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Motor Sports


by Larry Roberts

March 4, 1997

When "Home Improvement" star Tim Allen makes his famous "rrr" he-man grunt, it always get a laugh from the appreciative studio audience. It has become Allen's trademark.

But several times a year, Allen makes the macho sound through another medium. Strapped into the cockpit of one of his 500-horsepower Saleen SR Mustangs, Allen runs against other competitors in the professional world of sports car endurance racing. Last year his team, the Saleen/Allen "RRR" Speedlab, won the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) World Challenge pro racing manufacturer's championship for more-or-less stock sports cars. It's a series that allows a manufacturer to showcase its wares pretty much as they come off the assembly line.

So how does a raw amateur like Tim Allen get into the big-time without crawling up through the ranks? Simple! He bought the company.

Actually, that's a pretty simplistic explanation. Allen formed the Saleen/Allen "RRR" Speedlab with sports car builder Steve Saleen to provide public exposure for the special Ford Mustangs that Saleen produces in his Southern California shops. Saleen provides the cars and professional drivers that make up the rest of the organization while Allen partially funds the team and does some of the driving chores. While Allen hasn't achieved the same racing proficiency as some of the other Hollywood personalities who went into the field (Paul Newman, for example), he really hasn't been able to devote as much time to the sport as he would like to. His latest comment on his commitment to acting getting in the way of his racing was "I kind of feel like the kid who has to stay in the house and practice his violin while the rest of the kids get to go out and play."

The word "play" is something of a misnomer here. The SCCA World Challenge is hotly contested between auto makers like Chevrolet with its Corvette, the superfast Porsche Turbo and the Dodge Viper GTS-R. And in this quick company, the Saleen/Allen "RRR" Speedlab has been extremely successful. Last year team driver Lou Gigliotti took the manufacturer's title for Saleen and the driver's championship for himself.

Allen drove one of the team cars at the series' finale last October at Sears Point International Raceway in Northern California. He was nine seconds off the fastest time in the event (established by Rob Risso in another Saleen Mustang) and finished sixth in the hotly contested race. Obviously, Allen gets to "...go out and play.." occasionally and performs pretty well when does.

But now the Saleen/Allen "RRR" Speedlab organization has gone hunting for bigger game. For 1997, the team has undertaken to challenge the rest of the world in events like the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, and international sports car races in Britain and Japan as well as some IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) races here in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the Saleen/Allen team wasn't so successful in its first plunge into this fast company. In the recent IMSA's Rolex 24 at Daytona Beach, the highest placed Saleen Mustang driven by Rob Schirle, Dave Warnock and Phil Andrews completed only 274 laps before it went out and was awarded 58th place. Allen, Saleen, Risso and Price Cobb (a former winner at Le Mans) went out earlier at 109 laps. The winning car, a Ford-powered Riley & Scott WSC racer, went 690 laps in 24 hours.

But in international long-distance races that have 80 drivers of vastly differing talents, "new kids" on the block like Saleen and Allen have a lot to learn. Speeds at tracks like Daytona Beach and Le Mans reach to over 200 MPH and holding together for 24 hours is tough on both the cars and the drivers. The logistics alone are staggering and the Saleen/Allen team is going to experience the additional stresses of having to manage operations in Europe from its base of operation half a world away in Irvine, California.

But if it goes wrong, at least it may make an interesting new subject for a new sitcom called "Track Improvement."