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Exclusive interview with Rob Loaring
Engine builder, tuner and Pro Mod Crew Chief Rob Loaring attended his first drag race in 1977, and started crewing in 1981 with Colin Banks and the "Vendetta" altered. He then drove a slingshot dragster with business partner Kevin Perkins, sold it in 1984 and started ICE Automotive Racing Engines (I.C.E.) in 1985. He worked on Charlie Draper's Fuel Funny Car and then hooked up with Tim Cook in 1988 as the Pro Mod class started in England. He has been in Pro Mod ever since, working with Tony Rose, Dave Mingay, Alan Cook and current business partner Nick Davies.
Eurodragster caught up with Rob in the I.C.E. workshops on 25th January. The interview was frank and wide-ranging, covering Pro Mod in the UK, Rob's plans for this year both in the UK and the USA, and his partnership with Pro Mod racer Nick Davies.
Eurodragster: Nick won the Pro Mod Championship last year, and Cooky was getting quicker and quicker towards the end of the season. You must have been very pleased with the way things went?
Rob Loaring: We can't moan about too much really. It would have been nice to get Alan rocking a bit sooner but these things are pretty fussy.
Eurodragster: People would inevitably point to Andy Robinson's crash as a big turning point in the 1999 UK Pro Mod season. How close do you think it would have been had Andy run the whole season?
Rob Loaring: These things never pan out like they should. People stand there at the start of the season and think "so and so's fastest so he'll win and then it'll be do da" and so on. The thing people misunderstand is the human element involved, Alan Packman was miles ahead of Dave Mingay in terms of performance at the start of 1995 but couldn't beat him, then in '96 it turned right round. Like I said before these cars are fussy and you can drop from penthouse to s***house in a heartbeat.
Eurodragster: Nick got into the 6.6s at the European Finals - maybe it was the Tog's Drag Racing Page sticker! - but it looked to us as if there was plenty left to come. How much quicker can the car go?
Rob Loaring: I think it should run in the .50's, maybe a .58 or a .57, we run it fairly soft through first and second gear for the sake of consistency. If we didn't have to worry about a championship we'd get after it harder.
Eurodragster: So Nick and yourself were beginning to think about your title defence in 2000 and then the phone rang.
Rob Loaring: No, the championship was never a factor for 2000. I'm not saying we won't run the car, with last year being as easy on parts as it was it's left us with enough stuff to run this year without any big investment of time or money. As for the phone call I assume you referring to Tim.
Eurodragster: Indeed! We hear that Tim McAmis is head-hunting again.
Rob Loaring: No, absolutely not.
Eurodragster: OK then, tell us the truth of the matter.
Rob Loaring: Tim called me during the latter part of 1999 for a neutral opinion about some of the 5" bore centre stuff that most teams seem to be running in I.H.R.A. Pro-Mod now.
Eurodragster: '5" bore centre' - that's a phrase I can't say I've heard before. It's obviously something significant, how would you explain it to a mechanical ignoramus?
Rob Loaring: Until 1998 most Pro-Mod teams ran a variation of a generic Big Block Chevy with standard 4.84" bore centres. That is, the distance between the centre of each cylinder is 4.84". By increasing this to 5" you allow for various improvements in cylinder head design, head gasket integrity and so on.
Eurodragster: And Cooky's Vette had such an engine in 1999?
Rob Loaring: Correct.
Eurodragster: Tim must value your opinion very highly if he telephoned four thousand miles for it! But you've worked with Tim before, haven't you, tell us about that.
Rob Loaring: We met when he was Jerry Bickel's shop foreman. Tony Rose's car was in there having some upgrades before we brought it back for the 1992 or '93 season, I can't remember which. We were both running the 14-degree Oldsmobile heads that were around then and Tim had found the combination difficult to run hard, so we got together on and off for the next couple of seasons to get the combination straightened out.
Eurodragster: And how did that work out?
Rob Loaring: Tony ran a 6.92 and a little over 201 mph which were both fairly respectable numbers for a European car at that time. Tim ended up running a 6.67/208 at 3,500 feet adjusted altitude which wasn't too shabby for an I.H.R.A. car either.
Eurodragster: So you gave Tim your neutral opinion of the 5" bore engine, what did he say then? "Come and work for me"?
Rob Loaring: No that's not quite it. Tim is in partnership with Roger Sanders. Tim owns the car and Roger owns the engines, truck and support stuff. I went to Roger's shop in North Carolina in early December to discuss the situation in detail with Roger, Mike (Roger's brother) and Tim.
Eurodragster: And what did that lead to?
Rob Loaring: We (I.C.E.) were asked to prepare a set of head castings and some nitrous stuff as soon as possible and give the team input with the combination through the coming season. We got the castings last Monday and I'm working on them now.
Eurodragster: Is the input at a distance or will you be flying over to the USA? I have visions of your phone ringing in the middle of the night because they've forgotten the time difference!
Rob Loaring: You can't do this stuff from a distance, it's a hands on thing. These people aren't stupid, they have an excellent package but there are a couple of components missing from it which I have to bring. Tim and I have had some success in this situation before so it seems logical to try again.
Eurodragster: Please tell us you're not emigrating!
Rob Loaring: I'm not emigrating.
Eurodragster: That's good to hear. So you'll be commuting back and forth for races - the IHRA tour I guess?
Rob Loaring: Something like that.
Eurodragster: When do you start?
Rob Loaring: As soon as the heads are done, maybe the end of February.
Eurodragster: Now, where does that leave I.C.E. and your involvement with Nick Davies and Cooky?
Rob Loaring: Alan's car is up for sale. We spoke just after Christmas and he's moving some stuff around at work, he had a hard season in 1999 and it didn't come around until the European Finals. As for I.C.E., Nick and I spent a long time going over the I.H.R.A. deal with Tim and Roger, I gave input but ultimately it's a business decision and that's his end of things. It shouldn't affect things over here this season.
Eurodragster: So I.C.E. carries on; your many customers here will be relieved to hear that. Your fans will be asking, what about the Team Kendall Pro Mod? You said earlier that you had the parts to run this season , but will you have the time?
Rob Loaring: It's like I said before, the car doesn't need much work to get it ready for this season and Nick wants to drive. We've asked Kev Perkins to take up the slack at the shop in his spare time while I'm away and to work on the car. Kendall aren't on board this year which is a shame but there's enough of us to get by.
Eurodragster: That's good news, the Pro Mod contingent was reportedly looking a bit thin on the ground this season, but that's the trouble with this time of year, lots of stories and not much hard news.
Rob Loaring: Thin, Christ it's anorexic.
Eurodragster: It's a real shame, after the year we had with Gus and Nick both in the 6.6s, Hakan Nilsson's performances at the European Finals, Cooky turning it up in that beautiful Vette of his, John Ellis looking like he was meant to run Pro Mod all along...
Rob Loaring: It's a hard expensive class to run. People race in Pro-Modified for fun and when these things go wrong they're not much fun. Technology is moving forward too fast for people and the whole deal of owning and running a Pro-Mod car is becoming too much like hard work, for less money you can build a blown alky car and pick up more money, you figure it out.
Eurodragster: I think I'll stick to reporting, I leave the figuring out to you clever guys! Let's go forward twelve months; I'm interviewing you again in January 2001, which questions would you hope you'd be answering? Apart from "What's the cure for jet lag?".
Rob Loaring: When did you find out you were Bill Gates brother?
Eurodragster: And there I was hoping it would be "Yes, it's true, I have persuaded Tim McAmis to come and run in England!"
Rob Loaring: Don't hold your breath.
Eurodragster: When I've seen you on the start line watching Nick barrel down the track, I've often wondered whether you'd swap places with him?
Rob Loaring: I'd love to drive but it's not a priority. You have to look at what you're best at and I can contribute most from outside the car. Nick hits the shifts, we don't get left on much and he doesn't choke in the money rounds. It's a package I'm comfortable with.
Eurodragster: I think when people read that you are getting involved with the McAmis operation, the first thing they might think is that it means that your business relationship with Nick is finished. It's pretty clear from this interview that that's not the case and we're all pleased to hear that.
Rob Loaring: I don't move without him. I've been doing this for a long time now and it's become clear that a business brain is missing from the equation and I'm happy to say that situation is resolved. The last fifteen years have been a blast but you can't drag race and live like Oliver Reed for ever.
Eurodragster: In all your time in drag racing, who has been your hardest competitor?
Rob Loaring: Alan Packman. Well financed and totally focused, hard to beat.
Eurodragster: And was there ever a "bogey" whom you just couldn't get past whatever you did?
Rob Loaring: Tim Hines, Christ he was a nightmare. I was working with Tim Cook at the time and you'd pull up next to Hines and wait for the engine to fall out.
Eurodragster: Any unfinished business?
Rob Loaring: Not over here.
Eurodragster: Drag racing can be a very serious business but you must have had some memorable moments. Are there any we wouldn't get sued for printing?
Rob Loaring: Watching Tony Rose get to grips with the Oldsmobile was something else, he's got balls the size of melons. We were sitting in his motorhome after he'd driven the car for the first time and he looked like an advert for embalming fluid, I thought Christ we're in the s**t here. A lot of drivers said he'd never do it but we took it slowly and three months later he made the first six second doorslammer pass in Europe, top bloke.
Eurodragster: What can we say but thank you very much for your time, and we wish you every success in your endeavours this year on both sides of the Pond. Stay in touch Rob.
Rob Loaring: Go home, it's late.
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