Years1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993
Drivers Cary Eisenlohr Michael de Fontes Ernesto Soto Don Haines Randy Lanier Robert Barg Dave Nicholas Fred Miller Rich Sloma Don Swanson Bob Bergstrom Bill Adam Don Parish Anatoly Arutunoff More to come...
- MY SHORT BUT HIGHLY PRODUCTIVE
RACING CAREER WITH I.M.S.A.
Diane Knight Hewitt
- How long did you do this job?
- For 5 years. 1974- 1979
- Can you tell me how was your typical race day?
- On race day, my day would begin at 8 am when I would meet with my RJReynolds Special Events Team Managers for breakfast at the hotel where were staying. We would drive to the track shortly thereafter. There I would visit the press room, and chat with the press, race officials, and track staff members. I tried to keep the press, drivers & their teams supplied with cigarettes, logo t-shirts, ink pens, refreshments, etc. Then, after a quick stroll around the paddock area and garages visiting drivers and their families, friends, team, and sponsor representatives, an area was of sometimes set up for me to autograph pics for racing fans for an hour or so. I'd make another trip around the paddock area to visit everyone and wish them good luck for the race. Right before the race I occassional rode around the track in the pace car, dropped the checkered flag, or was invited to announce the start of the race. I usually tried to stay out of the way during the race, watching from the Press box, and sometimes was interviewed for a magazine or tv news channel. As the race was ending I would go with my team to Victory Lane to present the trophy or medal, congratulate them with a kiss, and have photos taken with the winners.
- Have you some particular memories?
- My fondest memories were times spent with the drivers and their families at cocktail parties and races. I felt very close to many of them.
- How was your relationship with the drivers?
- I always felt a warm welcome from the drivers, their wives, and their crews at every race. I was often invited to join them in activities outside of racing, but was seldom allowed to go. RJR was quite strict regarding fratinization with drivers and crews to avoid the appearance of favoritism.
- Was it rewarding?
- The relationships created through racing were quite rewarding over all. I had a full-time job Monday through Friday, and used my vacation time to attend races, so I did not have much of a social life during that time in my life outside of racing. I was well compensated monetarily throughout my modeling career, and since the job as "Miss Camel" was through my agency, it was as well.
- Did you enjoy your stay?
- I really enjoyed my time with Camel GT Racing. The only reason I left was.....well, I'll save the juicy details for my book:)
- Did you know John Bishop personally?
- I did know John and Peg Bishop through the IMSA races, but did not spend a lot of time with him personally.
- Have you some pics from this period that I could use?
- I have very few pics of the races. Many were lost over the years, including most of the interviews I did during my racing days. I've had a very blessed life and have been happily married since late 1979 with 3 beautiful girls and 4 grandchildren...but would love to do it all over again!
- Sure, but I was a bit player! I started working for RJR on the Camel GT circuit in mid 1978 at the Brainerd race as their show car driver. Jeff Byrd hired me and Diane was Miss Camel at the time. I generally worked Florida for the 24 hrs and Sebring, then went west for the next eight months, leaving the west coast to do Brainerd, MN and Hallett, OK races. I would sometimes drive the pace car, but usually we had a celebrity of some kind do it for the PR. I gave rides on press day. My first pace car was a Bob Sharp GTU Datsun (with C-Production 2.8 engine in it), later took over a Vasek Polak 934 with the 935 bodywork painted Camel colors. In 1979 we switched sponsorship to Winston & I'm not sure why. Just didn't fit, but we had red and white cigarette pack uniforms in place of the better looking Camel duds. I remember 1979 on the west coast during the oil crisis being a harrowing experience at times, driving a 454ci V8 powered Chevy Suburban pulling a big trailer getting about 6 mpg.
In 1980 RJR pulled out of GT altogether and I spent the year working Winston Cup in the east.
Then we came back strong in 1981 with Camel and the GTP class. It was great fun. The kid, John Paul Jr. was a great addition to the circuit if you could keep his dad away. I really like Junior a lot and always regretted not somehow keeping away from trouble. He was a talented, fearless driver. Brian Redman likewise added a lot to the appeal of the series. I got to know John and Peg and Marshall Bishop (was shocked later to learn Marshall took his own lide), Mark Raffauf, Jack Atkinson, Mike Colucci and the Brumos and crew, David Hobbs, Paul Newman, Bob Sharp, Whittingtons, Holbert, Devendorf, Frisselle.... all the regulars. The best part of the job was victory lane, seeing the jubilation in all those tired bodies up close. I also got to know so many of the promotional folks - Bill Broderick of Union 76, Wolfgang with Bosche, the BBS guys, Jerry Grant of Champion, all the track GMs.... it was a fraternity.
The difference between the well-run teams and the also rans was HUGE. Fans didn't realize that a fancy paint job means nothing. Bruce Levin had a beautiful car and a well funded team, but they weren't real racers. There was a clear line between the Wolleks, Stommelens, Holberts, Haywoods, Greggs and the millionaires who took Bondurant school. But it made it interesting! I witnessed a lot of crashes caused either by backmarkers who did something stupid or by hot shoes in fast cars who did something even MORE stupid. I saw Stommelen's crash at Riverside and the horrifying fiery Kathy Rude crash at Brainerd. I was a friend of Jim Fitzgerald and it was devastating to hear that he had died.
I left RJR in 1982, but stayed on the circuit for two more seasons with FMI, a marketing company that put up the huge Camel tent in the infield. From 84-91 I worked freelance for Ken Squire's Motorweek productions, doing stats and graphic assist on the broadcasts. I worked part time at Road Atlanta from 84-86 with Janet Upchurch who was employed by the Whittingtons.
By far I think the heyday of IMSA was when we saw the Jags, Vander Merwe in the Corvette, the Nissan GTP and the Eagle Toyota racing with the 962 Porsches. Every race was a sprint, run at Can Am speed.
- Here are some of the beginings that I recall. I knew John Bishop from SCCA days and his marketing man was Dick Gilmartin. Dick called me and asked if I would join the new race org. called IMSA. My # 6 licence was the first issued after the Bishop family took the first 5.
In 1972 the Baby Grand BFG series started and I was a Toyota dealer and took my wifes Celica and had Ray Heppenstall (Howmet turbine fame) build me a race car. Our first outing was at Daytona where I was on the pole won one sprint race then lost to Amos Johnson's Gremlin. The first IMSA enduro was run at Mid Ohio in 1972 and it was a 6 hour Baby Grand race which I won giving Toyota its first Pro win worldwide.
That is it for now. Next car was a 1976 Gremlin then an all new 1978 Toyoya Corolla.
After a few years off to go back to SCCA in FF open wheel racing, I headed back to the now called Radial Challenge Series. Toyota wanted nothing to do with racing so I bought George Alderman's Gremlin which had dominated the series in 1975. Right after my purchase IMSA put a restrictor on the carburetor taking away about 20HP. That was a great year as I finished 4th in the championship that had America's top drivers competing, including. Gene Felton,Nick Craw,Amos Johnson among others. At a race in Ontario Calif. on the starting grid were 11 past SCCA Natl Champs, unbelievable. The racing that year was WILD.
I will dig out some old programs and get some more names and info.
Am racing my RX-8 this weekend so next week more stuff.
- I was involved with three different race teams during the 1973 through 1979 seasons, and worked with the following drivers: John O'Steen, John Graves and Dave Helmick , Ecurie Escargot Racing; John Paul Sr. and John Paul Jr. JLP Racing; Clif Kearns and Milt Minter, Desperado Racing.
I was acquainted with John O'Steen through a mutual employer. John invited me to join him at the 1973 Mid Ohio race and I helped out as a crew member on the Ecurie Escargot team. I was invited to join the team at future races as a volunteer crew member. I quickly made friends with the IMSA people including John and Peggy Bishop and Howard Daugherty, the Chief Technical Inspector. I often worked with Howard in "Tech", inspecting the cars when he was short-handed.
My involvement with Ecurie Escargot spanned the 1973 through 1976 seasons. I was informed that the team was not sufficiently funded for the 1977 season, and would not compete. When Hurley showed up with sponsorship money he joined the team in John O'Steen's seat and they won the 1977 Daytona 24 Hours. John O'Steen had signed on with JLP Racing for the '77 Daytona 24 Hrs, and I again joined him when John Paul added me to the JLP Crew. I grew a bit uncomfortable with the JLP team atmosphere and took an opportunity to join Desperado Racing with Clif Kearns and Milt Minter for several races in 1979.
The race in Mexico City was quite different in many ways from U.S, events. It is easy to understand why IMSA did not schedule another event there. Some of it is funny, some not so funny, but interesting, no less.
I particularly enjoyed working with Milt Minter at Desperado Racing. After the November race at Daytona, Cliff announced that we were all invited to a dinner party to celebrate Milt's birthday. When I questioned Milt about the date of his birth, I discovered that he and I were born on the very same day (11/23/1933).
In 1979 I also worked as a crew for John O'Steen at several races in SCCA. John had restored an E-Production Porsche Speedster, and was contending for the National Champion ships in Atlanta. The E-production National Championship was won by John O'Steen in 1981.
You can view stories by Gerry Saddlemire in the Articles page.