Targa was a great experience—an adventure. The event includes five days, 500 km, of high speed, go-as-fast-as-you-can racing, on the streets of Newfoundland. A friend of mine, living in Ontario, Canada was entered with his 1975 Jensen Healey. About 4 wks prior to the event, knowing that I was skilled Jensen Healey mechanic, he invited me to join Team 544 as the team “Wrench”. Since I had the time and interest, I jumped on the opportunity.
Technicial details about the race can be found at http://www.targanewfoundland.com/. There were about 65 cars entered in various classes, with the oldest being a 1953 Austin Healey 100, and the newest a 2005 Kia. Overall winner was a 1972 BMW Bavaria, who also won two years prior. From the official website: “Targa Newfoundland is the first and only event of its kind to be held in North America. It is an annual event and forms a 2200 km long, high quality automotive adventure. It is held over a seven-day period in September of each year on the paved roads of the eastern and central parts of the island of Newfoundland.”
The event allows the owners of historic, classic and modern sporting motor vehicles to drive them the way they were designed to be driven. In the event each vehicle competes against itself on a handicap basis as well as against other vehicles. The competition is for Targa plates which every competitor can win. There is no prize money.
The vehicles and crews compete on public roads in transit sections which follow all of the rules of the road and “Targa” or speed sections which are held on roads closed to the general public. The Targa sections represent about 25% or the total course.
This is not as simple as racing on a road course, where each lap is the same as the last. The first time the drivers see the course, they are driving at full speed.
THE JENSEN HEALEY
The co-driver/navigator and I, also a Jensen Healey friend, drove the 450 miles to Ontario to meet the driver and car. After some last minute repairs to the JH – the driver wanted me to do a tune-up, but I could not even get all the Spark Plugs out ! Setting timing on the JH is a chore as the Distributor is hidden below the Carburators, so I didn’t touch that either for fear of not being able to get it correct – we were in a time crunch and had to leave the next morning to catch the ferry. We then drove the 750 miles to the ferry in Sydney, Nova Scotia. The Sydney ferry is the short way to Newfoundland, but after landing, there was an additional 550 mile drive across the island to St. John’s, where the race started. Add it up – about 1750 miles of driving just to get to the start of the race. The drive from Ontario to St. John’s included mileage on the JH, as it was driven, not towed.
The organizers had a bit of a problem with the JH as it was leaking oil from the engine and we were almost denied entry. We passed the other scrutineering tests and we were good-to-go. Now, this car had about 85k miles on it, and I was doubtful that it would survive the race – well, it ALMOST DID. On the third day, the JH went off the road into a ditch. There are lots of tow trucks following the race cars as about 25% of the cars either crash or have mechanical failure (mostly crashes). At the repair shop, we found structural damage to the front end which was corrected with heavy chains, hydraulic pullers and sledge hammers. The radiator survived, but the Fan did not fair as well, having lost most of one of the blades. We were back in the race the next day. More on the Fan, below.
Unfortunately, on the last day, on the last leg of the race, the JH suffered from severe overheating and the driver had to abandon – we thus ended with a DNF. I really have to give credit to the stamina of the Jensen Healey. This car was initially not in very good condition (actually, it was in very poor condition) and it survived all the hardships of the race. The driver went back to the garage and the JH was repaired. He then drove back to Ontario. I had a family trip planned and took a airplane flight back to New Jersey.
I want to present some of the personal experiences that give insight to the wonderful people of Newfoundland.
The Rock has a rather small and disbursed population in mostly rural locations, much the same as the east central USA – PA, WV, NC etc. The old-timers speak a language that those “from away” (like me) just can’t understand. While watching the Targa cars speed by, a local spoke to me for 5 minutes – I just nodded and smiled – didn’t understand a single word he said! Villages are generally smaller, with populations of 3000 to 5000. The primary activities are fishing, hockey, and hunting, with limited industry. Let me tell you the Targa is a BIG DEAL for most of these folks. Each night, we would gather the racecars in the local hockey stadium for public display/viewing. Several thousand residents, including lots of kids would come and talk to all the famous drivers, navigators and crew. All of the race teams had printed post-card sized “hero cards”, which we would autograph for the people (grown-ups too). We strove to spend, as much time as possible with the people (when we were not fixing the JH), telling them about our cars, where we were from, and letting the kids sit in the cars – family members would take photos. A real treat for the kids.
In the town of Botwood, I was trying to reclaim our Radiator Fan at one of the in-town Targa legs, while waiting for car 544 to come down the racecourse. Three kids were watching me, and I asked them if they would help. Well, Steven held the fan while I applied the hacksaw, Adam gathered the pieces I cut off, and Brandon gathered stones to support the sawing operation. I let Steven wear my coveralls so he wouldn’t get dirty. These boys were thrilled to have helped Team 544! I was pleased that I could help them enjoy the day, and 8 years later I still correspond with Adam.
Upon return to NJ, I told myself that I should be driving in the Targa, not following the race as a Wrench. I had several thousand miles on Summit Point, Lime Rock and Pocono with the Porsche club as well as Hill Climb experience. I was also an Instructor with the Porsche club and two tracks in NJ.
However, I was not going to jeprodaze my 1974 JH.
I purchased a 1998 SCCA Dodge Neon ACR racer and prepared it for Targa – you know, add a skid-plate under the engine, add to the roll-cage, add a Rally computer and tweak the engine horsepower etc. The very next fall, I was in Targa. That year I rolled the car on the third day, repaired the damage and was back in the race the next morning. Unfortunatly, on the last day the engine blew a rod and thus it was DNF.
The following year, with a new engine, I placed first in my class!
By Pete Bahr
British Motor Club of Southern New Jersey http://www.bmcsnj.org/
Team 544 “Race Engineer”
Team 918 YELODOG Racing Driver