As Featured In
Viale Ciro Menotti Magazine
Viale Ciro Menotti Magazine
Issue #112 (2018)
Life’s Been Good To Me, So Far – The story behind Dead Pedal Racing and the #185 1987 BiTurbo Si Endurance Race Car and Team
Eric Peterson, Dead Pedal Racing
The background story
Like many kids my age growing up in the 60’s and early 70’s, I loved anything racing, particularly Italian racing and sports cars, and especially anything Maserati. I had all the books and pictures and posters and knew the names of every famous driver and race. When the new 63 Stingray came out and then the Cobra, I thought they were cool and all, but I dreamed about racing and driving. It really had to be Italian, or it just wasn’t adequate. It was not the pinnacle.
I did the go-cart thing, bought my first car at age 13, an old Rambler Cross-Country Station Wagon with a push-button transmission (which I just thought was just the coolest thing), and then a year later bought a big Chrysler 300 with another push-button transmission because I was smitten by that coolness. Of course, I was 13 and 14 years old, so it didn’t take me long to grow out of that.
I had my whole share of performance cars from GTOs to 442s to Ford Fairlane GTs, to TransAms and on and on, but every time I saw an Italian sports car, especially a Maserati, my heart skipped a beat and I always smiled and dreamed of the day I would own one and race one.
Shortly after my wife and I married, my in-laws would take us to a small Italian Restaurant in Forest Park, IL where Paul Harvey used to go and sing the praises of the restaurant on his Chicago-based radio show. It was really good, and authentically Italian (my mother-in-law was full-blooded Italian). I loved the food, but there was an even better reason to go – the owner had a red BiTurbo (actually more than one), and he parked it every day in his spot, and we walked by it every time we went. And I would always stop and look and admire and told myself that someday, someday, I would get one.
Of course, as they do, the years went by, the restaurant closed, we moved, had kids, moved again, and I was left to racing and running around with non-Italian cars that were fun, to be sure, but not Italian. I did the German thing – and I still have my share of German iron as my winter car and family wagon, and I did lots of track days and some solo work with the German stuff – but it still wasn’t a Maserati.
So, when I was in my early forties I think, my younger brother Craig picked up a pretty nice 87 BiTurbo Si in North Central Illinois, played with it for a while, and worked on it a lot. It was a really cool car and I always loved that car and it reminded me of how much I really wanted a Maserati. While he was preparing for a major move to Pennsylvania, and as we talked, he asked if I wanted it. The top of the motor was off but the interior was great, so I jumped at the chance and I hauled it up to Saint Croix Falls, WI and pushed it in the garage, vowing to restore it to its original glory. I knew very little about it, but that didn’t concern me – I could put it together, and make it like new again. I figured I would work on it as funds and time permitted.
Time and funds, as most of us know, are never permitting. Family, aging parents, kids in school and then college, work and business always take top billing and when there was any time, and at that phase of my life, there was no money. When there was money, there was no time. During the winter of 2013/14, however, a unique set of circumstances opened up that changed all that.
In 2012 and 2013 I had been watching a new and growing phenomenon – the world of Grassroots Endurance Racing. My brother and I both went to several races at Road America, Summit Point and Brainerd International Raceway, and fell in love with the concept of LeMons and Chumpcar. We liked the more “serious” race attitude of ChumpCar at the time, but all we saw were primarily BMWs. My brother actually had an old 87 BMW 535i and we considered turning it into a “Chump Car” to race. But that didn’t appeal to us, because I was about Italian, not German, and didn’t want to blend into the crowd with yet another E30 BMW.
Late in 2013, my wife and I decided to do a major renovation of our home. It required that the garage be cleared for workmen to use during the build of the main floor and a place to store tools and materials out of the cold and snowy NW Wisconsin winters. At the same time, there was a new auto restoration shop starting up in a little town just north of us in Cushing, WI called Street Creations. Dale, the young and ambitious owner and engineer, was just as crazy about cars as I, and I convinced him to take on the Maserati as a restoration project. It got the car out of the garage for quite a while and he figured it wouldn’t really cost that much. He had zero idea about anything on the car, but he was just starting out, was hungry, and thought it would be a great challenge.
What an opportunity! Soon Dale was at my house loading up the red BiTurbo on his trailer and heading to his shop to start work on a car he had never seen and barely ever heard of. Soon the engine was out, and he was starting to work on the body. But then I got that call – the one that every car guy having a restoration done dreads like running out of gas in January 30 miles from the nearest town. He reported that the rust was really bad and we needed a donor car for some of the panels. I addition, there were appeared to be big turbo problems, and the health of the motor was in question. Heartbroken, I feared we were done.
But then, after just about a week, a Craig’s list ad came up for an 85 BiTurbo near Rochester, MN, about 3 hours south of me. Dale and his first employee Travis found it and they were asking $1200. It was parked in a snowbank covered with snow next to a barn around a bunch of other cars, and it was in pieces. For that money, I thought, it probably is worth the risk. The front fenders looked good, the paint was pretty good, so I gave Dale some cash and off he went with trailer to Rochester, MN to see about a BiTurbo.
What Dale came back with was shocking and amazing. The car had absolutely zero rust. It was beautiful, although the motor was apart and the interior was pretty much wrecked. We stood there, in Dale’s shop looking at both cars, and quickly realized that there was no way that this beautiful white 85 liquid-intercooled BiTurbo was going under the knife to be destroyed. So, we decided to switch projects, and the white 85 became the restoration project, and we would take the really nice interior pieces from the red 87, put them in the 85, and junk the 87.
So, the work started, and the 87 interior was put in the 85. About that time, my brother Craig moved to NW Wisconsin just a few miles away and we started to talk about racing Chump Car once again, for the upcoming 2014 season. Plans were being made to build the 87 BMW 535i.
One night at Street Creations, however, it hit me – Dale wanted to know what I wanted to do with the red 87 BiTurbo and all the motor and driveline stuff. It was the night it hit me – here is a shell. The motor is out but might need some work. It is a very stiff and light car. It had a 22 gallon gas tank, a unique and valuable advantage for grassroots endurance racing where fueling time can win or loose a race. It had a really cool Torsen differential, great for racing. It was Italian, and most of all, it was a Maserati. How cool would it be to race a red Maserati around some of the coolest tracks on the planet, where legendary drivers from the past had raced their Maseratis. How many people can say that? How many people get that chance? That experience? There, sitting there in front of me, was that chance that I had dreamed of since I was a kid, and the car was stripped and ready to design a roll cage.
Well, there was no further decision to be made. We were going to build the one and only 87 Maserati BiTurbo Si racecar in the then ChumpCar World Series (now the ChampCar Endurance Series). I called my brother Craig. After the shock of such a “different” decision, one that flew in the face of racing a BMW in that BMW-dominated series wore off, we were “off to the races” so to speak. Financially, there would be no problem – we would do most of the work ourselves, and it WAS grassroots racing and the cars were ALL $500 cars, right? Besides, by that time, after working and getting parts together for the restoration projects, I had met this guy out of Northern California named Lennie Celeberti at Auto-Italia who seemed to know everything there was to know about these cars, and had a bunch of parts. What could go wrong?
Let me say a few words about grassroots, low-budget, cheap car endurance racing. It is more fun than you can imagine. It is satisfying in every way and you get a chance to race – really race – for more than a 30 minute session. Against people that are better than you in faster cars. Against people who aren’t as fast as you in real crapcans. But most of all, cheap it isn’t. Building a racecar, especially a Maserati BiTurbo, is about an order of magnitude more than you allotted for your budget. And, it takes about three times longer than you estimated in your most conservative plans. And you forget a bunch of things that are really important along the way. But most of all, building a ChampCar for endurance racing is the most intense and rewarding experience that I have had since my old ski jumping days when I was young enough and silly enough to do that. You learn about what it takes to build a racecar at a rate that is about as fast as the emptying of your checkbook. You make stupid mistakes and say stupid things, and then you learn some more (and empty out the checkbook even further) and make more stupid decisions.
The first race and the 2014 racing season:
We had planned on our first race to be Gingerman raceway in April of 2014. What did we know? It was February, the car was in pieces, but all we had to do was build a cage, buy some tires, put in a race seat, but in a bunch of seat belts, yank out anything that wasn’t necessary, fix anything that was broken or worn, bolt it all together, rent a trailer, find a driver or two, join Chump Car (at the time), register for a race, and off we were to the races.
Well, April came and went. We found all kinds of things that we needed to fix. We bought all the stuff. We installed all of the safety gear and fire suppression. Then we realized we needed more tires and wheels because, well, racing. We wanted to use the 1987 wheels because they were wider and would allow for a bigger tire. But where to get those one-year-only wheels without breaking the bank? We also found that both turbos were … “tired”, and needed to be rebuilding. We also needed a new manual steering rack. And timing belt. And water pump. And spare parts. We forgot about the spare parts.
So, back to Ebay / Craig’s List we went. And – we found another 87 BiTurbo, right near us in Minneapolis, and it was for sale. It wasn’t running but Rich (Rich Labas, the owner of the BiTurbo), said it did have the wheels I needed and the spares I needed. And, besides, he knew a bunch of stuff about these cars that Craig and I and Dale didn’t know. So, I bought that car, and we created our spare tires and our spare parts and Rich Labas became a good friend in the process.
So, finally, May rolled around and we “wisely” (he says with a bit of sarcasm) decided that our first race should be Road America in mid-June 2014. Our first face – in a new car, first time in a series, on one of the most challenging and fastest tracks in the country. Besides that, two of the four planned drivers had never done wheel-to-wheel racing, and one was iffy on manual transmission.
However, this was going to be a dream come true – not only driving a Maserati at speed around one of the coolest tracks on the planet, but actually racing against others. We really didn’t expect to do that well, and we didn’t really have a real crew (just us racers), but we had high hopes and great expectations………that were dashed in just over four hours on the track. We were all excited. We had four drivers – my brother Craig and his son Orrie, and my son Jamie and me. We were going to each have short, 1 hour driving stints so we could learn the car and each have a try at the wheel. On the fourth driving stint, with Orrie at the wheel, through no fault of his own, the clutch catastrophically failed coming out of turn one, and we were done. Excited and dejected, we packed up and went home – determined to do this again soon.
The BIR race in early August was our next race. This was to be on the shorter “championship” track, which is a really fun, technical track, really was more suited to the strengths of the BiTurbo. We fixed the clutch with the spare from the other car, lowered the springs some, and re-designed the exhaust to try to get a few extra ponies out of the engine for that track.
We learned some more at that race – we did pretty poorly, but we finished (it was red-flagged because of a line of thunderstorms moving through the area), which was an absolutely great accomplishment. We lost several half-shafts during the race and we blistered tires like crazy, especially the left front because of the mostly hard right turn layout of the track. We were in the pits and paddock more than we were on the track. But we finished. WE FINISHED! Dead last. But we learned a great deal.
Our season was over for 2014. However, we were noticed (and mostly made fun of).
“What were you thinking?” and “you’ve got to be kidding” and “are you guys insane?” were among the comments we heard from the mostly-BMW crowd. We were reminded several times that the BiTurbo was named one of the 50 worst cars of all time, and that there was no way that we would ever finish any race with any kind of respectability. We were motivated to prove everyone wrong.
The 2015 Season
In 2015, we fixed several things that really needed fixing – like putting some respectable 15” tires and wheels on and raising up the suspension a bit on racing springs so the half-shafts were straight again, and upgrading brake pads. We also realized we needed a crew – so where do we get a crew? Of course – family. We recruited another brother, Alan, and my sister Brenda and anyone else I could bribe with a meal and a weekend of hard work, blazing sun, loud noises, and a beer or two afterwards. With that, we again did two races. The first was BIR, this time on the famed Donnybrook track. This time we knew a bunch more, and we had Rich Labas, Craig and me driving a 12 hour race in the heat. Things were going better with the larger 15” tires, and we had no more half-shaft failures. We struggled a bit with cooling on the 90 degree day (we all agreed we needed cool suits after that race) and we really weren’t very fast on the long and fast Donnybrook track, but we were at least not last. The real problem, however, was that about 2-1/2 hours into the race, the car came limping in with a failed transmission. Dejected again, we came close to packing it in, when I mentioned that for some stupid reason I had packed a spare transmission in the back of the truck just before we left. We all looked at each other and jumped into action – we changed the transmission – on a BiTurbo, mind you – in the grass, on the U-Haul car trailer, on jacks on the U-Haul trailer, without pulling the engine or the intake manifold, and in less than five hours we were back on the track. Of course, we didn’t finish too well, but finish we did, and the attitude of the other racers began to change. We did receive the “Spirit of Chump” award that evening – with the comment that we “exemplified” the spirit of Chump Car Racing. We learned quite a bit that race – and we also realized we had a lot more to learn. Unfortunately, the detractors laughed at us even more – there is no way we could ever get a Maserati BiTurbo to finish an endurance race, much less be competitive in D-class, which was for faster Mustangs, Camaros, Firebirds, Corvettes and the like.
By mid-October of 2015 we were back at Road America hoping for a better finish. Still bigger tires, still better brakes, cold air intake mods and a newly designed a fabricated set of camber plate were installed (gave us about 2 degrees of negative camber on the front axle). We began to really feel like we were getting the chassis dialed in nicely, and would be competitive that race – both Craig’s and my son Ian were driving with us for that race along with my sister Brenda and brother Alan helping as pit crew. About mid-way through the race, when Craig was chasing an old Mustang around the track, he came to the bend where the Mustang came in too hot (for a Mustang that is pretty easy), and got off the track on the outside. Craig saw his chance and went around on the inside, only to be met, hard, on the driver’s side door, right behind the A pillar, by the nose of the Mustang that had re-entered the track after spinning. The Mustang was totaled on the spot, but Craig managed to limp the Maserati back to the pits and the garage to see what we needed to do to continue. An hour and a half later, after some minor surgery, we managed to get back on the track with my son Ian behind the wheel. He had to return back to the garage after a couple of laps because the rear fender was still occasionally rubbing on the tire creating a smoke screen for anyone wishing to pass (we noted that as a possible strategy for later races). A bigger hammer and some ugly fixes, and we were off.
Even with that, we finished and came back on the second day (7 hours on Sunday) and took third in D class for the first time. The car was pretty ugly and beat up, we couldn’t get in or out of the driver’s side door, the cage was bent up by the driver’s seat, and the extra wind resistance of the crumpled body as well as the likelihood that the alignment was about like an old Nova, gave us slower lap times, but we finished nonetheless. This was also the first time we had adorned the car with nice stickers and logos and such – and put “Joe was Wrong” across the back below the trunk lid. We had also changed our number to 185 for this racing year and reserved it as our permanent number. There were a few that knew what it meant, and they were all old like us, but it was funny to see those that got the references and we had several competitors come up to us with a much different attitude than we experienced in 2014. Still lots of folks who thought that it was really dumb to endurance race a BiTurbo, and still no one taking us seriously, but the “Joe Was Wrong” sticker and the 185 number lightened up the attitudes a bit.
So, another season-ending event. We again took the car home, with mixed feelings about what we accomplishes and what we were going to do, again amazed that we got to race 15 hours at Road America and 12 hours on Donnybrook (less the time to do repairs) – and both very famous and history filled racetracks, in our very own Maserati. I had to pinch myself and reflect on my dreams as a youngster, and smile like I did then.
For the crunched BiTurbo, things didn’t look so good. We thought that the life of the trusty 87 BiTurbo with its long history in the family, was over. However, back on Craig’s list, maybe for another chassis to start over with. Within about a month, we found an ad for a red 1984 BiTurbo not 20 miles from the track at Road America that had been sitting in a barn for about 25 years that was really chap. So, off we went, trailer in tow. What we found was amazing – red, certainly, and a complete 84 BiTurbo, but with critters living in every nook and cranny, flat tires, junk all around it, rust everywhere. Except for the entire driver’s side, which appeared to have no rust — no rust at all, and was very straight. Back to Saint Croix Falls with that car and the race car. I talked to a friend of mine who owns a small body shop, offered a few beers and a nice jacket with our name, “Dead Pedal Racing” on it and he somehow, with incredible skill, cut the left side off from both cars, and put the new, good side on the 87 bi-turbo. He did it so well, that to this day, you still cannot tell that anything had ever been replaced, except that we chose not to straighten out the door bars to remind us of the power of a collision like that. We were back to the races with the87 like nothing had happened.
The 2016 Season:
2016 is where everything began to turn around – both for our performance and the attitude towards the BiTurbo. We had decided that we would not only race our “home tracks” but also race famous tracks around the country, and try to race our “bucket list” tracks.
Early in the year, before the season started, I was thinking that we should get a crew chief to run our races and the pits for us. I had no idea how that would work or how I would find someone that knew his way around racing, especially endurance racing, but the benefits of such a move was undeniable and I felt that we had to do this if we expected to take it into competitive territory. A friend of mine (who had a new Quatroporte) introduced me to another friend of his named Duane Wagner at a party that he has early every summer. I spent the entire party talking to Duane about racing and cars and such, and realized that he had many years of experience with TransAm and IMSA as crew chief. By the time we left the party, Dead Pedal Racing had its first real crew chief – and we never looked back.
The effects were immediate. While he knew very little about the BiTurbo, he know how to get a crew together as well as how to run an endurance race and the strategy involved with things like fueling stops and watching everyone else and adjusting strategy while the drivers simply concentrated on driving.
Duane’s first race with Dead Pedal Racing as crew chief was in July 2016. We had the car set up perfectly and I was the first one out in the cool early morning sun. We started the warm-up laps under yellow and we were about 2/3 of the way towards the front of the pack (it was a random start order at the time). The green flag dropped, and I went into a zone. The car was running as never before and I was overtaking people quickly and consistently. I had taken the early lead in the race, running away.
Until about lap eleven.
Going through the fast turn 2 at about 110 mph towards a hard braking zone to the tight hand turn 3, I looked and noticed that we had about 15 lbs of oil pressure. By the time I got to the turn three apex, it read zero. Letting up I radioed frantically to Duane that I had to come in and had lost oil pressure. By the time I got to the pits, the engine sounded pretty bad. We pulled behind the wall, opened the hood and there was oil, everywhere. Among the changes we had made for this year was a different racing oil brand, and the oil couldn’t take the heat, broke down and had the viscosity of water. It had mostly pumped out. The crew quickly changed oil in the paddock, back to the original Red Line oil that we had been using, and the oil pressure came back up and I went back out on the track, albeit very tenderly keeping the engine rpm to less than 5000 rpm. We got about another three laps and a couple of rod bearings spun and that was it. We were done.
We packed up and went home, dejected again, but knowing that set up right, we could keep up with anyone in the field. The car was fast, especially on short, technical tracks.
We spend the rest of the summer trying to find rod bearings, a crank and one closely matched rod / piston for that engine, with no luck. No new rod and crank bearings anywhere on the planet. But then we remembered….I had bought another 87 BiTurbo from Rich Labas a year before, and the short block with no heads was still in the chassis. It was dirty and rusty from sitting outside, but it was complete. We had no idea on the condition, but we figured that we had no choice but to take it out, take it apart, clean it up and see what we had. That became our “new” engine, and we transferred heads, cams and intakes to that short block and we were ready to go by the time Road America came around in October.
The jinx of Road America loomed large in our memories. We wanted to complete the race this time with no real incidents and the BiTurbo was set up nicely again and made pretty good boost, roughly 10 psi. We had added a new aftermarket radiator (for a big block Chevy V8) and adapted an external oil cooler to manage temperatures. We started well and were very excited with Saturday’s 8 hour race – we were running near the front of the pack, with only minor problems, and with about 45 minutes left, the clutch came apart in fourth gear going into Canada Corner. I could not get it out of 4thgear, or any gear, and could not disengage the clutch. I continued for a couple laps trying everything I knew (at the time I didn’t think it was the clutch that was faulty), but to no avail. I finally decided that we needed to bring the car in and call it a day.
That night, we changed the clutch (we had a spare) and got ready for the Sunday 7 hour race. That went with few problems, none severe, but we did break an alternator mount that took some time to fix. Duane ran a masterful race as crew chief and we finished in third place, gaining on first and second quickly. Our first real finish, and a “podium in class” at that.
However, that wasn’t the end of the story for 2016. Making good on our “bucket list” track promise to ourselves, we entered the race in December at Laguna Seca, in Monterey, CA. This would be a dream come true. Armed with a new, Kevlar-lined clutch and new exhaust design, we pulled the car from NW Wisconsin to Monterey, CA in time for the Thursday / Friday race. No practice before hand, and a Nascar style two-by-two start, I started the first stint really nervous, especially going through the famous “corkscrew” for the first few times, side-by-side and fender to fender. We were fortunate to have another new driver and friend, Lenny Celiberti of Auto-Italia fame drive with us. He had previous experience on Laguna Seca, so that made us feel better and he gave us pointers on what we needed to look for.
Also with us, with Duane Wagner our crew chief, was what was becoming the core of our pit crew, Chris Edwards from Huntsville, AL, and Rich Labas to help out. After a noise violation on Saturday morning that caused us a black flag and penalty for our exhaust being too loud (I still deny that, because we measured the volume) that cost us about an hour in the garage, we drove mostly without serious trouble for the rest of the day Thursday and Friday. About two hours before the end of the race on Friday, at the end of my stint, Duane came up to me, and very “as-a-matter-of-factly” said “You know, we are going to win this thing”. At the time I really didn’g think about it because I was too tired after a two hour racing stint, but as we got closer to the final laps, it started to sink in: We were going to win our class at arguably one of the most famous tracks in the world, Laguna Seca! In my Maserati! At the end, we had indeed captured our first class D win. And we drove the car into the trailer after the race! After three days of driving home to NW Wisconsin, it still hadn’t really hit me, and I still, to this day, think it was a dream. But the trophy and the photos are still there, reminding me of the great Crew Chief, the great Crew, the great car, and the great drivers that put all the pieces together.
That finished our 2016 season – and no one made fun of the Maserati BiTurbo any longer, although there were many still who thought what we had done was a fluke.
The 2017 Season:
In 2017 we continued on the promise of racing the “bucket list” tracks, by entering the Watkins Glen endurance race in May. This iconic race track is famous for a reason – and I had been in awe of that track and the drivers who raced and died there than any other track in the world.
The car remained mostly unchanged, with the normal off-season maintenance and rebuilds necessary after driving a car at full throttle around a track for 16+ hours. The only major thing that we did was to change the front rotors to some modified Subaru vented rotors to try to keep the brake temperature down. We found calipers that were identical to the BiTurbo calipers in every way in the calipers from a BMW 633csi, except for the spacing between the two halves to accommodate vented disks. Keeping brake temperatures to less than 800 degrees would be a big braking improvement both in performance and longevity, and we could finish an entire race now with no brake pad change. We also had refined our tire selection and size to the point where we got great dry performance and outstanding tire wear characteristics.
The two days at Watkins Glen were absolutely amazing, and the feeling or awe and respect as you are in a Maserati accelerating through the esses towards the “bus stop” at better than 115 mph is something that I will never forget. That feeling never goes away, no matter how long you drive that track. It is a track that is complicated, fast, and fairly dangerous and unforgiving, with its Armco all the way around the track on both sides, making wall contact fairly likely after even the most innocent spin. Because of that Armco configuration, there are no “hot pulls”, meaning that if there is anything that happens that requires any emergency vehicles, like a stalled car requiring a tow, the course goes full-course yellow and the pace car comes out and the pace slows behind it.
The Saturday start of 108 cars on the grid was crazy, but we managed to stay out of trouble. Strategy for pit top timing now included full-course yellow timing, which was largely a “luck of the draw”. We didn’t do so well there, and lost a lap on several yellow flag deployments from being on the wrong side of the pass car when it entered the track. Even so, we finished second in D class on Saturday, and we were happy. There were no problems. The Sunday start still had about 90 cars running, and it was an absolutely flawless day. We finished first in D class again, running away. The car again, ran flawlessly, except for a bit of contact exiting turn 10 with a TR8 that turned into me breaking a front right wheel, and bending a little sheet metal.
During the awards ceremony, the host commented that there were bets that were lost on whether or not the Maserati would finish, and when we not only finished, but won, he bet that no one would every bet against us again. We had established both reliability and competitiveness with a Maserati that was not considered a reliable platform and not raceworthy. And the engine remained stock through the entire history, even with the stock ECO and turbos.
All I wanted in my bucket list was to say I raced at Watkins Glen, or I raced a Maserati. Now I had raced a Maserati, at Laguna Seca and won at both of them. That’s how you do a bucket list! And the crew chief and crew won this one for us yet again. On top of all that, a photo of us racing at that Watkins Glen race is featured as the September photo in the Maserati International 2018 calendar, which made everyone associated with Dead Pedal Racing profoundly proud of what we had accomplished.
The winning streak continued at Brainerd in July. The competition course (the shorter, technical course) was run on Saturday, and we handily won our class with the only issue being a broken throttle cable that was easily and quickly fixed by our outstanding crew. Sunday was run on the iconic Donnybrook track, and we really shined, even though the Maserati didn’t have the power or the legs to keep up with the faster cars on the long straight section into turn 1. We also won class D on Sunday, and took 4thoverall – our first overall podium, and the respect for the car and the Dead Pedal Racing Team had been established without question, and the ability of Duane Wagner, our crew chief to plan and execute a race is well respected as well.
In August, we travelled to South Haven Michigan for a two day race at the Gingerman race track. A small, interesting and challenging track, more than 60 cars started on Saturday. It is a great little track and suited very well to the handling capabilities and acceleration ability of the BiTurbo. Everything went great on Saturday. Duane managed a great race and we won our class yet again. This time by more than 20 laps. As Duane would say, “we didn’t win, we dominated”. Sunday wasn’t as successful – about an hour and a half into the race, the engine developed an exhaust leak around the right side manifold. We struggled for a few hours to get it fixed, but it wasn’t to be. The exhaust manifold had actually warped and pulled out the studs from the head. It could not be re-connected, so we sat out the rest of the race on Saturday. When we retired, we were again leading the race by a pretty good margin.
We qualified for the Road America Regional “Chumpionship” in October at Road America because of our competition record over the previous year. The two day race included a “Parke Ferme”, which meant that at the end of the first day the cars were sequestered and could not be touched or maintained or even fueled. That turned this race into a true 16 hour race over two days. The first day was pretty good for the Dead Pedal Racing team, although for some reason we could not produce more than about 6 psi of boost. Of course we couldn’t figure out the cause or repair, because the car was locked down, so after a relatively successful Saturday (we were second in D class at the mid-way point), we went into Sunday trying to figure out what the problem was. As it turns out, it was probably a good thing that boost was reduced, because it rained all day, hard, and the BiTurbo with its light back half, is quite a handful on dry-only tires, even without boost. All of the drivers, which included Lenny Celiberti, Ian Peterson (my son), Craig Peterson and me had a really tough time and struggled with handling the entire race on Sunday. Clearly the front-wheel drive cars in the race had a strong advantage. As it turned out, however, we did well enough to finish just off the podium overall and second in class D, which was remarkable considering the rain and the wind and the downright miserable conditions a Wisconsin late October can bring.
The real pinnacle of the race and the year for me and the team was being honored with the Chandler School Sportsman Award for the Team that was outstanding for the year. It was a great honor and we are all quite proud of that award, especially considering where we and the car had started only three years earlier. We are still the only Maserati BiTurbo endurance racing in the country (there is an 84 BiTurbo in Texas that is running but it does not have a Maserati drivetrain, and they only participate in one race a year). We are no longer questioned or ridiculed by anyone for our chassis selection and the car is universally admired.
The 2018 Season:
We were still riding high from a great season in 2017, so we entered another bucket list track, Sonoma Raceway in February. The car sported a new exhaust system that was higher flow, and we had switched to 245/45 – 17 tires from the smaller 15” tires for more grip all around on that highly technical and fast track. The two day race went extremely well – except for what appeared to be a starter failure about midway through Saturday. As it turned out, it was not a starter failure, but the gear ring came off the flywheel. Somehow, we finished the race on Saturday and won our class anyway. We towed the car an hour away to the Auto Italia shop of Lenny Celiberti (who was again driving for Dead Pedal Racing), and worked all night to change the flywheel, only to find out after the car was put back together that the starter had failed because of the ring failure anyway. We chose not to fix the started (we were dead tired), and push started the car the entire time on Sunday.
The race ended on Sunday with Dead Pedal Racing winning D class both cays and overall. Again led by crew chief Duane Wagner, and a great crew of Chris Edwards and Bill Shultz, as well as the great driving by Lenny Celiberti on his home track as well as new outstanding driver and friend Allen Becker from Crash Management Racing and Craig and I, we managed to not only race a Maserati on one of the great tracks of the world, but to win two races in two days.
Unfortuanatley, that’s where the winning streak ended. The next race, another “bucket list” track, was Daytona Raceway in early April. The Maserati developed problems again with boost and an alternator failure early on Saturday that combined with the fact that we just couldn’t develop the top speed required to stay up to the faster large V8 cars in our class on the steep banked tri-oval, we were out of contention pretty early. We stared near the rear of the 130 car field (a new lottery system that sets starting position), and had worked our way up to 23rdoverall before an alternator failure and a long tow wait took us out of contention. We still ended up fourth in D class, and we got to race a Maserati at Daytona, so we were still feeling very proud and fortunate. We had the same exact driver and crew makeup as we did in Sonoma, making the car and drivers and crew racing across the country in 6 weeks.
Then there was Watkins Glen in May of this past year. After the success of our win therein 2017, we had high expectations. The Maserati was running great, the team was exactly the team that we had in the previous races over the past year, the drivers were all the same, and two of us had faced here before and won. We were high on the list of expectation for a repeat. As a matter of fact four hours into the race, the Dead Pedal Racing Maserati was leading by 5 laps and pulling away. Expert pit and fuel management by Duane and some of the best driving by Lenny Celiberti that we have seen and even fast lap times from me, had us not winning, but dominating.
Until about 4-1/2 hours into the race.
While running through traffic into turn 9, and setting up for a pass on the inside of a couple of cars, an E30 spun on the exit of turn 9 and violently hit the Armco at the exit, bouncing the E30 back onto the track. With nowhere to go, Craig Peterson, who was in his driving stint at the time, had the choice of hitting the E30 BMW or trying to get through on the grass to the cars left. He did the right thing, but the Maserati also spun while trying to avoid a serious crash, and hit the opposite side Armco really hard. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt, but our day and the famous red 87 BiTurbo was totaled and not repairable.
How ironic was it that the same track that launched the Dead Pedal Racing 87 Maserati BiTurbo into credibility and competitive standards, also ended the car’s life. It was a tough few weeks, and we were all just devastated.
However, there is good news in all of this: I had another 87 BiTurbo sitting in a garage in Saint Croix Falls, WI ready to start building. In addition, the support from the Champ Car Endurance Series staff, officials and even our competitors has been amazing. Many teams came up to us after the accident and expressed their disappointment and sorrow for losing this car, and told us how much they admired it and the fact that we had taken it from obscurity and ridicule to the highest competitive levels. Several competitors of ours told us that they really never minded losing to us, and asked if they could help us repair this one or help build another. One team, the Crash Management Team, donated the new Chrome Moly roll cage and chassis going into the new Dead Pedal BiTurbo, and it is being installed as of this writing.
The new 87 Maserati starts with all of the knowledge and many of the parts that we had in the original car, with many of the improvements that we had talked about that we wished we would have done when we built the first one. The car will likely be about 200 pounds lighter and have about another 50 horsepower due to slightly larger fresh turbos, an aftermarket ECU, larger injectors and some moderate heat flow work. Cooling for the engine, transmission and differential will be improved. Aero will include a rear wing and diffuser and the front will retain its splitter, and we plan on covering the entire lower surface with a smooth sheet of aluminum.
We hope and plan to race in a “shakeout” race in late August at Gingerman in South Haven, MI and officially debut the car at Road America In October and Laguna Seca in December. We think that it will be even more dominating, and the car to beat consistently will again be a Maserati, just like it was when I was young and dreamed of doing exactly this.
As Joe Walsh said in his iconic song: “Life’s been good to me so far”.
It certainly has been and I am very fortunate to have the opportunity and the family and friends that have helped make all this, an unbelievable reality. My wife Betsy, who has been putting up with this car and racing nonsense since we met almost 40 years ago and put up with the ski jumping and the injuries and the travel along the way and now has to deal with a son (and probably some grandsons and granddaughters) who are following the same paths (both ski jumping and car racing) has somehow been so supportive of all of this, even when it drains the checkbook, even when she has zero interest in racing or cars, reminds me of all the support and friends that have made these life journeys unique and something to be very proud of. And hopefully, it will continue. This truly is another dream come true that happened with a lot of support, a lot of luck and jumping into the opportunities when we couldn’t see the water.
I would love to get a photo of Joe standing at the rear of the car beside the “Joe Was Wrong” sticker and let me tell him that while my Maserati doesn’t do 185, it had made me realize that “Life’s been good to me so far.” So if anyone out there knows Joe Walsh, encourage him to come see me – I’ll even let him take the new one out on the track for a few laps so he can remember the thrill of his Maserati.