“The Rocket” Randy Pobst is also known to Matt Curry as “the guy who lit my race car on fire!”
Matt Curry and the Craftsman team was fortunate to chat with professional race car driver Randy Pobst about racing with the Craftsman Auto Care Team for the 2020 American Enduro Racing (AER) Series and learning about his racing career. (Tune into the live interview)
The Craftsman team was at Road Atlanta for AER in February and Matt actually serendipitously ran into Randy at the registration table:
Matt said, “I thought I recognized you - I looked over at you and said, “Randy?” and you looked back and said, “Matt?”
“We hadn’t seen each other in at least 10 years, and I was quite surprised that you recognized me. So, I asked you what you were doing, and you said that you might drive for a friend of yours and that you were actually looking for him. So, I said, “Well, you can drive on our team!”
Randy said, “I just appreciate you rescuing me. I was a race car driver with nothing to drive. And as it turned out, the car that I was going to drive ended up crashing out of the race!”
Matt said, “The second day of this race was a race in the rain. It started out nice and clear but then it started drizzling. There were at least seven yellow flags including one on the warm-up lap when an Audi went up on the wall. Then it started raining a little bit more and then it started pouring! Then there were about 4-7 wrecks. It was crazy. And when you drove, it was a downpour. But we had a blast. Because of you, they bumped us up to a faster group.”
“We’ve actually had some memorable experiences together in a car. We asked you to take out my Porsche 944 Turbo at Virginia International Raceway over 10 years ago and you caught it on fire! We had the fire extinguisher out. It was crazy. And it was no fault of your own because an oil line blew off the car and blew all over the exhaust. No damage done. It’s a fun story and we like to talk about it. So that’s why I like to tease you about being “the guy who lit my race car on fire!”
How did you get the nickname “Randy the Rocket”?
One of the many wonderful things that happened to me in my career was driving for Alex Joe Brasson. I was wandering through the paddock at Watkins Glen in 1998 and I didn’t have a ride. Somebody I barely knew said, “Psst. Hey Randy, come here, we might need you. Hang around!” Well, they had a guy driving that wasn’t cutting it and they let me drive and it went very well. In fact, my whole relationship with Alex Joe Brasson went very well until we got the Porsche factory cars. Alex and I got along really well, but the Porsche cars and I didn’t! But that’s a whole another story - it’s actually a good story about carting and how carting translates to real cars. I was qualifying at Road Atlanta a year later and we’re driving these 911RSR air cooled Porsches from the 90’s. I was surprised how close they were like street cars when I first saw them. I figured that they would be more like prototypes, but they’re more like IT cars. They still are closely related to the streetcar, at least the Cup cars. The GT3’s are getting to be pretty wild. I love the 993RSR 911 especially the way Alex Joe had them. There was one qualifier at Road Atlanta, and it was just one of those days everything goes perfectly. It’s cool, the suns out the tires are fresh, the cars handling perfect and I blew away anything they had ever done at that track. So, the crew guys dubbed me as Randy the Rocket. I wasn’t going to argue with that!
What’s your favorite track?
Almost all of them! I’ve never been to Grattan Raceway. It’s a track I need to go to because I’ve heard it’s great because its old. The old tracks are almost always the best tracks – they design them better. But I like almost all tracks. Picking a favorite is hard and I get this question a lot.
The #1 best track in the world is the Nürburgring in Germany. With most tracks in the world, you spend most of your time in third and fourth gear. At the Nürburgring, you spend most of your time in fourth and fifth! It’s so fast. It is long and is constantly changing. It’s famous for weather changes at different parts of the track.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
That’s easy- SPEED! My spirit superhero is the Flash. He’s red and has yellow lightning bolts!
Craziest race or crash story
The craziest ones usually involve the weather. It was an Enduro race at Road Atlanta. I wake up in the morning and there’s 3-4 inches of snow. But being the dedicated racer that I am, I hook up and head for the track anyway, at 6 am, in the snow. I Barely got out of the driveway. And I’m thinking that there is no way that this is going to happen! Well it did! They went out and looked at the track and it was wet, but it wasn’t frozen. So, we started the race.
One thing that’s good about endurance racing is the tires we run. The 180 or 200 tread wear tires work in the rain and in the dry. It’s fabulous. When it rains, you don’t have to change your tires. Well, unless, they’re totally worn out. You can just keep going. I think we had B.F Goodrich on the car. We survived. The crazy thing is that there weren’t any wrecks! I figured half the field was going to be piled up in the wall. There were no yellows that I recall, or not for a long time. I was so impressed on how sensible everyone was. I think the snow created a lot of fear factor and drivers weren’t taking the risks that they would normally take in the dry.
Road Atlanta is also the site of my world-record crash. It was in 1994. We had a Mazda RX-7 Turbo. I get in it and sit down and hit my helmet on the roll cage. I told the crew that we need to pad the roll cage. And the crews say, “yeah, next session”. So, I go out and turn the fastest lap of the session. The cars’ fabulous, everything’s great and I come down to the bridge. I had a hard pedal and little to no brakes! I’m going 152 Mph! No stopping. I push with both feet literally and at the last minute, I threw it sideways and I caught the dirt bank under the bridge, and I came out from under the bridge at a high rate of speed, upside down in the air! I wish I had the video. I remember on the way in I was thinking that I could end up in the hospital on this one. I launched over the hill and slammed into the dirt bank. There was no runoff. The bridge was a turn, so if you didn’t stop you hit the dirt bank on the other side. So, I did and I’m rolling and banging my head on that roll cage and I’m seeing stars and ended up with a pretty good concussion.
What’s the weirdest thing a fan has done?
There’s a guy overseas who had a big crush on one of my journalist friends - a beautiful woman - and he sent me a bunch of gifts. I think he was kind of using me to try to get to her. He sent me a really cool clock made out of an Alpha Romeo valve cover and included a gift for her. I wasn’t comfortable with that and I thought that it’s better for him and her to communicate directly and I didn’t want to get in the middle of it. That was kind of unusual.
I met this woman at an Audi club event, and she was pretty, and I liked her, and she drove an Audi on track. Cool lady. And then we went our separate ways. The next race was in Southern CA and I was walking through the paddock and guess who shows up? She was with her friend. I found out later that she had gone there with the sole purpose of seeing me again. But guess what? We won the race - it was epic. We won the championship and the awards banquet was the next day. So, I asked if she wanted to go to the banquet. We used to talk about her stalking me after that first race. Turned into a beautiful relationship for years!
Favorite race series?
I love the budget endurance racing series. I love the people. I love the creativity. The rules are so wide open; you can do anything you want. Pro racing has become so incredibly restrictive. The cars are all made by manufacturers and you’re not allowed to change them. So, you go to a budget Enduro race and you never know what you’ll see. A 240 SX with a Volvo body and a Chevy V8 mounted in the back with some sort of transaxle. I love that!
What’s your advice on how to get started in racing?
Start by learning the fundamentals of driving in a safe environment. The racetrack is a terrible place to learn how to control a car at its limit. Because there are walls all around you and you’re going 100 mph!
That’s why I recommend starting with Autocross. You drive hard, you learn how a car behaves at its limit, you learn patience, and how to look ahead. Because if you’re not looking ahead, you’re going to lose the course! Yes, you don’t get much track time, but the track time you get is intense and its very rewarding. You immediately find out your time. It lets you immediately evaluate and tweak your driving. There’s nothing to hit and it’s very unlikely that you’ll wreck your car. It’s a great time to start to learn to drive at the limit
Another is skid pad training with a good professional school like Skip Barber Racing School. I’m a huge believer in that because you need to learn car control; you need to learn not how to drift, but how to fix a slide. When a car gets too sideways, you have to learn to straighten it out. Correct and recover. In driver’s school, they say steer into the skid. That‘s half the story. If you correct the skid, now the car is going to shoot off unless you straighten it back off. Correct, recover and look where you want to go!
The next step after autocross and skid pad is HPDE, High Performance Driver’s Education. You have some brave instructors who ride with you and help guide you. There’s a lot of good clubs, Chin Motorsports is one of the best. Do a lot of HPDE before you go road racing.
What about the Car Clubs:
BMW has a very high level of instructing. The local car clubs are really good.
What do you think about when you’re racing?
If something attracts your interest, you can focus on that so hard that you could melt metal! Racing does that to me. I’m hyperactive and can hyper-focus. As soon as I start driving fast, my brain comes into this narrow beautiful focus to the driving and I don’t think of anything else. It’s not something I practice; I don’t do any mental exercising. It just happens; it messes me up in the rest of my life!
Fun tidbit: I was a lead singer in a classic rock n roll band called Conflict.
Randy Pobst, "RFP" or "The Rocket," is a professional race car driver and journalist for Motor Trend magazine. Randy is a World Challenge GT champion, as well as a two-time class winner of the 24 Hours of Daytona and has more that 90 pro wins.
Randy Pobst is available for personal race instruction sessions and personal appearances for corporate or club events. https://www.randypobst.com.
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