Bob Carlson & Jacky Ickx at Rennsport I
Bob Carlson & Jacky Ickx at Rennsport I. Photo courtesy Porsche North America
What is Rennsport and why is everyone talking about it this weekend?

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is the site for the Rennsport Reunion IV, and as such the largest gathering of Porsches in North America.

Rennsport is German for “gathering of race cars”, and was the brainchild of the late BOB CARLSON, PR Manager of Porsche North America, after being part of the 1998 Monterey Historic Automobile Races, which featured Porsche as its marque.

I asked about Rennsport, the back story, how it came to be, and what it meant to the two biggest Porsche fans I know – ANDY SCHUPACK and ARTURO BEJAR.

Schupack is the go-to-guy for anything Porsche in North America. He is the General Manager of the New England office of Kermish-Ceylon Public Relations – all things Porsche for the past twelve years. He’s one of the few people who have attended all three previous Rennsports – at Lime Rock Park and Daytona International Speedway. This is the first time Rennsport has been on the West Coast.

Bejar is a photographer who attended the 1998 Monterey Historics at the world-famous road course then known simply as Laguna Seca.. Bejar wasn’t a photographer at that point, but became a long-time Porsche fan. He had just bought a 1973 Porsche Carrera, which he has since lovingly restored. It will be parked in the Porsche Corral this weekend.That Porsche weekend inspired Bejar, and he’s been following vintage and historic racing ever since – with his cameras. Bejar attended the 2007 Rennsport at Daytona.

Daytona 2007 Rennsport
Daytona Rennsport 2007. A.J. Foyt's Daytona and Sebring 1986 Copenhagen winning car; yellow Penske Porsche RS Spyder that won the 2007-2008 ALMS Championship with Dumas & Bernhard; and the 1972 Brumos Porsche 917 driven by Hurley Haywood. Photo by Arturo Bejar.

Schupack tells the very interesting back story and history of Rennsport.

After the hundreds of Porsche race cars and drivers came to the 1998 Monterey Historics, Carlson thought if Porsche organized such a gathering, it would attract even more Porsche race cars and drivers, plus allow for more Porsche-oriented activities. It was a daunting task, which would take time and resources to pull it off. He sounded out the idea to Porsche North America, as well as to the collectors, drivers and tracks.

The initial inquiries in 2000 were met with luke-warm responses. Tracks didn’t want to co-promote with Porsche because of the unknown attendance interest. The factory only agreed to bring cars if Carlson footed the bill. Drivers and collectors wanted to be paid. But PCNA (Porsche Club North America) President FRED SCHWAB liked the idea, and fronted Carlson the money. Carlson went to some of the big collectors like BRUMOS, MATT DRENDL, and KEVIN JEANNETTE, and they said they would bring cars.

Others followed when they heard the big guys were coming. Then ROGER PENSKE, PAUL NEWMAN, BOBBY RAHAL, JACKY ICKX, HURLEY HAYWOOD, GEORGE FOLLMER, MILT MITNER, JOHN ANDRETTI and others said they would come. Once the word was out, DICK BARBOUR, MICHAEL KEYSER, BRUCE LEVEN, BOB AKIN, and GEORGE DROLSOM signed up.

Rennsport I Lime Rock Park
Rennsport I Lime Rock Park. Photo courtesy Porsche North America

And Rennsport Reunion I was on.

But where would we have it? Bob thought of everything. Not enough hotels in Sebring; Laguna didn’t have enough paddock space and didn’t want to co-promote; Lime Rock seemed to small. Daytona had never done anything like that before. Road America was booked for the summer and the spring and the fall had the wrong weather in Wisconsin. Same for Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

With most of the big collectors on the East Coast, Bob turned back to Lime Rock and decided to give it a try. No one really knew what to expect, but we forged ahead. Late Autoweek publisher LEON MANDELL was named Grand Marshal with Porsche President Schwab, and we arrived in Connecticut early in the third week of July, 2001, to set up. BRIAN and JAMES REDMAN were hired to run the vintage racing program, with help from the Porsche Club of America.

MICHAEL KEYSER, of “Speed Merchants” fame did the program. And, with just word-of-mouth promotion, fans started streaming into Lime Rock Park. The five thousand programs sold out immediately (try to find one online now). The autograph session, scheduled for 45 minutes, went on for two hours. Newman crashed Haywood’s 1972 914, and Schwab caused major damage on Brumos’ Porsche 962, Redman told endless stories about Le Mans and the Targa Floria, while Penske got into the Sunoco Porsche 917-30 and drove it for the first time ever while DAVID DONOHUE looked on. Good stuff.

Bischof strapping in Penske in Sunoco Penske Porsche 917
Porsche museum factory engineer Klaus Bischof straps Roger Penske into the 1973 Mark Donohue Sunoco Penske Porsche 917 Can-Am car – Porsche Rennsport Reunion I – Lime Rock Park - 2001. Photo courtesy Porsche North America.

To everyone’s amazement, Schwab stood up the Saturday night dinner and announced that we would have another one of these in three years – Rennsport Reunion II. Even Carlson was flabbergasted. “Maybe he doesn’t really know how much this costs,” said Bob to the rest of us working the event. But everyone cheered, and Carlson’s search for Rennsport II was on.

JIM FRANCE had heard about this event, and his Grand-Am Sports Car Racing series was just underway. What would be a better way to show that France and Grand-Am cared about sports car racing than to host this kind of gathering. With Porsche’s heritage at Daytona, and the newly-revamped infield and garage area planned, it seemed like a good fit. Carlson was concerned that Daytona was not a classic sports car track, and the purists wouldn’t want to attend. But a trip to Daytona – where France greet Carlson with historic Porsche photos on the wall and all his employees all dressed in Porsche shirts – turned Bob around. France offered Carlson his entire staff and track resources for the weekend, and said simply in his quiet voice, “We’d really like to have you here.”

So Rennsport Reunion II, in April of 2004 at Daytona International Speedway, had more than 600 Porsche race cars – possibly to largest gathering ever of Porsche race cars. More than 100 famous Porsche drivers, and more than fifty cars flew in from around the world. A studio was set up to document the important cars. This later turned into a great David Bull Publishing book put together by JEFF ZWART. There was another huge autograph session, the return of the Redmans and many of the Rennsport I cast. All this and the recognition by the Porsche factory that this was a world-wide event reinforced Porsche’s heritage to its owners.

There was no question now that Porsche Rennsport Reunion III was going to happen, and 2007 and Daytona were picked again – this time November). In the meantime, Carlson had developed gall bladder cancer. But he was determined to see “his” program to success again.

Rennsport II. Porsche 911 Turbos which ran the 1974 GT Class in the World Manufacturer of Makes.
Rennsport III. Porsche 911 Turbos which ran the 1974 GT Class in the World Manufacturer of Makes. Photo by Arturo Bejar.

Redman had recommended that 600 race cars were too many (one 911 class in 2004 had 125 cars starting on the track together), so the number of PCA races were trimmed. Still, the cars and the drivers made Rennsport a success, in what was to be Carlson’s last public appearance for Porsche. He struggled for the next year – in and out of the hospital – and died just before Christmas of 2008.

Bejar recounts.

I was at the 1998 Historics, actually my first time at Laguna Seca. That weekend I became a Porsche nut. I got to see on the track. It was just an amazing experience, and that is when I began to learn all about what went into them.

Daytona Rennsport III was an amazing experience. Everywhere you turned, there were cars you just read about – in the paddock and on the track. Le Mans winners, Daytona winners, pretty much everything winners. And the drivers were there, helpful, nice and accessible. I got to give DEREK BELL a ride back to his car.

However, as Schupack continues, Rennsport seemd to be a victim of the financial crisis and there was no more Bob. The three years went by and talk of a Rennsport IV was only in the background.

But then Scotts Valley’s BRUCE CANEPA, a large West Coast collector, went to BERND HARLING at Porsche in Atlanta in early 2011 with a proposal to coordinate with Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Porsche to have an event in mid-October. This time, the track agreed to be a co-promoter. West Coast Porsche enthusiasts had been clamoring for an event out there. Paddock space would be tight, but some innovative planning and limiting the field would make the event work.

In March, 2011, Porsche and the raceway announced the event. With the internet more mature now, the word spread more effectively, and, with a month to go before the event, Rennsport Reunion IV had sold more tickets that the track’s American Le Mans Series event.

Schupack said We have lost Mitner, Akin, ARNOLD WAGNER from Andial, Newman, JO HOPPEN, and others who have died since our first Rennsport. And others are too ill to travel, including JOHN PAUL, Jr, PETER FALK, HANS METZGER and HERBERT LINGE.

But 84 year-old HANS HERRMAN will be in Monterey, as will Porsche Chairman WOLFGANG PORSCHE, JERRY SEINFELD, JOHN FITZPATRICK (first time) and dozens of other Porsche favorites.

Even journalists like Mandel, and most recently, GIL BOUFFARD, have left us, but will also be remembered.

The next generation is ready to carry on the traditions, including CHAD McQUEEN, David Donohue, J.C. FRANCE, and GUNNAR JEANNETTE will be there.

Rennsport Reunion IV runs for three days at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. Come enjoy the gathering of race cars.