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The Cheetah and Me

Story by Denny Asbury


 

In high school my friends liked ‘56 Chevys, I liked Porsche Speedsters.

 

Somehow I found a book in the school library with short stories about racing around the world. I was fascinated with the drama, romance, danger, and tradition of road racing.

 

After I graduated from college, I bought a 250cc Grand Prix Yamaha. The bike was blazingly fast and could top 140 mph, but they had a habit of tossing off the rider when the engine seized. It tossed me at about 110 mph at the old Ontario Speedway, and while I lay there counting my fingers and toes, I decided to quit racing that evil little beast.

 

Twelve years later I started racing in the Club Ford Class with Sports Car Club of America. This was the most popular class at the time. The first year I finished way back. The second year I moved to the front. The third year I won the Southwest Championship. I also won the Eloy Grand Prix. It was a wonderful race around the dusty downtown streets of Eloy, Arizona.

 

It was all great fun, but at the end of the third year, the brutal reality of racing hit me hard when a good friend was killed at Riverside raceway.

 

Tragically, this “club” racing claimed five competitors during my career. 

 

I bought a Swift F2000 and it went faster than you should go in a tube frame car, about 140 mph. The second year with
that car I won several professional class 2 races and also the Southwest National championship.

 

Phoenix Raceway was my first oval race. On lap 10, four cars crashed in front of me entering turn one. They hit the wall and pieces of three cars flew past both sides of my car, I aimed at the fourth car because, “when you get there it will be gone,” and it was. I hated the oval.

 

A friend called me one day and offered me his team including an older Swift DB4, ready to go to Long Beach. I had never thought about the LBGP because the Atlantic cars were enormously expensive, so I bought the team.  The Swift DB4 was a monster of a car, way faster than I could drive. It had huge sticky tires, ground effects tunnels that sucked it onto the track and it was brutal on the driver. After my first 5 laps I had to be pulled from the car. The cockpit was small and g-forces bashed my body on the carbon tub. The DB4 could do 165 mph at Long Beach, I called it the Cheetah. It was alive and aggressive, it had only one purpose and it did not like dilettantes.

 

I started working out, I had to drive flat out for one hour and never hit a wall. Eventually, I got stronger and the Cheetah started to accept me and we came to an agreement. I would give it a fresh engine, new tires, a good mechanic and it agreed not to hurt me.

 

The first race at Long Beach was the best weekend of my life and also the worst. I qualified well but in the race I touched the wall, which ripped off my rear wheel. Bummer!

 

The second year I left the Cheetah in it’s cage and I bought a Ralt RT40, a more competitive car that had a bigger cockpit and was easier to drive.

 

The Toyota motor was strong but fragile. It would live 6 hours under 9800 rpm. As the engine builder downloaded the computer data, I confessed to 8 over revs, the data said 134 – “bad driver.”

 

Midway through the race I had my ESPN moment as a car touched me and my rear wing ripped off and flew 60 feet into the air.

 

The third year the transmission broke about 10 laps into the race….. I sold the car never intending to race again.

 

The next year my buddies called and begged me to get a new car so “they” could have fun. So... I bought a Verizon ex-team car.  Their Ralt RT41 was a fantastic car, it was fast, smooth and had no vices, by far the best racecar I ever owned.

 

This was the only race run in the rain in the history of LBGP.  Nobody had rain tires, so we had to hand groove race tires.  In the race, I moved up from about 29th to 8th, all the hot kids were crashing everywhere and I passed them after they hit the walls.  With about 5 laps to go we had a restart and everything went white from spray, I could barely see the wall as it flashed past on the right side of the car, and then bam!  The series leader made a desperate, blind move and hit me, which broke my rear suspension.

 

Well that was it – four LBGP races and not one finish, although after the last race I was classified 12th and made $1500.

 

I walked away in one piece with lots of stories to tell. I still get a tight feeling in my gut when I go down to the track but
I’ve had enough for a lifetime.

 

Denny Asbury

 

This story and photos can be found in the February 2019 Pando on pages 20-21

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