Gray Tiger Plans To Roar In Grand-Am
But even a Tiger starts out as a small cub
© Andrew S. Hartwell
The Grand-Am Daytona Prototypes series is beginning to
attract a lot of interest from current teams at various levels
within the sport of racing. While some pundits consider the
series to be small in stature, when contrasted with the ALMS’
more traditional approach to sportscar racing, there is an emerging trend slowly taking shape. Privateers who would have otherwise chosen to compete at levels below the Grand-Am and ALMS prototypes are slowly deciding the DP concept may offer them an opportunity to go racing 'big time'.
Some of the smaller teams that run in series such as Grand Am Cup, Ferrari Challenge and SPEED Challenge are considering growing into the DP class. (SpeedSource and Cegwa Sport come immediately to mind.) Other teams that have run in both ALMS and GA events are also considering the growth potential of the Grand-Am DP concept. That potential has not gone unrecognized by the people who build the cars. Established racecar constructors like Dave Klym at Fabcar, and Kevin Doran of Doran Engineering (among others) have jumped in with welding torches ablaze to produce DPs for customers.
And then there is the brand new constructor, someone like Terry Rohr, who considers the DP idea to be the best thing to come along in his lifetime. He told us. “I think that getting the smaller teams and constructors on board is the right way to go.” Rohr sees this series as his chance to realize a lifelong dream. That dream is to be in the car-building business 'big time'. And he has both a plan and a goal for making that dream come true.
Rohr's ambitions may best be described by this quote:
“The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication." - Cecil B. DeMille
After spending some time talking with Terry Rohr, it is apparent that he is in possession of an unswerving commitment to build a Daytona Prototype – the Rohr RO1 – and despite numerous obstacles to overcome; he intends to keep applying an ever-bigger effort to the task.
Not being aware of his history in the sport, we asked Rohr to tell us a bit about his background.
“I’m 49 years old, married, and I have lived in the Phoenix (Arizona, USA) area for about 35 years. My education includes a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering from Arizona State University, a Masters in Aeronautical Science and another in Business Administration from Embry-Riddle University. I’ve worked in the aerospace industry for the last 24 years.
“My racing background goes all the way back to my childhood when my dad would take me to the races. I have been interested in racing every since I can remember. My dad liked all kinds of racing. There was a track in Illinois, called Meadowdale Raceway, that I can recall being at when I was really young! My first memories are of being at that track.
“Dad also enjoyed the midgets and sprints so I was exposed to midget racing at a very early age as well. When I was 13, we decided it was time to stop watching racing and get involved. We started by racing go-karts. That was in 1967 and I raced them until 1972. At that point I wanted to go sportscar racing so I attended the Jim Russell School at Willow Springs Raceway.
“That really got me hooked on sportscar racing! At that point in my life, I was going to school and didn’t have a lot of money so the racing got put on hold. In 1977 I bought a Lotus 20 Formula B car. I ran some hill climbs and local races here in Phoenix and then went through my first SCCA driver’s school with it. I soon realized there was more upkeep required with the car than I was capable of doing at the time. I didn’t have a lot of money and the car was just taking more and more of it.
“I ended up selling the car and buying a showroom stock car. I ran that in SCCA Regional and National races beginning in 1979 and I have been racing with them ever since. I raced primarily in Showroom Stock cars and then, during the last 10 years, I have also run a lot of Production and GT category races. I have qualified and competed in 29 SCCA National Championship races, starting in 1980 through to last year.
“I have never driven in Grand-Am or the ALMS. Professionally, I have done some professional showroom stock racing back in the time when it was the Playboy series (now known as the SPEED World Challenge). I also was involved for a few years with the Golf Cup that Volkswagen put together when they switched from the Rabbit to the Golf. That really is the only professional racing that I have done.”
Without a background in racing at a professional level, we wondered how Rohr could expect to go from being a racecar driver to becoming a racecar constructor.
“I have always been interested in building my own car. I have always wanted to do that. I took a lot of aerospace classes that were tailored to aerodynamics. I wanted to be able to use that knowledge to help in building a racecar.”
OK, that explains the ambition but why now? Why start with a Daytona Prototype?
“When Grand-Am announced the rules in January of 2002, I took a hard look at it and realized it was my opportunity as this was the kind of car I could build. It didn’t have a carbon fiber chassis or lots of high tech components. The tube frame chassis was something I was familiar with and the low-tech end of it really made it appealing. I always wanted to build a racecar and I felt this was the right time to try.
“What also appeals to me, besides the wonderful opportunity to build my first car, is that Grand-Am looked at what was going on in sportscar racing and they decided to do something completely different and start over from scratch. The NASCAR ties really tell me they have people behind them who really want this thing to work. People who know how to do what it takes. Whether they can tailor that experience to a sportscar series remains to be seen, but I am confident they will succeed.
“My company, Rohr Racing – the company I have raced under for the last 24 years – is building the car. Currently the shop is located at my home in an area we set up for its construction. We are in the process of looking at leasing or building a proper shop in the near future. My staff is small with my wife Lisa, and two brothers, Richard and Mike, helping me build the first chassis. Most of my racing history includes support from friends and family.”
What you are saying is you are really at the ground floor with this.
“Yes, we are definitely starting at the bottom!”
How will you build your dream? And what is the connection between Rohr Racing, the Rohr RO1 Daytona Prototype, and Gray Tiger Racing?
“Gray Tiger Racing is a public corporation we incorporated here in Phoenix in March 2002. We set it up for two reasons. The first is we needed an avenue where we could display the Rohr RO1. Having never built a car before and having no history, there was no way we could go out and sell these cars to people. They have to see that the car is actually capable of being competitive. The first step was to come up with a way of doing that. We decided to incorporate and build the race team around that.
“The second thing we tried to do was find a way to get people aware of Grand-Am, the Daytona Prototypes, and our team. I’m really sold on the Daytona Prototype concept. I think it is going to be a good series and I wanted to try to get that out to people. What we did was set up the corporation and decide to actually give the stock away. That way we felt the fans would feel they had a vested interest in the team and would be more inclined to follow us in the series. By giving the shares away, we felt we would be able to get more people who weren’t already race fans to become race fans.”
What is your vehicle for getting the word out there about this unique marketing idea?
“At this point the primary vehicle is our web site www.graytigerracing.com. A few months ago we hired a gentleman by the name of Nick Howard to be our Director of Sales and Marketing. He has been trying to get the word out on what it is we are trying to do. He is actively engaged in that now.
”To date, beginning in April of this year, we have handed out 300 shares of the stock. We are authorized to offer 250,000 shares in total. Anyone interested can get more information on our current website. We have a new website under construction, one we think will be more interactive and better support our goal to get people on board with us. Questions, suggestions and ideas will be welcomed. And we will have a way for people to help us find sponsors by offering ‘finders fees’ for any leads that they give us that result in our securing sponsors.”
Do you walk the paddock at Grand-Am races talking up the project?
“My wife and I have made it to three races this year. We are also planning on going to VIR and maybe set up a display. We also have a few smaller sponsors helping us with some things but no big name sponsor is on board as of yet. We really want to get the word out about Gray Tiger Racing to racers and non-racers alike. Some of the things we are looking to do in the future include setting up a hospitality tent at the races to handout information and answer fans questions, holding parties and autograph sessions so the fans can meet the drivers and team members, and offering merchandise giveaways”
When the car is built, will it essentially be a factory effort, until and if it becomes a proven commodity on the track? And then do you plan on selling additional cars to interested parties, becoming a full-fledged constructor?
“That is correct.”
When will the first car be on the track?
“Our goal has been to try and have it on the track by the end of the year so that we could be prepared for the Rolex 24 hours next year. At this point, that doesn’t really look like it is going to happen, unless we come up with some funding in the next month or so. Without that, we are probably looking at next spring before the car hits the track.”
Have you talked with, or compared notes with, any of the other DP constructors?
“I have talked with Dave Klym at Fabcar on several occasions. In fact, Fabcar may end up doing some of the suspension work on this car. He seemed to feel he could help us in that area."
Have you ever considered starting out by having a company like Fabcar build the first chassis, using your designs?
“Well, it is partially an economic issue and partially an ego thing, in that this has been a dream of mine to design and build a car. The designing part is done but I would like to finish it up and do the building part too.”
You seem intent on running a Honda motor in the car. Why is that?
“We are planning on running with a Honda V6 engine. We have been talking to a couple of engine builders about doing that. We feel the Honda engine ties in with our goal to get the word out about this type of racing. There is a big Honda following with the kids. They love their Honda street cars – the ones people sometimes refer to as ‘rice rockets’ – and we are trying to draw on that market and get more of them interested in racing.
“The Honda engine is currently on a list of engines to be looked at by Grand-Am. We are still trying to figure out how to get enough horsepower out of it to make it feasible. Grand-Am is looking for 450 – 500 horsepower. We are at about 440 at the moment. And you really can’t do much with the build of the car to overcome that deficit, given the parameters of the rules. We do feel that the motor would have a slight advantage in fuel mileage though.
“We have talked to Honda several times about using their engine. At first they were a bit hesitant about getting involved with the Daytona Prototypes, but Nick has been talking with them. They have now agreed that they will make an effort to lend us some moderate support.”
Once you reach a level of success with this effort, do you ever see a time when a DP team could turn a NASCAR-type profit in this series?
“Boy, I hope it gets to that point but I suspect it will be several years before we see that. When the sponsors are ready to step up to the series like they do with NASCAR, well maybe then. I am hoping that the NASCAR expertise and history that is working with Grand-Am will provide a similar game plan for the Daytona Prototype series.”
There you have it. Terry Rohr is a racer with a dream. One could suggest his dream parallels that of the Grand-Am in that both plan to start off small and grow to become a success. And like Grand-Am, he is starting out with an all-new platform.
"You measure the size of the accomplishment by the obstacles you had to overcome
to reach your goals." - Booker T. Washington
Getting to his goal point will not be without sacrifice. There are many obstacles to overcome. But after talking with him, one senses that, in time, those obstacles will become memories. And the Rohr RO1 will come roaring to life. And this soon to be middle-aged racer will make his mark in professional racing. And his struggles today will make him stronger for tomorrow.
Don't be surprised if this small tiger cub isn't one day showing its claws to the competition.