During the last three decades, sports car racing has seen its share of changes. From the rise and fall of sanctioning bodies to the constant evolution of cars and technology, one team has remained a constant over the years, through the glory days and the most turbulent times of the sport.
What started off as a simple means to go racing turned into one of America's most storied motorsports organizations for Rob Dyson, who along with his Poughkeepsie, N.Y.-based team are celebrating Dyson Racing's 30th year in professional sports car racing. With a total of 19 championships and 70 victories spread across the ALMS, Grand-Am, IMSA, WSC and USRRC, achieved by some of the most iconic drivers and cars of the era, Dyson Racing's stats are unparalleled to any other sports car racing privateer outfit in North America.
For Dyson, an accomplished New York businessman, the story began at the grassroots level, competing in regional and national SCCA competition in the ‘70s before getting the itch to make the next significant step forward in his driving and team owner career.
The year was 1983. Ronald Reagan was president. Apple released the Lisa personal computer and Chrysler started production of the first minivans. Yet for Rob Dyson, it marked the start of his team's professional racing career, a move that came relatively easy at the time.
"I'd run a lot of club racing and did pretty well with that and won a national championship,” Rob Dyson tells RACER. “We did a couple of pro races in IMSA GTU and they allowed our B-sedans to run. I got a taste of that and realized I can run with these guys.
"I think it was just a natural progression. We started running the typical ladder, which in those days was a lot different than it is now. Kids all of a sudden turn pro, but when I started in the '70s, you had to be more careful. It was a scale deal.
“If you wanted to race, you had to have your own car. It wasn't an arrive-and-drive kind of deal, where the only thing you had to have was your helmet and suit. [Instead], you had to have a helmet and a suit stuffed somewhere in the truck amidst all of the tires, gas cans and tool bins. And the car was sitting in the sand right next to your truck!”
After racing Datsuns in the SCCA ranks, Dyson purchased a Pontiac Firebird, for its slick aerodynamics and ease of sourcing parts, for his foray in the IMSA GTO ranks. The first event came at the IMSA Coca-Cola Three Hours of Lime Rock on Memorial Day weekend, a race he'll never forget for the right, and wrong reasons.
"There were two heats,” Dyson recalls. “Unfortunately, a guy in a Porsche, who was an SCCA instructor, crossed up in front of me in the short chute going to the uphill. I slammed right into him.
“With the Firebird, it was a front-engined car. We had to spend a lot of time in the pits removing bodywork that was flopping around, but the car was fundamentally intact. We had to bend a few frame rails but the engine was good and the radiator wasn't busted. We came out of it pretty lightly.
"We rolled out of [the pits] and didn't have any front bodywork on it. Off we went. It was the beginning of our great adventure in professional racing. What I found was that the quality of driving wasn't significantly different or in many ways better than a lot of the really tough, national B-sedan guys I was racing against in club racing."
Despite discovering the car's flaws, which included a flexing chassis, Dyson continued racing the Firebird through the '83 and '84 seasons, before purchasing Bruce Leven's Porsche 962 and stepping up to the top-level GTP class the following year.
Remarkably, Dyson and co-driver Drake Olson won in their debut at Dyson's home track of Lime Rock Park, the site of his first professional start only two years earlier. Suddenly, he was taking on some of the sport's top drivers, including the likes of Al Holbert, Brian Redman and Hurley Haywood, and beating them at times.
"I never thought we were racing against the big boys,” Dyson admits. “I felt comfortable doing it. I wasn't cocky about it, make no mistake about that. I wasn't thinking we were going to own the series because there were a lot of guys in there that I had known for a long time. Other guys that I had heard about and I respected them all, but I viewed it as a progression. One thing led to another and it all worked out."