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THE NEW KID ON THE RACING BLOCK : Wally Dallenbach Jr. Is the Latest Driving Son to Follow in His Father's Lead-Footsteps

August 24, 1986|SHAV GLICK | Times Staff Writer

After the modifieds, Dallenbach switched to Bilstein Rabbits in 1982 and was named rookie of the year in the SCCA's secondary series. The following year he shared a ride with Whitney Ganz and Dennis Aase in Dan Gurney's Toyota Celica, winning the GTU class in the Times/Datsun six-hour race at Riverside. Despite that victory, plus several good finishes in Trans-Am and Can-Am races, Dallenbach couldn't get a competitive ride for the 1984 season.

"If you didn't have $300,000 to buy yourself a ride, it was nothing doing," he said. "Dad said I ought to take a chance in the Trans-Am with a shoestring operation and hope I'd get noticed. As usual, he was right. He bought a DeAtley Camaro and ran the team out of the ranch in Basalt. We called it the Colorado Connection.

"Dad was too busy with his own work to go with us, so I headed out with my sister Colleen and my sister's fiance as my crew. None of us were over 22 and there we were, in with the big boys. We went to Atlanta for the first race without a sponsor and finished fourth.

"Jim Trueman (owner of the Mid-Ohio track and sponsor of Bobby Rahal's Indianapolis 500 winner before he died last June) gave us a hand financially, and pretty soon we were getting product help like tires and oil and shocks from the manufacturers."

Dallenbach and his Colorado Connection finished the season fourth in the standings--the first Chevy behind Ford factory drivers Tom Gloy, Greg Pickett and Willy T. Ribbs. The Colorado Connection also raised a few eyebrows by beating the factory-backed Camaro driven by David Hobbs and Darin Brassfield. Dallenbach was named rookie of the year and, as his father had said, was noticed.

Ford tabbed him to drive a Protofab Capri in 1985 and as co-driver of a GTO Mustang in International Motor Sports Assn. events.

"The last couple of years, Dad has been so busy he couldn't make many of my races, but we always talked over my career moves," Dallenbach said. "He always gives me a different perspective. When all I can see are the red roses, he brings me back down to earth.

"One guy who really helped us in '84 was Dennis Aase. I met him when I drove for Gurney in the Celica and he traveled with us part of the season. It was like having a coach right along with me."

Aase is a veteran sports car driver from Orange who has won 13 IMSA races in Porsches and Toyotas.

The 1984 season was also the one in which Wally met Robin McCall.

"We started talking one day at Elkhart Lake, where the Indy cars and the Trans-Am ran on the same program at Road America. She was a pace car driver for CART. We met again at Green Valley (Tex.), and then in Las Vegas I asked her out to dinner. She was as ornery as I was at dinner, so we figured we were a good match. We've been together ever since."

Robin drives an '87 Oldsmobile Calais in the Kelly American Challenge series. In her first race this season she finished fifth, beating, among others, veteran stock car driver Hershel McGriff.

"We've never raced together, but I'd like to drive a GTO car with her at Daytona in the 24 Hour race, or maybe Sebring," Dallenbach said. "That would be great fun if we can work it out with our other schedules."

Dallenbach won both at Daytona and Sebring in 1985, driving a Ford with John Jones of Canada in the GTO class. He and Jones won three other IMSA events, which helped Jones to the championship and a berth on the racing writers' All-American team.

Dallenbach, however, had his big moment in 1985 at Portland International Raceway June 15, driving a Mercury Capri to his first solo victory as a professional.

"It was like climbing the highest mountain," he said. "It took so much pressure off me, wondering if I would ever win, and knowing a lot of other people were wondering the same thing. The way I won it, too, was great. I had Willy T. (Ribbs) on my back bumper the last 20 laps. He was right on my tail, waiting for me to make a mistake, but I didn't."

Dallenbach also finished first at Detroit in a race through the streets but was disqualified for having too light a car. He came back to win officially at Road America, Watkins Glen, N.Y.; Mosport, Canada, and St. Louis, earning $123,583 and beating out Ribbs, his teammate, for the series championship.

"I wanted to move on this year," he said. "I didn't think I had much more to prove in Trans-Am. I wanted to get in a strong GTP program, but when I heard Protofab was switching from Ford to Chevy, I decided it would be worthwhile staying in Trans-Am because it's important to be with a Protofab-type team. It's been a good switch."

Charley Selix, the car owner, likes Dallenbach's attitude, and if Protofab gets into Indy cars, Dallenbach will be the unknown factor.

His father, who would be the man to pass on Wally Jr.'s qualifications before his first Indy car race, foresees no problem.

"He'll do all right," said CART's No. 1 man at the track. "It's quite a jump from Trans-Am to Indy cars, but I stepped up from sprint cars and midgets straight to Indy, and it worked out.

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