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Lindley Tastes the Rush of Success : Lighter Engine Gives Him a Boost in Trans-Am Standings

June 27, 1986|STEVE KRESAL

Les Lindley, like some businessmen, has to work weekends. But he trades his usual dress pants, shirt and shined shoes for a fireproof suit, boots and crash helmet.

No longer does he sit in the comfort of his air-conditioned office; instead, he's crammed into the driver's seat of his Camaro where the temperature can reach 130 degrees in his fire suit as he races at average speeds of nearly 100 m.p.h. around the various tracks that make up the Sports Car Club of American Trans-Am racing circuit.

Since 1981, Lindley, 45, who owns a fire sprinkler company in Anaheim, has traveled from Riverside to Lime Rock, Conn., to St. Petersburg and all the series stops in between enjoying the camaraderie of the 13-race circuit.

What the Fullerton resident wasn't enjoying during the last five seasons was success. He has finished no higher than fourth in a race and floundered in the overall standings. Before 1985, he had finished no better than 15th.

Last season, Lindley's car held together most of the season and the team finally enjoyed some measure of success, finishing 10th overall.

Lindley also was voted the Most Improved Driver of 1985 on the circuit.

"I just enjoy the challenge of it," Lindley said. "When you go into a corner and come out just right, it's a great sensation. You just can't explain it to other people. It's like sky diving or something, you just can't explain it. But something about doing it right is just outstanding."

Lindley isn't relaxing and remembering the glory of last season, though. This season, he switched to a V-6 engine in an effort to get a quicker car that would be able to travel faster in the turns, but without the V-8 Lindley gave up the ability to make up distance in the straights. He is one of only four drivers using the smaller engine.

The gamble on the less powerful but lighter and quicker car has paid off. After the first four races this season, Lindley is third in the series overall point standings.

He has finished fourth twice--Riverside and Sears Point, Calif., and fifth twice--Portland and Detroit.

The next stop on the circuit for Lindley is the Mid-Ohio race in Lexington on July 13.

"We're relatively happy with it (the V-6 engine)," said Pat McFall, Lindley's crew chief. "I don't know if we have the power we need, but all and all it's working out thus far this season."

Lindley's decision to change to the smaller engine might have turned up some noses along the way but he's in a unique position as a driver. Compliments of the success of his business, Lindley is able to sponsor his own effort.

"It all comes out of my pocket," he said. "It's pretty hard to find sponsors who are willing to foot the whole bill anymore, though. Anyway, I just love the sport."

Said McFall: "He (Lindley) is just a guy who digs racing. Some people have their boats or horses of whatever, and Les (Lindley) has his cars."

Lindley's early racing days began at the most basic level--the soap box derby. As a teen-ager, he advanced to Lion's Drag Strip in Long Beach while in high school. But that was interrupted when his father moved the family to Utah in the mid 1950s.

"Dad was pretty hard on me about speeding," Lindley said. "I quickly learned that by keeping my foot off the gas you stay out of trouble. The track was for driving fast and that's fine with me. . . . I get all my frustrations out on the track. By the time I drive home for work every night I feel pretty calm.

"In fact, I think the track might be safer--at least everyone is going the same direction, or at least they are 99% of the time anyway."

Racing took a back seat in Lindley's life after he married and started to raise a family.

Then, in 1972, he ventured back into racing with the purchase of a 289 Cobra. Soon he was on the vintage car racing circuit and eventually moved up to the Trans-Am level.

Lindley doesn't see life on the circuit as a source of eternal youth. He realizes that one day his reflexes will have slipped to the point where retiring will be the smart path to follow. But for Lindley, it will only be a retirement from driving; he would like to stay involved in the racing game.

"Somewhere down the road, maybe in a year of two, I will get out of the driving part of it," Lindley said. "But maybe there is a young driver out there who will need someone to run his team. I would like to do that. I just love racing and I want to stay involved with the cars and the people."

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