Welcome to the IMSA History unofficial website

This site is aimed at bringing you memories from the glory days of sportscar racing in the US.

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"We were a very small team. Jiri Nechleba was the boss and owner of Autosport by Jiri. He and his family walked out of Czechaslovakia after the Communists came in 1945. He went to work as an apprentice for Porsche and earned his mechanics level before immigrating to the US in the early 50's. Jiri enlisted in the Army and fought in Korea. When he returned to upstate NY he immediately got a job at Henry Carroll - a dealer for literally everything - in Vestal, NY. Vestal was an up and coming suburb of Binghamton, NY and very close to Endicott, NY which was the home of another upstart - IBM. Henry Carroll sold MG's, Porsche, Jaguar, Renault, Triumph and every other import except Volkswagen. Jiri was by far the finest mechanic in the area and people brought him Porsche's from miles away. In the early 60's when Watkins Glen became the US Grand Prix Porsche never failed to hire him for the weekend. In '62 Count Carel Godin deBeaufort tried to hire Jiri full-time to return to Europe and handle his GP and Sports Car teams. Jiri decided to stay in the US. About 1969 Jiri put some money together and went to Max Hoffman and bought the franchise for the little known BMW. Jiri had followed BMW and Porsche and knew that BMW was a quality manufacturer and bet his future they would be successful. By the time the 1970 came around his dealership was flourishing and Jiri went back to his racing roots. He had been building Formula Vee motors and maintaining some local Porsche racers for years. BMW was making noises in Europe with their 1800TISA saloons and the new 1600 and 2002 were beginning to have some success as well.

In 1971 one of his mechanics, Fran Larkin, proposed the dealership sponsor him in a 2002 race car. Jiri agreed and a car was built with Larkin as the driver. For some reason the deal never worked out and in 1972 Jiri made a deal with Formula Vee national champion John Magee to drive the car - a 1600TI. Jiri was convinced the smaller motor with less weight was the way to go rather than the heavier but more powerful 2 liter. The first race out at a Trans-Am at Lime Rock in the spring of 1972 a left rear stub axel broke, Magee rolled the car into a ball and the new race team's car was demolished. It was just a few weeks when Jiri started talking with a local racer and employee Dave Nicholas and decided to built another car. Everything that could be salvaged from the 1600 was taken out. The motor, gearbox and rollcage were about all, and the team took a used '69 2002 and started from scratch. Hoffman Motors was the BMW distributor for the USA. In 1972 the factory was only starting to take notice of the US market. Jiri had longtime friends inside Hoffman and the old man himself remembered Jiri from the early import days at Henry Carroll. With a few wellplaced calls and visits, AutoSport by Jiri became the defacto BMW factory team and boxes started showing up mysteriously from Hoffman.

By late summer the new car was built and ready to go. The first stop was the new IMSA Camel GT race at Watkins Glen. You must realize that Watkins Glen was the home course of Magee and Nicholas who were to co-drive the car and only 60 miles from AutoSport's dealership. Jiri had decided to stay with the 1600 and magically, it worked. Nicholas led the class easily for the first hour and kept waiting to be called in for fuel. Mark Scarano, one of the mechanics and future BMW racer was pushing Jiri to bring the car in but the Czech was so unbelievably happy that just months after seeing his beautiful car smashed beyond repair that one of his creations was leading a professional race. As the car passed well over an hour into the race, Jiri signaled Nicholas to come in and alerted the crew to get ready. But his joy was shortlived when the 1600 sputtered to a stop at the most remote possible place on the course - the toe of the boot. Dave pulled the car far off the course next to a spectator fence and got out. Pumped with adrenaline (as everybody who ever raced can understand) he set off into the spectator area asking if anyone had gasoline. Problem was he forgot to take his full face helmet off so what he was yelling was barely able to be heard !! Finally a ponytailed dude brought a one gallon can from his VW camper and gave it to Nicholas. He went back to the car, pushed open the fuel cell inlet and dumped the gas into the car. Before he went on his mission, Dave told the communications and flagging station to radio back the car was fine, but had run out of gas. So unknown to him, Gordy Ruston had hopped on his motorcycle with a gallon gas from the pits and had headed out to find the thirsty BMW. Nicholas jumped back in the car, hit both electric fuel pump switches, waited until the gauges showed pressure and fired the motor. The monster 45 DCOE webers responded and the car fired. As he slid the car around on the grass - Ruston showed up holding the can of gas and waved goodbye. Nicholas got the car back to the pits, it was refueled and Magee headed out. The car finished the race fast and strong, but the laps lost were too much to make up and AutoSports return was a 5th place.

The last race for 1972 was another Camel GT IMSA race at Bryar in New Hampshire. Here, the 1600 was no match for the acceleration the 2 liters had and after a long, wonderful battle between Nicholas and Phil Dermer's 2002, the little car was 3rd. Two races and two great results for basically a local garage. Granted it was run and engineered by a highly skilled, creative and innovative genius and nicely supported by the US importer, but this car was put together with labor and love, and not very much money. But it was quick and reliable and we were going to the 2 liter for 1973."


Dave Nicholas at Lime Rock 1973.