When we think of all-time great Porsche race drivers legendary European names like Herrmann, Behra and Ickx come to mind. And in discussions of Elford and Bell much is said of European drivers’ contributions to the world of Porsche motorsports. For sure, these legends of motorsport did much to raise the Porsche brand. But what about great Porsche hot shoes from the US? Have they been all but forgotten? We think not!
We believe some of the greatest Porsche race drivers are Americans. If you dig deep to understand the success of Porsche Motorsports around the world, it is evident that American drivers have played a huge role in bringing notoriety to the brand both in the US and abroad.
From Le Mans to Daytona, American drivers have recorded some of the greatest wins in Porsche motorsports history. These drivers are noted as Porsche masters and categorically driven to succeed in Porsche cars and Porsche cars only. They may have had forays into other teams and stints with other manufacturers, but when you think about the great achievements, it’s with Porsche where these drivers made their mark and a large part of how Porsche made their large footprint in global motorsports competition.
To honor great American Porsche race drivers, we put together a brief list of five professional drivers from the good ‘ol USA who piloted Porsches to success in competition all over the world. Here are a our favorites – in no specific order of accomplishment, quickness or greatness.
Mark Donohue – Born Haddon Township, NJ in 1937 – Famous for Driving: 917/10 and the 1,000+ horsepower 917/30 Can-Am car and IROC Carreras. Mark was educated as an engineer, but became a serious driver. He worked with Penske Racing and Helmut Flegl at Porsche to develop some of the most powerful Porsche’s ever including 917/30. He won the inaugural season of the IROC series in a Carrera RSR and set the Closed Course Speed Record at Talladega in the Porsche 917/30 running the car up to 221mph. During the development of the motor for the 917, German Porsche engineers often asked Donohue if the motor finally had enough power. His smug reply was, “it will never have enough power until I can spin the wheels at the end of the straightaway in high gear.” Sadly Donohue died in F1 practice for the Austrian Grand Prix in 1975 shortly after setting the record at Talladega.
Courtesey Nigel Smuckatelli
George Follmer Born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1934 – George Follmer was the 1972 Can-Am Champion standing in for Mark Donohue in the Penske 917/10. Follmer raced extensively in SCCA, NASCAR, dabbled in F1 and other major motosports series. Follmer took the 1976 Trans-Am Championship in the Vasek Polak#16 Porsche 934. Folmer continues to be active in vintage motorsports events keeping his driving skills very sharp. Check him out in this video as he flogs the Bob Akin 935/84 machine around Laguna Seca at the HMSA Charity Invitational.
Courtesy Mike Bryner
Peter Gregg- Born in New York City in 1940 – Peter Gregg was a 4 time winner of the 24 Hours at Daytona. In each of these races he piloted a Porsche. He purchased the Jacksonville, FL Brumos Porsche dealership in the mid 1960s from its original owner and won the 1973 and ’74 Trans-AM Series in his Brumos Porsches. Peter carried the Brumos Porsche racing programs through the 1970s with Hurley Haywood winning the 1975 Camel GT Series in new Carrera RSR. Sadly in 1980 Gregg committed suicide in Florida. It’s rumored that Gregg suffered from Bi-Polar disorder and that injuries which kept him from driving in some races deepened his personal sadness and struggles. His lasting legacy though is the winning years of Brumos Porsche in the world of professional and GT racing. Peter Gregg is forever a hero in the eyes of Porsche Motorsports enthusiasts and a legendary American driver.
Courtesey Nigel Smuckatelli
Hurley Haywood – Born in 1948 in Chicago, Ill. – You can’t discuss Peter Gregg without mentioning Hurley Haywood in the same sentence. You can’t mention American race drivers, endurance drivers or Porsche Motorsports without discussing Hurley Haywood’s impact in the arena. Haywood is the most successful driver ever at 24 Hours of Daytona, with five overall wins and seven class wins. Driving a Porsche, Haywood has taken the checkered flag in three 24 Heures du Mans and two wins at Sebring 12 hours. He’s the winningest endurance racer in history. Some may contend that Haywood’s lengthily career and long list of qualified race entries has afforded him the opportunity and chance to win so many races, but it’s far from chance that one man has accomplished so much behind the wheel of a sports car. The combination of Porsche’s commitment to endurance racing and Haywood’s pure, natural driving skill has lead to this success. For years he has lead Brumos Racing and has been a towering figure in the world of Grand-Am. He also is well known for helping run the Porsche Driving School at Barber Motorsports Park.
Courtesey Nigel Smuckatelli
Patrick Long Born in Thousand Oaks, CA in 1981- Patrick Long is a Porsche works (factory) driver since 2003 and now at Flying Lizard Motorsports. Patrick has 20 GT/GT2 ALMS race wins including one win at Sebring 12h and three wins at Petit Le Mans all culminating in three GT Championships in the American Le Mans Series. He’s also recorded two 24 Heurs Du Mans wins, not to mention a win at Daytona 24. Prior to driving the ever strong GT3RSR for Flying Lizard, Patrick piloted the Porsche RS Spyder campaigned by Penske Racing. Just scratching the surface of what promises to be an amazing career behind the wheel of Weissach-Stuttgart born sports cars, Patrick continues to pilot the #45 Flying Lizard Motorsports GT3 RSR in the 2011 ALMS and ILMC with co-driver Jorg Bergmeister.
In case you haven’t noticed, here at Sports Car Advisors we have a few Porsche fans. We feel it’s worth it to honor these American Porsche driving greats. And, we are sure there other Porsche fans out there who would want to recognize other accomplished drivers – both professional and privateers; amazing drivers like the Holberts, Akin and more. So, who would you nominate as a great American Porsche driver? And, will the USA continue to produce great Porsche drivers for years to come? With the likes of Patrick Long and even newer guys added to the mix like Leh Keen, we certainly think so!