Dealing with a disaster can bring on feelings of loss and sadness. Worse, it can lead to depression and a lack of energy. In some people, though, adversity can spur creativity and help focus attention and drive. Happily, that’s the backstory behind our subject car, the Restore the Shore 944.
First, a little history: In 2012, Will DiGiovanni, the owner of Precision Motorsports Racing in New Jersey, had to face two serious bouts of personal misfortune—one on the track and the other at his home on the Jersey Shore. Let’s start by having Will tell us about the on-track incident.
“I was driving at a PCA race at Summit Point, sharing the car with my friend, John Abruzzo,” said Will. “I was heading into the first corner, three wide, when an idiot tried to make it four wide. My car got pushed off track and was launched,” he added, pointing up. “I went off backwards, slid along the berm, got airborne and landed on the right front corner!” Fortunately, the car ended right-side up. As Will sat there, he replayed the whole incident in his mind.
“It was fast, but slow,” he ruminated. Then he thought, “I can’t believe I’m writing the car off today.” Racing incidents are part of the sport, but this wasn’t the first time someone had hit him in this very car trying to make a bonehead pass. Obviously frustrated, he told me, “I was so angry that I shoved the car in the trailer and didn’t look at it for three months.”
About a month later, in October 2012, the second punch came when Hurricane Sandy blasted the East Coast, focusing much of its wrath on the Garden State. While New York City’s damage made the national news, the Jersey Shore actually got hit with the strongest winds and highest tides.
The eye of the storm came ashore near Will’s home, leaving devastation in its wake. Instead of causing further downheartedness, though, the combination of his racing shunt and the struggles he and his neighbors were facing actually inspired Will to pull his 944 off the trailer. He set out to rebuild it into a car that could possibly make a difference in people’s lives—or at least in his.
“The car isn’t a fund raising tool,” said Will. “I just wanted to raise awareness of what is still left to do in all of the small towns along the shore.”
Shore to Please
Mike Bavaro from Bodymotion, which is a full-service auto shop in Ocean Township, came over after the wreck at Summit,” recalled Will, “and said that if his shop slows down over the winter, he would paint the car for me.” Will and his crew eventually pulled the car out of the trailer and began to see what prep work was needed. As Will rolled the car toward the shop, he said to himself, “I really love this car…”
Will knew he had to strip the car to the bare tub before the race damage could be repaired, and once again, helping hands were there to make the job lighter. Two techs in his shop, Evan Chomsky and Matt Donofrio, did all of the prep work while Will went about acquiring the new parts and sub-assemblies.
When he discussed the project with his co-driver, John Abruzzo, Will remarked that he was, “…sick of getting hit all the time!” Searching for a solution, John mused that he had always raced a yellow car adding, “It’s a bright color, so nobody can miss it!”
It’s also possible that Will was subconsciously thinking of changing the car from white to yellow, too. He told me he had stowed away several valuable pieces from a restoration of the Pennzoil 944 S2 Firehawk car, which included a front valence and a genuine 944 Turbo Cup car hood already finished in Fly Yellow. Those simple parts, along with Abruzzo’s comment and the after effects of the hurricane, became the inspiration for the final paint scheme and livery for the 944.
With a coastline of nearly 130 miles, New Jersey’s license plates have a bright yellow background and the DMV offers a vanity plate with a lighthouse on it and “Shore to Please” embossed across the bottom.
“I don’t know why,” said Will, “but that plate got to me. The community we live in, the lives that got turned upside down. I said, ‘I’m going to do a Restore the Shore car.’ It’s the perfect livery. It has a bright color and it has a lighthouse.”
Will got out his pen and paper and did a few renderings of his idea and showed them to graphics specialist Matt Clark. Besides being a good designer, Clark is also a Porsche guy.
“I told him, I want a design that will work on a 944,” said Will. Clark followed Will’s original sketches, but added a storm gray hurricane graphic on the roof and hood. The final adaptation was done in a vinyl wrap.
A Body in Motion
Getting the body repaired was another important part of the story. Dave Reinhardt, the shop manager at Bodymotion, followed up on Mike Bavaro’s offer to help with the collision damage and paint.
“When I decided that I wanted to resurrect my 944,” said Will, “I asked Dave how he wanted me to prep the car.” Will was hoping that if he and his team did a lot of the groundwork, they could save some money by delivering the car as close to “ready to paint” as possible.
“Dave was amazing,” Will continued. “He told me exactly what to do, including which orbital sander and sand paper to use.” To help Bodymotion schedule the work, Will was asked to bring them every piece of the car that could be unbolted before he brought them the tub. That included the doors, hood, fenders, “even the headlight doors,” he said. The shocker came when he saw the quality of the work Bodymotion did on the first few pieces.
“The parts looked great!” exclaimed Will. “Their attention to detail exceeded my expectations and far exceeded the limitations of the budget.” For example, Will expected that the inside of the doors would be painted SCCA gray, but they came back painted body color.
By the time Bodymotion called for the tub, Will’s crew—Evan and Matt—had done the sanding and prep work, per Dave Reinhardt’s instructions.
“Bodymotion did the heavy collision work, rebuilding the right front, fixing a few dents and a small rust spot around one of the rear tail lights,” said Will. Once again, when the car came back, he was thrilled.
“They even painted inside the door jams with body color,” said Will, adding, “I was like a kid at Christmas… and their invoice came in just $18 more than the original estimate.”
That heavy hit on the right front corner not only smashed in the fender, it also took out one of his custom Jongbloed (pronounced Youngblood) 15 × 8.5-inch alloy wheels. Will chose these rims because they are strong, light and have a unique spoke design that acts like a fan, pulling in air to cool the brakes. “But they’re expensive, especially for an SP2-racing class build,” he admitted, “about $2,800 per set.”
Will was expecting a serious hit to the budget when he sent the twisted wheel back to the manufacturer. To his surprise, Jongbloed repaired the wheel for only $300, reusing the center section from the damaged rim.
Since this is a race car, the attention to detail doesn’t end with the body and paint. The stock 1985.5 2.5-liter engine needed some spicing up, so Porsche engine specialist Jon Milledge prepared the mill for racing.
“It’s all about attention to detail,” said Will. “Jon used 10.2:1 high compression pistons from the 1988 944. These
are connected to forged 944 Turbo rods. The car also has a Turbo oil filter console, which allowed us to install a proper external oil cooler.” In addition, there is a custom radiator and oil cooler from Wizard Cooling.
To help keep the oil pressure up, Will installed a baffled oil pan of his own design that was fabricated for him by 47 Industries. An underdrive power steering pulley from Broadfoot Racing was also installed.
Will also uses a BEHE chip—legal in his class of PCA racing, explaining, “It gives more torque and horsepower by assuring that the engine gets the proper fuel ratio throughout the rev range.” After pausing a second, he added, “You see all kinds of charts and graphs on the internet for power from a chip and my response is, tell me how the car feels coming out of a corner!” He says that the BEHE chip gives him more usable torque and horsepower out of a legal motor.”
The last power details include a Stahl header and a PMR exhaust. Will also installed a Borla muffler, which is required, since many tracks have noise restrictions these days.
For the suspension, Will installed Koni front adjustable struts and Koni rear adjustable shocks built to a specific length. “It allows me to run the car just about scraping the ground,” he explained.
He used 31mm Sway-Away hollow torsion bars out back and 550 lb Eibach front springs with Tarrett front and rear bars—28mm at the nose and 22mm at the tail.
“Every piece of rubber has been pulled from the suspension,” Will explained. He installed Racer’s Edge spherical bearings and solid billet aluminum mounts. To complete the suspension, he installed Racer’s Edge front lower control arms with custom length pins to help with bump steer issues.
In the middle of all of all of these challenges, Will added one more chore to the list: he relocated his business to a larger shop.
“I pushed the painted tub in the trailer again,” said Will, “and focused on getting everything moved to the new place.” Once again, it was someone else who inspired Will to refocus his energy on the Restore the Shore 944.
“Evan said, ‘Don’t you want to take the car back to the Glen for the NNJR DE?’” remembered Will. Evan became the driving force behind restarting the project and the two of them got the car together in a week and a half. “It was so cool,” Will said, smiling, “when we took the car out of the trailer at the Glen; a crowd of people came over!” While there were no incidents at the Glen, Will wasn’t satisfied with his driving.
“I was pretty nervous because we finished the car, literally, as we were pushing it on the trailer,” said Will. “As an experienced racer and race mechanic, he knew that after a big shunt, there can be hidden damage. He asked himself, “Is it safe? Will it steer and stop? What are the gauges saying?” He admitted that while the car felt pretty good, he was critical of his driving.
“I didn’t do anything all weekend,” said Will. “I was so disappointed. The car was better than I was.” While this was only a DE and not a race, Will was three seconds off his regular Watkins Glen lap time. It could have been a combination of exhaustion and caution, but he had to sort it out because there was another race at Summit Point on the horizon. That meant he had to regain trust in the car because he told me, “This is a podium car.”
I would like to give you a good report about Will’s return to Summit Point…but, sadly, I can’t. “The car actually made it through all three sprint races unscathed, but, unfortunately, with only ten minutes left in the Sunday Enduro, I was taken out by an H Class 996! I left the door open for him at the turn six and seven section, but he didn’t take it. Then, I figured—since he had twice as much horsepower as me—he would pass me on the back straight between nine and ten.” That didn’t happen.
“The idiot tried to pass me in the turn eight and nine section and wrecked me again!” Will fumed. That cost him another fender and a door. Fortunately, Dave at Bodymotion came through for him again.
It’s clear to me that the Restore the Shore 944 is more than just another race car to DiGiovanni.
“This is the car I learned to race in,” said Will. “It’s a momentum car, so all you have are the corners. You have to learn to spend less time on the brake pedal.”
While Will’s affection for this car goes back to his early racing education, I think building it also served as much needed emotional therapy. It helped him get over the damage to his home, his town and his Porsche. You can’t ask much more than that from one car.
Before I left Will’s shop, I asked what he his future plans were for the car. All he said was, “Just get through one season without getting hit!” With three shunts, one first place and a ninth out of 39 cars in his last five races, he’s due for some good luck.