As soon as I saw the black Porsche 935, sitting in silent display at Rennsport IV, I was blown back in time, to a racetrack that no longer exists and to a ride that could never happen today.
“Tell him you like to go fast,” advised the man in the pits who helped squeeze me into the Porsche 935. I felt like poorly folded origami and was shocked by the remedial nature of my seat—a fiberglass shell wedged within the rollcage’s welded web, without seatbelts!
It was practice day at Riverside International Raceway for the 1980 Times Toyota Grand Prix of Endurance, and I’d signed up for a ride with Danny Ongais in the Interscope Porsche 935 K3. Ongais greeted me from his well-anchored racing seat and five-point belts, and the thought occurred that going fast on a track known to kill and maim didn’t seem all that crucial to my coverage of the race. However, as I was young and still searching for elusive truths, the potential for enlightenment appeared to outweigh the risks.
I pointed at the Porsche’s aluminum boost knob and thrust my thumb skyward. Ongais nodded, threw the four-speed manual into First, and took me on a trip that forever altered my understanding of time and space.
Ongais reached out and unleashed the hounds of hell by twisting in the maximum 1.7 bar of boost.
Ongais eased #0 from the pits. I studied the stripped cockpit. There was some original 911 here and there, a few familiar dials and bits of factory issue. Every element tied to comfort, though, had been stripped away to reveal the skeletal metal of a machine with one purpose—to go fast.
One of 13 K3s built by Erwin and Manfred Kremer from tubs supplied by Porsche, #0 was sloped in the nose and winged at the rear, its Kevlar-reinforced resin body weighing only 88 pounds. Behind me was a sheet of aluminum that did little to mask the unique cacophony of the Kremer-modified turbocharged flat six. In K3 trim, the 3.2-liter boxer’s maximum output was, depending on a simple twist of that boost knob, between 740 and 805 horsepower. Top speed, just over 200 mph.
After a quick flag check for traffic, Ongais stomped (as his well-earned nickname so eloquently put it) on the gas… and stomped on my brain, too, which recoiled in primordial aversion to the unleashed chaos. My once ordered universe dissolved into the unfocused turmoil of being crushed under a relentless wave of energized sound, and I was barely able to grab onto the rollcage to avoid being catapulted rearward.
As we shot through Turn 2’s fast right, I contemplated a whoop of delighted terror but it was stifled by a sudden slew of sideways force that threatened to suck me into Ongais’s lap. We had entered Riverside’s tricky esses, but just when my body was adjusting to the side loads, Ongais slammed the brakes for Turn 6’s decreasing radius U-turn and it was all I could do to keep my helmeted noggin from slamming into the windshield as the landscape blurred right to left and Ongais sawed at the wheel to coax the nose of the car somewhat in line with the violently swaying tail. The huge rear tires screamed for grip and spun in protest, ordered to transfer more than 700 horses to the dusty Riverside asphalt. I felt like a chunk of meat in a grinder turned up to 11.
The short straight down to Turn 7 was notable for its absence of pain and gave Ongais time to raise an interrogative eyebrow in my direction. My hands were busy hanging on for dear life, so I could only nod before the Porsche again revolved left through several points of the compass for the run up to Turn 8, the slowest on the track and a respite of sorts, a calm before the storm of Riverside’s main straight, one of the longest, most holy-shit stretches of pavement in racing.
With the nonchalance of someone who regularly faced oblivion, Ongais reached out and unleashed the hounds of hell by twisting in the maximum 1.7 bar of boost. Suddenly I was in a toy car that had been flung petulantly across the room by a bored child; I was in a missile with a mistakenly horizontal flight path; I was immersed in a mathematics formula I’d never learned in school. I was in bloody heaven.
Turn 9’s decreasing radius took us back to start/finish and a cool-down lap. I was bathed in sweat, my brain soaked with endorphins and my body fairly reeking of adrenaline overload. I crawled out of #0 at once glad to be free of the beast and desperately wanting more.
Dick Barbour won that year in another K3, but I hardly remember any of the six-hour race. Deeply etched in memory, though, is my ride that could never happen today on a racetrack that no longer exists.