"Well I'm not braggin' babe so don't put me down
But I've got the fastest set of wheels in town
When someone comes up to me he don't even try
'Cause if it had a set of wings man I know she could fly"
- Beach Boys
He may not have the fastest set of wheels in town these days, but without doubt, Greg Schmidt has enough passion about fast cars and motorsports to last a lifetime.
It showed when the 56-year-old Carson City man came out for a photograph holding the golden racing suit he wears to drive in the Hornet division races at Champion Speedway on Saturday nights.
"Have you ever seen anything like this?" he asks, flashing a wide grin. "This is the same suit I wore when I started racing in 1971 ... I just had to make it bigger."
That brings back memories from a time when he drove in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) races and in the IMSA B.F. Goodrich Radial Challenge Series. His racing roots actually date back to 1967 when he was a student at Chaffey College in Southern California.
"They built Ontario Speedway. Riverside Speedway was just down the road, and that was in the hey day of the Can-Am and Trans-Am. And Chaffey College became the only college in the world to have a diploma program in racecar technology," Schmidt said. "All of this just sort of came together and it all happened just when I was there, so one thing just led to another.
"I got into Mini Coopers and started racing them. Then there was a guy just down the road in Chino who had the national champion SCCA one-liter sedan, a NSU 1000 TTS that was the 1969 champion at Daytona at the Race of Champions. I traded him a Mini Cooper for that and I started racing it at Riverside, Laguna Seca, Phoenix and the other tracks."
Schmidt's next step was the B.F. Goodrich Radial Challenge Series, a street stock series run on street radial tires and allowed no body modifications.
"I was 21 and didn't know much about what I was doing, so I bought a Volvo from a junkyard for $200 and entered that series ... little sedans, mostly four cylinder cars halfway stocked, cars that would go maybe 120 on the straightaway. I only had $2,800, but I had the strongest car on the West Coast."
Presently, Schmidt is engaged in his first oval track experience at Champion and it's been a season of work and fun, with some controversy thrown in.
"You really put a lot of work into a car like this," he said. "It takes months of eight-hour days. This isn't a car that just came from a junk yard and went to the track. Of course, that's part of the fun. It's not like it's a terrible thing to build the car. It is fun."
Pretty good considering Schmidt is battling a rare genetic disease of the joints that forced him to give up his classic car mail order parts business in Southern California some 10 years ago. "Basically, any activity I do - stand, sit, walk, lie down - I hurt all the time," he said.
Controversy? That came up in the past month after officials at Champion Speedway imposed a minimum weight rule for the Hornet division, a change that stemmed from the early domination of Kim Robbins and the two Bad Girls Racing team Hondas. Schmidt missed the last scheduled race - as did the Bad Girls Racing cars - and says the weight limit potentially could force him to keep his No. 3x car, a 1,600-pound Suzuki Swift in the driveway at home for good.
"It's totally arbitrary. In trying to slow down the two Hondas, they wanted to impose a rule that would be fair to everyone rather than penalize just one car," said Schmidt, a one-man racing team who hasn't won any races this season. "I built this car specifically because it is light weight and has a small engine. But while most of the cars run at 6000 rpm on the straightaway, I'm up at 8000. I'm like screaming because it's such a tiny motor (1300 cc). I'm thinking that I'm just on the edge of exploding the motor, and with the weight they want me to add, that's just going to ruin the car."
When he hasn't raced, Schmidt has found a way to keep busy with high-performance over the years - as an author among other things. He collaborated with Pat Braden to write "Abarth," a guide to the cars of Carlo Abarth. And he is currently doing research for another book.
"It'll be called 'Exotic Small Cars of the World' ... it's about cars dating from 1955 to the present that most people in the United States have never heard about," Schmidt said. "In 1967 we lost a lot of stuff that is still going on the rest of the world, it just doesn't come here. What happened, because we had long roads and cheap gas, we got big, heavy cars that were very comfortable on long trips, so we turned away from the small cars."
Indirectly, it was racing that brought Schmidt and his family to Carson City a couple of years ago.
"I always wanted to live near the big trees," he said. "The idea was to come visit Lake Tahoe and see if we liked it. Before we came, I looked on the Internet and saw that the only paved oval in Nevada was here in Carson City. Knowing that there was some sort of motorsport possibly, I knew that it would be great for me here."
For now, he hopes to keep driving his Suzuki at Champion. Who knows, Schmidt may even sprout some wings and fly to his first win on the track.
"I want to work this out. I have a couple of new sponsors, so I want to continue racing," he said. "I want to see the Hondas out there, too. I want them to be there and I want to beat them. It's taken me half the season to get to this point. I'm not sitting still. I've improved the car eight races in a row and I think I can keep getting faster."
n Contact Dave Price at email@example.com or call 881-1220.