by Robert Goldman
As I sit down to write, the news reaches me, Robert “Kas” Kastner has passed. While it may be that no single individual wrote the book on Triumph performance, it was Kas who finished it. As a racer with no funds, he had no choice. It was either make stock parts go faster, or watch from the back of the pack. If I had put half the effort invested in studying his TR performance guide into my school work, I might have graduated with honors.
There are any number of web sites or books which document Kas’ achievements in detail. Among Al Moss’ personal photographs, there is at least one image from Riverside with Kas clearly visible, square roll bar and all, leading the charge. Kas had the ability, and force of personality necessary, to be a successful competitions manager. To prove the point, he did it twice, for two very different manufacturers.
I was lucky enough to meet Kas some years ago at Road Atlanta. The Friends of Triumph were holding their Kastner Cup race event. Tim Suddard, the publisher of Grassroots Motorsports, asked if I would drive Mr Kastner around during the lunchtime track parade. Tim provided a TR6 for the task. The memory fades, but there was something about the car which made it hard for me to drive. Either the seat was stuck too far back, or the brakes didn’t work.
Whatever it was about the car, I wasn’t about to let Kas think I couldn’t drive. Even though it was a low speed tour, I felt it necessary to touch each curb at the proper spot, as if to say “yeah, I know how it’s done.” Such antics were entirely unnecessary. Kas was a perfect gentleman, and answered my every silly question as we toured the track.
Though not a collector of celebrity, circumstances have given me the opportunity to spend at least a few minutes with several very effective people. By and large, they share certain characteristics. They are extremely focused. They can withstand no half measures. They see their goals, the path forward to those goals, and have the quick twitch intellect to meet every challenge; head on and with a plan.
Such people can be a little scary. They don’t dwell on the past, and won’t give time to those undeserving of their focus. The rest of us can join the team and learn, or be left behind. Kas had long since left his auto racing days behind when a TR owning friend of mine, who also can only do things the right way, picked up a phone book and dialed the number for R.W. Kastner.
Whatever was said in that first cold call, it was enough to set Kas on a path which would reintroduce him to new generations of Triumph drivers. Ultimately, he re-embraced the Triumph community, accepting the mantle of elder statesman. Kastner’s “Ready to Race” autograph now adorns a limited number of lucky TRs. Sadly, there will be no more.
The guitarist Jimmie Vaughan once sang the words “Heaven done called another blues stringer back home.” I don’t have as clever words for the automobile industry, but one of the British sports car A-Team members has gone home. So long Kas. Thank you for everything you did. Thank you for sharing your life with the rest of us. MM