Racers After 5:00

Aase Brothers’ grassroots IMSA GTU race car returns to the track

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October 7, 2013

We were junkyard guys, but we were pretty clever…and my brother was an outstanding driver! We had one motivation, and that was to win. On a race weekend, we would drive the truck all night on Thursday and practice on Friday. There was very little testing. We didn’t have a lot of money and we had to work. We were racers after 5:00.”

Randall Aase (pronounced Ahh-see) fondly recalls the time he and his brother Dennis raced in the IMSA series in the 1970s. They were the prototypical small-time operation, punching above their weight thanks to perseverance and creativity. Aase Brothers Racing started with an early 911 campaigned out of their Porsche salvage yard in Southern California. That car was eventually traded to California Porsche dealer Don Burns in exchange for a 908 that was more technical than his own mechanics could deal with. While playing with the 908, the brothers Aase also built another 911 racer based on a relatively stock shell that had been extensively acid-dipped for lightness.

Randy recalls, “That car was paper thin and had a pretty short shelf life. Meanwhile, the competition was closing in on us rapidly. Nissan, or Datsun as they were known then, had one hell of a race car in the 240Z. So, we had to step it up…but we were the kind of people that liked to do that anyway.”

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“Stepping it up” resulted in the IMSA GTU car featured here. The Aases began with an old body—believed to have been a ’74—dragged out of the wrecking yard. Utilizing what had already been learned with their old race cars, what they saw in the 934s and 935s coming out of Weissach, and some pointers from people like Peter Gregg of Brumos fame, the brothers started cutting and fabricating.

“We had some trick stuff—a nice aluminum pedal cluster (a 935 piece), spherical rod ends in the rear control arms, and boxed multiple pickup points so that the suspension could be adjusted. We wanted to get the car sitting as low as possible. We weren’t engineers by any means; we were working with tape measures. That’s the way racing was in those days. But we had a lot of good help!”

Indeed they did. One friend was an aerospace modeler, and he would occasionally bring over one of his colleagues, an aerospace aerodynamicist who aided with the aero on the car. One specific area of assistance was a custom air box sealing the induction system to the grille on the tail. Sadly, this is one of the only pieces from the original car that is unaccounted for today.

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Beneath that air box was a state of the art 2.5-liter flat six. The car was originally built with carburetors, but the increased grip of the new chassis and wider tires created higher g-loading in the corners, and fuel starvation became an issue. Desperate for a fix, the Aase’s welded oversized float bowls to the carbs with little improvement. Something better was needed.

Randall recalls, “At the time, we had a 911R in our shop. I believe it had been the Cuffy Crabbe car. [Cullen “Cuffy” Crabbe was a child actor and the son of renowned actor Buster Crabbe of Tarzan and Flash Gordon fame] It had a slide-valve injection system on it, so we stole that and put our Webers on the 911R.” Problem solved!

Initially the car was campaigned under the Aase-Meister banner, “Meister” referring to Howard Meister, a Southern California home builder who had worked with the Aases on a previous race car. Meister had a brand-new 911 race car built for the IMSA GTO class (over 2.5 liter). The partnership started with a shared paint schemes, a shared race shop and Meister agreed to haul both of the cars to the races.

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The team relationship with Meister lasted about as long as a Hollywood marriage. Dennis Aase recalls, “Howard brought people in to run his car and he would have me sit in on meetings that they were having and act as the “devil’s advocate”, which put me in constant conflict with those folks. At the very first race we did, out at Riverside, I ended up going home and getting my truck and trailer to tow my car home and that was the end of that.” Randall remembers the incident, but remarked while chuckling, “We aren’t grudgy people. We just had lunch with Howard a few months ago.”

Shortly after this incident, Alan Johnson, a former racer himself and now the owner of a San Diego Porsche dealership as well as aftermarket company AJ USA, offered to provide transportation and other support for the campaign in exchange for sponsorship.

With the support from Johnson and a lot of hard work by the Aase’s, the GTU car was fairly successful against very stiff competition. There were very few teething problems when it was debuted. The most significant issue was rear tire wear. The low ride height resulted in an extreme drive axle angle and excessive negative camber was needed to make the CV joints last. After the first race, the rear of the car was blown apart and the transaxle flipped upside down a la 935, straightening the axle geometry and solving the problem.

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The next glitch was when aluminum roll cages were outlawed by IMSA shortly after completion and the brand new cage had to be cut out and replaced with a chromoly cage. Aside from that, the car had very few problems. Randall reiterates the respect he has for his brother: “It was a difficult car to drive [likely due to the locked rear diff] and had to be muscled around by a very good driver. Not everything worked as well as we hoped when we built it (laughing), but it was a pretty good car.”

An outing at Road Atlanta stands out in Dennis’ mind. He recalls, “During qualifying, it started drizzling while we were on pre-grid, so I knew I better make that first lap count. It was a good lap, but I crossed the finish line going backwards! This was back when the pits were on the outside of the track. On the inside was an Armco fence and a tree, and I barely missed them. I spun the whole length of the straightaway on the grass on the inside of the track. It finally stopped in the river that was on the inside of turn 1. It had been raining a lot, and the river was quite high. Water was coming over the doors! Randy, my brother, worked all night getting the salamanders out of the motor and stuff like that!”

The Aases raced the car for parts of four seasons before Dennis moved on to a BMW M1, racing in the IMSA GTO class. Randall recalls, “The Mazdas had pretty much taken over and left us in their wake.”

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The GTU car, having been sold off to an amateur racer by the name of Chad Siva, surfaced a couple times at Southern California tracks and then faded into oblivion. Yet, this was a car that hadn’t been totally forgotten by those who had seen it race…and for good reason. The Aase brothers were known for building tidy and attractive race cars, and they had pulled out all the stops when it came time to build this one.

Rennsport Reunions have had the feeling of an old class reunion, and there are cars that you expect to see at every event: Gulf 917s, Rothman 956s, Martini 935s…the automotive equivalent of the prom queen and the star quarterback. Everyone loves the elite championship cars, and it wouldn’t be a Rennsport Reunion without them. Yet, there are other cars, too, all of them special in their own way. Occasionally you turn the corner and lay eyes upon a car that hadn’t crossed your mind in a long time, a car that may have rocked your world long ago but had drifted away into obscurity.

This is exactly what happened in 2011, when people stepped into one of the paddock aisles at Laguna Seca and saw the freshly restored Aase Brothers IMSA GTU car pitted near the end. The comments consistently expressed excitement and surprise: “Oh wow, I haven’t seen that car in decades. I had forgotten all about it!” And, “I saw that car race at Riverside; it was one of my favorites.” Even, “I helped work on that car when it was being built. I never expected to see it here.”

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Even Dennis Aase got in on the action, remarking that even though he knew the car was being restored, he hadn’t expected to see it at Rennsport and had been completely surprised when he rounded the corner and saw it for the first time.

Two years earlier, Ron Thomas was killing an evening sipping a cocktail and trolling around on the various Porsche-based internet message boards when he stumbled upon an old race car for sale. The car looked vaguely familiar but didn’t really excite him too much. What did excite him was the price tag, which was significantly less than the factory slide-valve throttle bodies and special Bosch injection pump were worth. As quickly as possible, he reached out to the owner and made a deal for the car, which ended up including several sets of wheels, extra bodywork and a pile of other vintage racing bits.

Through the entire buying process, Ron was just concerned with the fuel-injection parts. His intent: remove the engine and set it aside for some future project. The rolling chassis could then be sold off in order to recoup some of the investment. After all, it was just a tired old race car that had been haphazardly updated with slant-nose-style fenders, chunky boxed rockers scabbed onto the sides, and an oversized whale-tail hanging off the back. Most of the fiberglass panels were cracked, and underneath things were not much better. The floor pan was wrinkled and twisted like an old candy wrapper, having been skipped and skidded across every race-track berm from coast to coast. Sweetening the deal even more was the mummified rat carcass wrapped around the pedal cluster.

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Looking closer, the quality workmanship and fabrication hidden beneath the age and wear became more evident. Now, describing Ron as a “fan” of Porsches is like saying that Liberace admired sequins or that Charlie Sheen enjoys…well, never mind that. Ron really likes Porsches! For some time he had wanted to add a car with period racing history to his already impressive collection. The workmanship and his growing understanding of the provenance of his newly purchased gem made him step back and rethink the plan. One of the final shoves in the right direction came when Ron noticed that the Aase GTU car was still featured heavily in AIR Fiberglass advertising, and that the company still had the original molds for all of the panels used first by the Aase Brothers on this very car.

And so the project began. While there was the typical restoration elbow grease needed (new floors, painting, plating), there wasn’t a tremendous amount of detective work and parts hunting required. Remarkably, the car as-found still wore the same paint on the main tub that had been applied in 1977, making that part of the project simple to replicate. The roll cage, suspension and even the steering wheel and most of the gauges were just as the Aase Brothers had installed back in the ’70s.

Interestingly, Ron had already developed a good business relationship with the third Aase brother, Dave, who had been the “parts” guy of the family and who still maintained a healthy internet Porsche parts business. Dave encouraged Ron to reach out to Dennis to get more history on the car and vet the details. Ron printed off a stack of photographs of the details of the car and mailed them to Dennis, who generously scribbled notes identifying what was original and what wasn’t before mailing them back to Ohio.

The restoration was completed in 2010 and the car was shaken down a few times at Mid-Ohio Raceway, dialing in the handling and gear ratios. In 2011, Ron’s application for the Rennsport Reunion was approved…the Aase Brothers GTU was going back to Laguna Seca! The Reunion was a spectacular success. Not only was the car reunited with its original driver, but Ron was able to hustle it around the fabled California track at a very respectable pace. Lumped in with much more powerful 934s and 935s, the little 2.5 liter GTU car was one of the highest qualifying normally aspirated cars in the class, this despite the rest of the N.A. cars being larger than 3.0 liters! Making this even more impressive was that Ron had never seen Laguna Seca, let alone driven it.

The story continues to evolve. In September 2011, Dave Aase suddenly and tragically passed away at his shop in North Carolina. Unable to deal with thousands of Porsche parts on the opposite side of the country, his family reached out to Ron and negotiated with him to purchase the parts stock as well as a couple of Dave’s personal cars. The parts business now operates out of Columbus Ohio as “Aase Sales,” and Ron continues to grow it, specializing in NOS and hard-to-find parts. Dennis and Randall Aase are still in Southern California and still heavily involved in building and racing Porsches. Without a doubt, the Aase name will continue to be woven throughout Porsche history for many years to come.

Also from Issue 214

  • You'll never miss the third pedal
  • A ’78 911 in name only
  • A "modern" 356 and Ruf's own 911
  • Hail to Porsche's Design Chief
  • Jeff Zwart's "hybrid" run to the top
  • IROC: Penske's grand idea
  • Part 1: Bits in the oil of the 993's engine
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