. I’ll be monkey’s uncle if I tell you that car didn’t sound amazing! It sounded wonderful! At idle, it had a burble that popped, hummed, whistled, and belched at the same time. Since it has such a high idle speed (2000 RPM, average), it’s kind of loud. At full throttle, it sounds like a Lamborghini Aventador, a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, a motorcycle, and a Corvette ZR1. Life couldn’t be much better.
The owner and driver of the Z, David Martin, showed up, and we said hello. After a few minutes of talking, we went down to pit row and watched as David’s instructor, Ken, told him to do 10 warm up laps. We sat on the concrete barrier wall, and watched classic race cars go flying around the track. One team had a large trailer with about five classic Porsche 911’s and a couple of new ones. Next to us was a portable shade tent that was keeping a Can-Am Ferrari and a 375 America from 1956 from the harsh effects of the sun. The 375 was beautiful, and extremely fast. The Can-Am Ferrari was scarily fast.
In one of the garage stalls near us was a team with a 2005 Ford GT super car. They had a guy sitting there with a laptop computer analyzing everything about the car. When I say everything, I MEAN everything! The Can-Am Ferrari (don’t ask what it was – I don’t know!) was faster than the Ford GT, which knocked out 1 minute, 30 second laps.
At lunch, we talked with David’s instructor, Ken. Ken used to race everything from F1 to stock cars. His story is sad, but I can tell you something good about him: He’s one of the best drivers I’ve ever seen! After lunch, we had to wait for a bit because a car blew its engine on the final turn, and all the oil spilled out. We waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, cars were allowed back on the track. David waited until other cars had gone through where the oil slick was. Then, he headed out, but he went much slower those laps.
At about 2:00 PM, it was time for us to go. Sadly, track day was over. We said our goodbyes, and headed home. I think that you will enjoy the history of David’s Z. I’ll also share with you some pictures of him and his Z.
Here’s the history:
In 1974, Brad Fisselle made the decision to step up from the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) Professional Division to IMSA (International Motor Sports Association). he formed a full team and company, which was named Transcendental Racing. Transcendental Racing built, developed, tested, and raced their new creation. Their creation? A 1970 Datsun 240Z prototype for the IMSA Camel GT Series. In 1975, Brad had his first three professional victories and was awarded IMSA’s Most Improved Driver award, becoming the only man to win these coveted awards in both IMSA and the SCCA. He then went on to win eight out of the eleven races that his team entered in for the IMSA GTU series. During this time, Brad Fisselle beat the Datsun factory team many times.
This Datsun 240Z is the 1976 IMSA GT/U Championship car. The chassis of this car was the first 240Z imported to the United States in 1970. My dad had one of the original 240Z’s as his father did all the legal work for Datsun! Mac Tilton designed the suspension and built some of the specialized parts. The chassis, roll cage and body were all constructed by Dave Kent with assistance from Yoshi Suzuka. Yoshi was also responsible for the design of the aerodynamics on the car. John Knepp of Electramotive built the engine. Many of these businesses are long dead. In it’s day, this Datsun 240Z was the fastest and most technologically advanced car in IMSA and SCCA.
Sometime in the early 1990’s it was decided that a full restoration was needed. The car was starting to fall apart, and didn’t look as good. The team’s original captain, Joe Cavaglieri was hired for this task. The car was stripped down to the chassis, and rebuilt from the tires up to 1976 IMSA GTU specifications. Using development parts from the NISSAN GTP program, modern electronics, and new piston and cam designs the engine produces 400hp. Considering that this comes from a 2.0-liter inline six-cylinder, that’s quite impressive. No turbochargers or superchargers have ever been near this car.
In the day the team was the one of the very best in IMSA, the preparation of the car was always at the highest level, more like that of a top Indy Car team than a GTU team. The restoration was done with that same mindset. The car is absolutely perfect both cosmetically and in performance. The fit and finish, attention to detail and superb craftsmanship exhibited in this restoration is spectacular. Right now, the car is capable of winning a podium position at any classic car race, or winning a Best-in-Show at Pebble Beach. Since the completion of the restoration, the car has competed in the Mitty at Road Atlanta and the Monterey Historic Automobile Races plus two club events and one test day.
Here is a list of the championships that the car has competed in:
IMSA GT/U (Grand Touring Under 2.5L) 1975 Season Mid Ohio 2nd GTU (Pole Position) Laguna Seca 2nd GTU Mosport 1st GTU Mid America 1st GTU Talladega 1st GTU
1976 Season (IMSA GT/U Champion): Road Atlanta 1st, GTU 15 OA, Laguna Seca 2nd, GTU 10, OA Ontario 4th, GTU 12, OA Lime Rock, 1st GTU, OA Mid Ohio 1st, GTU 5, OA Daytona 250 1st, GTU 9, OA Sears Point 2nd, GTU 9, OA Talladega 1st, GTU 5, OA Pocono 1st, GTU 5, OA Road Atlanta 500 1st, GTU 8, OA with John Morton Daytona Final 1st GTU.
I’ll stop keeping the pictures from you, and share them with you.
I’d like to give many, many thanks to David Martin of Red Car Winery and the Martin Group for letting me hang around and watch him. I’d also like to say thanks to his awesome mechanics and instructor, who were kind enough to talk to me about racing throughout the day! Thanks to my amazing uncle who originally set me up with David! Thanks to David, his team, and my uncle, for letting me come with my dad so we could have an awesome day watching an awesome person drive an awesome car! Clearly, I had a great day. Told you I was lucky.