Dick Irish


Email from Dick Irish to etceterini.com about his 1952 Sebring race:  The Siata "adventure" was really fun.  We ran two 12 hour races in a week and I don't think we ever saw 100 mph.  As I mentioned, we had head gasket problems at Vero Beach.  Tony Pompeo even brought us yet another head gasket in his suitcase for Sebring, but to say it arrived "rumpled" would be an understatement.  We therefore borrowed a page from our midget experience and made a headgasket from annealed aluminum sheet.  Tony also brought the shop manual which basically said one should torque the head, let it set over night to let the studs stretch, the re-torque it again, before running.  The Siata Gran Sport would out handle most of the competitors though and I was able to run a whole stint with the ex-Bill Spear 2 liter 166 Barchetta driven by Dick Cicurel and Bob O'Brian.  I'd pass them going into the first turn, lead them through the hairpin and down warehouse straight, the Ferrari would pass me on the airport runway straights, I'd catch them on the last turns and follow them past the pits, to repeat the pass.  After the driver switch, I went down to their pits to tell them that I didn't mind following a Ferrari, but I hated following one with mufflers!  It REALLY pissed them off!  At our last pit stop, we lost time when the engine wouldn't fire for some reason.  When it did fire, we'd dropped to third place behind an XK-120 Jag.  We ended up 45 seconds behind it while gaining 19 seconds a lap.  The kicker was the next morning the car threw the rod on the way back into town and we had to fit a tow bar and tow the car back to Cleveland.  We had driven it down to break it in, as I had also driven it from New York to Cleveland.  The dealer I worked for, who owned the car, hadn't a clue and repainted the car a different color before putting it on the showroom floor with the trophies!


1952 Brynfan Tyddyn


Email from Dick Irish to etceterini.com about his 1954 Sebring race:  I think it was 1954.  I was in the Army and what I think actually happened was that Tony Pompeo sold the same car to Isabelle Haskell and to my older brother, Chuck.  Realizing that Isabelle had more money than Ben Gump, or possibly God, for that matter, Tony was wise enough to "sell" the car to Isabelle with me being her co-driver at Sebring.  This would give him time to dig up a second car if need be for my brother after the event.  This was a Fiat 1100cc powered car.  When we arrived at Sebring and began practice, two things became immediately evident:  Isabelle could not select second gear as her long legs got in the way.  I think "Izzie" was a good six-feet tall.  Although I think it is possible that she never "worked" at making herself beautiful for the race track, she really was a very good looking lady with a dynamite figure.  To say that she didn't flaunt her looks would be an understatement.  Second, was that after a lap and a half at speed, the car would overheat!  The first "alibi" was that the engine was just "tight" and needed more break-in time.  I was sent out to circulate the course at light loads to accomplish this and for a few hours had no crash hat, resulting in one of the worst sunburns I'd ever had and what the local doctors called "sun poisoning" resulting in much teasing from all and sundry.  This did no good.  To thoughts of the radiator being too small (probably the same radiator used on Crosley powered cars) and the water pump too large, we enlarged the radiator, made bypass tubes to  carry water from the upper to lower header tanks and did all we could think of.  When we pulled the inspection plate from the sump and found the oil pump screen pretty well filled with lint, the thought arose that "Luigi" had left a shop towel in the engine when it was set up in Italy.  This was the final straw.   Driving the car had been a ball.  Using a 100S Healey as a comparison as the factory cars were there, we could come off a corner and I could out drag them for a couple of hundred yards, they would then pull away on top speed.  I could go flat out to beyond the "!" marker coming up to a corner, re-pass the Healey, jump on the brakes and have to add power prior to the corner.  Hitting the brakes was like the proverbial "brick wall"....IF only it'd stay cool!   We finally gave up on the engine and decided to fit the engine from Isabelle's Siata.  This was a sprint engine and there was little hope that it would last the whole 12 hours, but we HAD to do something.  We pulled the Fiat from the Bandini and the Crosley from the Fiat only to discover that there was NO way we could complete the swap without fabricating a new exhaust header for the Crosley and we had run out of time for this.  Therefore the Crosley went back into the Siata and THIS was the car that Isabelle and I drove.  True the predictions, we finally holed a piston and unfortunately we failed to ground out that spark plug and at 11 hours something there was a big "BANG" followed what sounded like a hand full of ball bearings being thrown against a steel plate.  The fuel/air mixture had ignited in the crankcase and literally blew the engine apart.  The back of the block and the cam drive was all that held the head on.  Isabelle did end up with the Bandini as I recall.  O.K., this is a lot more info than you asked for.  In the sense of the actual race, no I did not "race" a Bandini at Sebring.

Bandini at 1954 Sebring


Email from Dick Irish to etceterini.com about his 1954 March AFB race:  Sorry about being so tardy replying.  That shot is of Marty Christensen's  4.5 Ferrari "Mexico" (s/n 0322 AM) taken at March AFB during the '54 SAC races.  I was in the Army and hadn't driven a car in 6 weeks, got in this thing and spun 9 times in practice!  I got black flagged and thought," The jig was up", but it turned out that since I had a closed car they wanted me to take some VIP for a ride!  (Boy, those WERE the days, no left seat seat belt, or nothing! The car was RHD)  Anyway the guy was scared spitless before I got into third (4-speed box, but would do 90 mph in FIRST) and hardly said I word.  I dropped him off and they gave me another one.  This guy puts his butt in the left seat and leans over to tell me he has a TD M.G. and can't wait to tell his wife, so I dropped the hammer.  Fortunately I didn't spin with either of them.  When I  got back to Marty after practice I told him I was sorry, but I just couldn't figure out WHEN this thing was going to let go.  About that time Art Bly (was Fred Wacker's mechanic and an old dirt track guy) came up and said,"You've got chassis problems."  I replied that I had DRIVER problems.  Art said,"No, you're lifting an inside front wheel a foot in the air going through that corner!"  With that, Art crawled under the car, looked and came out saying that it was no wonder as the front anti roll bar was disconnected, apparently something done during shipment of the car.  It was reconnected and I never spun it again.  The car is now owned by Jon Shirley up in Washington state.  It was a GREAT car with lousy brakes!  I used to put BOTH feet on the brake pedal and pull on the steering wheel trying to get it anchored.  Interesting but that group of three factory cars were the only big 4.5s that did NOT use outside hood scoops for air to the carburetors and as the car was always slow off the grid or out of a slow corner, I always blamed it on hot under hood air going to the Webers.  Just as you got to about 90 and grabbed second you could feel a big wave of hot air hit you and I think that was when the hot air was purged.  Never really knew, though. 

March AFB 1954







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