Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Grinch: A Car With A Past

I sat down with the package that Sal Iannelo had sent. It contained not only the logbooks but also the original homologation certificate and a series of nine photographs of the car taken by one of its original owners.

It was really neat to see it in that form. All of the paint was glossy black and neatly pen stripped in red. The frame and the aluminum parts looked clean and bright. That is the way a race car should look.
In it’s current form it looks a little like I felt, surface chipped and a little rough around the edges. The trick would be to get it back like it was, and maybe heal myself a bit in the process. Consider it therapy.

On the back of one of the photos was a note that said "The Grinch MX1 Was built by Gary and Wayne Dassinger of Sebring Florida, in 1986 & ’87 and raced by Mike Schiffer from ’87 to ’92 at Sebring and Daytona."

This took into my home country. I had grown up down there. On top of that, the name "Mike Schiffer" sounded familiar to me. It was like something on the tip of my tongue that I couldn’t quite enunciate.
There were also pictures of another car, a Mysterian M2 of slightly later design that indicated a lot less frontal wind drag, shown next to the Grinch. I figured this was the driver’s next ride. Another Vee. Maybe he was still racing.

I looked through the logbooks and found that Mike had raced the car the car almost eighty times and had finished in the top ten in 67 of them. Seventy seven percent top tens is not shabby.

Succeeding drivers were not as successful. John McFarland raced it twice, Bill Hornack eight times, Brian Goodchild eleven times. None had outstanding records. It seemed to have become a "drivers school / first season" sort of car.

I had one like that once. It taught me a lot of lessons. I kept puttering with it, trying to imitate the latest trick until I discovered that the biggest trick of all was proper set up. When done right, my car was as fast as the latest stuff on the track. As old and as out dated as it was it could stay in there with the best of them. I would have to remember that. It was a lesson hard and expensively learned.

Sal Iannello bought the car as a project in ’99 and held it on to it, hoping to get around to working on it, until he sold it to me in ‘06.

That’s a long life for any other kind of racecar. Not so with Vees.
* * *
Since they were racing in the same area, I thought Carl Watral might just know Mike Schiffer, I called. He did and gave me a phone number.

I called Mike and missed him. He later returned the call and we had a nice chat. He clued me into the location for the original builders and even came up with a phone number for Gary in Sebring.

I called Gary Dassinger and got a brief history on the car, It had been built by Gary’s father, he and his brother Wayne. He talked fondly of the time. His father had since passed on and he and his brother had occasionally spoken of getting the car back and restoring it. Just for kicks. Sort of a tribute to their Dad.

Having lost my own father a few years ago I understood the feeling and was in sympathy with the idea. I thought about that for a few days.

AT this point there were several ways to go with the car:
- ONE: I could update it to formula first (remember therapy), run it our little track and have a hell of a good time. That would entail some drastic changes to the car that would alter it significantly from the standard Vee class.
- TWO: I could restore it as a vintage Vee and run it in it's original configuration. I had all the documentation, and photographs of the original car. It was vintage eligible. Vintage racing is a laid back form of the sport and one that I had seriously considered before becoming infected by the Formula First virus. It was just a matter of restoring what was there. I even had the original builder to use as reference. This would be, by far, the simplest and least expensive racing option
- THREE: I could give it back to the Dassingers and let them restore it as they wished and find another candidate. There were plenty around.

Any one of the three was attractive in its own way. I thought about it a lot for a few days. Whichever decision was made it would have to happen soon as I needed to get to work on the car in order to make the October deadline or find another one that needed less effort.

Finally, I called Gary and offered the car to them. I could not afford to just give it to them but I did offer to sell it to them for what I had in it at that point. I just could not get away from what a neat thing it would be for them to redo the car for themselves and their father.

Unfortunately, Gary was just about to go in for surgery and his brother now lived in Portland. They tried every way they could think of to pull it off but finally had to give up the idea. I was kind of sad for them.

One the other hand I could now get to work and get the car ready and I had some ideas about stuff that I wanted to mess with.


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