The Legend of Ludwig Heimrath

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Part 2: More Wins, a Classic Championship and an Indelible Legacy

Heimrath (#55, top) awaits the start of a race at Mosport.

On the strength of his Canadian Sports Car Championship win in 1961, Heimrath had a chance to go to Europe the following year and drive in a factory-supplied F1 Porsche. The ride turned out to be an entry in the non-points race in Pau, France and his car was the year-old version which was, in reality, a monoposto version of the RS60 sports car he had raced in 1961. This version had never been competitive as an F1 car and was now obsolete; Porsche had replaced it with a new car powered by an 8-cylinder engine. During practice he had some problems with the brakes – Porsche was still trying to make do with drum brakes – but he qualified 12th quickest in an 18-car field. In the race he was running in 10th place when, on lap 23, his brakes seized up sending him crashing into a trackside fountain. Part of the Heimrath mythology coming out of this European adventure was the belief that if Porsche were to have entered three F1 cars in the championship, Heimrath would have been picked for the third driver.

Over the next two years, Heimrath continued to race the RS60. He told me that at one point, it was shipped back to the factory in Germany and upgraded to new specs which made it, in effect, an RS61. In 1962, Bradley got the ex-Ryan Lotus 19 a faster car than the RS60. However, Heimrath hounded Bradley all season long – trash talking him in the finest Earnhardt intimidator style – but in the end Bradley was the 1962 champion. The next year, Dennis Coad took over the Lotus 19 and the result was the same – Coad the champion by a single point over Heimrath. This was a remarkable achievement considering that his Porsche had only a 1600 cc engine.

Heimrath in a McLaren Can-Am (#39).By now, the old RS60, despite updates was getting seriously long in the tooth and a new version wasn’t forthcoming from Porsche. Opportunity knocked in the form of Comstock racing. After a bad year trying to run the Sadlers and a couple of years fiddling around with a home-built front-engined special, Comstock got two of the new Can-Am-style Ford-powered Cooper Monacos (often called ‘King Cobras”) for the 1964 season. Wietzes and Heimrath were signed to drive them.

The Comstock team manager, Paul Cooke, had worked closely with Wietzes from the start of his racing career and this close relationship might have been a source of friction between Heimrath and the other two. This potential conflict never arose because Wietzes crashed one of the King Cobras in practice for the first round at Westwood and broke his leg putting him out for the rest of season and writing off the car. This left Heimrath as the only driver for the sole remaining car and he dominated Canadian racing in 1964. His strongest opposition came from Vic Yachuck in the ex-Ryan Lotus 19 and from Phil Smyth in a Lotus 23. It was another legendary year for Heimrath.

By now, Heimrath had left VW Canada and was running his own service garage nearby – concentrating on service for Porsches. Later he was able to upgrade his business to a full Porsche sales operation.

He left Comstock at the end of 1964 and went out on his own (presumably, with continuing support from Ford). Bruce McLaren had won the 1964 Players 200 at Mosport in an upgraded version of Penske’s Zerex Special running an Olds engine. For 1965 McLaren was producing customer versions of his new rear-engined sports car – and Heimrath obtained one and fitted a monster Ford engine into it.

Although the Ford engine was troublesome, he dominated the Canadian races with little in the way of serious competition. However, the championship was based on class wins and Bob McLean in the small-engined Lotus 23B earned more points and hence the 1965 title. In October, Heimrath towed the car out to California for the big sports car races but he crashed early in the Laguna Seca race (he hit a hay bale that had been knocked onto the track by another car) and the result was a wrecked and burned out car and a fractured leg.

Heimrath in his McLaren Can-Am (leading) at Moport, circa 1966.He bought another new McLaren Can-Am style car in 1966 and upgraded it to new specs in 1967. Running a smaller Chevrolet engine, he dominated the Canadian races when he ran well. Now that Heimrath was running his own team out of his own shop, he needed serious financial support – he needed to find a big sponsor to fund this expensive operation. He did find some small pieces of sponsorship – and he may have had some silent backers – but he never had to funding to run the program right and could not achieve any significant results in the Can-Am championship races.

In 1969, Heimrath decided to go where they paid bigger money purses – Indy car racing. He bought a used Eisert Indy car with a Chevrolet engine, along with a Gurney Eagle and ran a few races with limited success. He continued with the Eisert-Chev in 1970, but the old car was outclassed and the Chevrolet engine wasn’t competitive with the Ford Indy engines. That year, he also bought the McLaren Mk 10 Formula A car that George Eaton had run the year before. He entered it in a race at the airport in Ottawa and the car broke in half – it was junk. He made a few more desultory runs in the Eisert in 1971, and even accepted an invitation to run it in Argentina.

If you look at Heimrath’s race record, you can see that he never had much serious sponsorship after he left the Comstock team. While it has always been true that Canadian-based drivers have found it very hard to attract any deep-pocketed sponsors (Canadian or otherwise), it is a bit surprising that Heimrath continually struggled with this problem for the remainder of his career beginning in 1965. Perhaps his independent, tough-talking style made sponsors (and agents who might have helped find sponsorship) step back from this buzzsaw of a man. Who knows what he might have achieved if he had been able to sign on with a well-supported team back in those missed opportunity years?

Heimrath out in front in mid-1970s Trans-Am action.The door to his next phase of success opened in 1972 when the Porsche factory sold him a race-ready 911S (a.k.a. ‘RSR”) which had run just one race in Europe. No doubt this return to the Porsche fold proved productive in the form of factory support of various kinds. Heimrath says that this RSR was one of the best cars he ever had and points out that it was so dominant over its competition that it was torn down post-race several times but the scrutineers could never find anything illegal. In addition to the race car, the factory also sent a French mechanic who knew how to look after the car. Now, despite lacking much visible sponsorship, he was ready to race. He teamed with another member of the German group, Fritz Hochreuter, to win the six-hour Sundown race.

The next year he continued his winning ways in this 911 RSR. He teamed with Craig Hill for the Sundown. By now, Heimrath was nearly 40 years old. Dave Cook, then an announcer at Mosport commented that, “several younger drivers are saying that Heimrath and Hill are over the hill,” but the duo proved them wrong, winning the Sundown by four laps over the second-place Bytzek brothers. Little did Cook know then that Heimrath would be still going strong more than 30 years later.

In 1974, he teamed with Hill again to win the Sundown race. He also raced in the SCCA Trans-Am Series and finished second, just one point behind ‘Peter Perfect’ Peter Gregg. The next year saw more strong results in the RSR. That year, one reporter recorded that the oft-belligerent Heimrath said, “I believe that I’ve had the wrong attitude,” as if he was planning to turn over a new leaf and become Mr. Nice Guy. When I quoted this back to the present-day Heimrath, he just gave me a wry grin. There was a new 911 RSR in 1976, along with a Trans-Am win at Mosport, but the year was marred by some crashes by his co-drivers.

Everything came together in 1977, in what would turn out to be a highlight year when he won the over 3-litre division of the Trans-Am championship. Coming into the Mosport round in August, Gregg had three wins to Heimrath’s one but Heimrath’s results were more consistent and he led the championship, 93 points Heimrath behind the wheel of his Porsche 935 in 90 – it was a two-way race for the championship. In those days the question of which modifications were legal and which were not was a confused business, as the entrants, the sanctioning bodies (both IMSA and SCCA) and the manufacturer (Porsche) weighed in on the topic. Apparently Gregg had decided to leave IMSA competition to concentrate on the SCCA Trans-Am because he felt IMSA was being too hard on him. In retrospect, one has to wonder if there was some kind of quiet understanding with the SCCA that they would turn a blind eye to some of his trick mods. Of course, this would never do for the old hardheaded Heimrath. Right from the first race of the season he was complaining about apparent rules violations on Gregg’s Porsche – modified bodywork, a missing rear bumper and brackets and stronger Porsche 935 rear axles – but he was getting nowhere. He decided to wait until the late-season Mosport race to make formal protest – thinking that the CASC would end up adjudicating this protest on Canadian soil. He did just that and the Canadian authorities sided with him, but the SCCA officials refused to force Gregg to put the car back into ‘stock’ condition, opting to make him carry a few pounds of ballast as compensation. Even though this ruling was made after qualifying had been run, Gregg was allowed to stay in his position at the front of the grid, which Heimrath also protested.

The six-hour race was a runaway for Gregg and Bob Wolleck. Heimrath and Paul Miller finished second, three laps back. Gregg now led Heimrath by seven points. A CASC appeal board met and upheld Heimrath’s protests, meaning that Gregg would not be classified as a finisher and would receive no points for this race. The SCCA chose to ignore the CASC ruling and continued to award the points to Gregg. Finally the SCCA’s Burdie Martin said that they would appeal the Canadian ruling to the FIA to get this settled. The remaining three races of the season racked up one win for Heimrath and two for Gregg. The SCCA reckoned that Gregg was the champion by 185 points to 162. Heimrath figured that without the Mosport win for Gregg, he would be the champion, 172 to 145.

Heimrath campaigned two Porsche 924s beginning in the mid-1980s.The FIA hearing was held in December and it ruled in favour of Heimrath’s position. However, a week earlier Martin had unilaterally declared Gregg the champion and awarded the trophies to him. Eventually the FIA prevailed and the following April (presumably after the new SCCA media guides had been printed showing Gregg as 1977 champion), the SCCA did officially acknowledge Heimrath to be the Trans-Am winner.

In 1978, he moved up to a proper 935 and ran the big races at Daytona and Sebring for two DNFs, but he had a good season in Trans-Am competition, scoring two outright wins and being competitive all season. He finished a close third in the championship. He continued with 911 variants (e.g. 935) though 1981. In 1981, he got a pair of Porsche 924 turbos from the factory and began a long run in these cars and their successor models that would last until 2000.

By the early 1980s his son, Ludwig Jr, was starting to drive and often drove the 935 and the 924 alongside his father and as co-driver in long-distance races. After a few years, they decided to make a serious effort with Jr. in the Super Vee series. He was rookie of the year in 1983 and contested the series again in 1984. A season running sports cars for Jim Trueman followed before he moved up to IndyCar with sponsorship from Mackenzie Financial, a Canadian mutual fund company. He competed for three seasons, including three Indy 500s. Soon after that Junior quit racing and set up a business on the west coast fabricating parts for the aero and racing industry.

Meanwhile, Heimrath Sr. continued to race in the 924, and later, in the 944 turbo. In 1992, Porsche introduced the 968 to replace the 944. The 924 and 944 had been built in the Audi factory and used an Audi-based engine. The 968 represented a significant redesign, as it was now built in the home Porsche factory and powered by a new 3.0 litre four-cylinder engine derived from the V-8 in the 928. According to Heimrath, this engine was a major improvement over the Audi-derived engines in the previous models. He is fulsome in his praise of the 968.

Heimrath (second from left) and his son, Ludwig Jr. (second from right) celebrate a 1980s win at Mosport. Heimrath's trophy collection takes up a lot of space at his cottage. Heimrath at a Mosport track day in 2009.

In 1994, at the age of 60, Heimrath was driving the Porsche 968, competing in the Valvoline Touring Car Championship, a CASC Ontario Region series. From his scrapbook I learned that he drove solo in winning the 3-hour race at Mosport in June, won both heats in the Shannonville series finale in September and was beat out by Rick Bye for the title by a single point. In 1997, he won his class in the Canada GT Challenge, taking the class win in five of the eight races. He won three times in 1998 and twice in 1999. Finally, in 2000 he made nine starts in the 11 rounds of the series before hanging up his helmet for good at the age of 66. He had raced every year from start to finish over a span of years that saw him racing in five different decades.

How many races did he win? That would be hard to document now but several years ago he told a reporter that he had 483 trophies in his home. Today his trophy collection fills the walls of his cottage to overflowing.

Heimrath’s legend is based on his notable results, often in the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition, and his amazing longevity as a championship-calibre racing driver.

There is certainly an element of mythology that surrounds such an unforgettable person and such a remarkable driver, but there’s no denying that Heimrath is one of the great drivers in Canadian motorsports history.

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