By Nancy Knapp Schilke
Bob Holbert was a legend, even though he did not believe that he was, indeed the racer and business owner was a legend in many ways. On Monday, November 12, 2007, the legend passed away at the age of 84 in Warrington, Pennsylvania.
He was a racer who laid down landmarks for future drivers, including his own son Al Holbert whose life ended in 1988. Back in the early years of sportscar racing in North America, Holbert became a fan favorite and earned the respect of his fellow competitors as he and others laid down the framework of what we now all enjoy at many motor sports venues.
Sebring International Raceway honored both Bob Holbert and his son Al Holbert with their induction into the 2004 Hall of Fame at the Florida facility. The two racers had first-class achievements at the Twelve Hours of Sebring -- a very difficult and challenging event -- while the younger Holbert won twice in the overall, his dad had notched six class victories.
Bob Holbert was one of many racers who were mechanics/businessmen who enjoyed the challenge of racing. He opened his first garage in 1923 and in 1951, Holbert's Garage moved to a larger facility in Warrington. Three years later, Holbert became one of the first USA Porsche authorized dealerships. It still thrives to this day as the oldest Porsche dealership in North America. For the past 25 years, Larry Holbert, Bob's son has been president of the family-owned business.
"Through his dealership and racing successes, Bob Holbert helped establish the Porsche brand in America," said Peter Schwarzenbauer, president and chief executive officer of Porsche Cars North America. "He was a true American Porsche pioneer."
The family business included Volkswagen and Audi brands and if Bob Holbert had not left racing to attend to the growth of his business, one will never know how many race wins he would have earned. His son followed his career and before the fatal plane crash, Al Holbert had three 24 Hours of Le Mans victories, five IMSA championships, raced in the NASCAR series, competed at the Indianapolis 500 before taking over the leadership of the Porsche North America's Motorsports Division.
The family's strongest connection was indeed with Porsche -- both were factory drivers for the German marque -- the senior Holbert being one of the first. Bob Holbert's racing career may have been brief but during that time, he won four SCCA National Championships, was the first winner in the grand opening race at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) in 1957 and in 1963, he earned the United States Road Racing Championship title.
His retirement in 1964 came after the death in Indianapolis of his friend and co-driver Dave McDonald. In that same year, the duo notched the GT class victory at Sebring.
While we all enjoy the modern era of racing with the newest and latest technology, we need to remember the past history of the sport and the legends who set the records with their talent, knowledge and love of the sport. It was common back in the early days of motor sports that the racers were also mechanics at heart.
There are many stories and recollections that many can find on the history of motor sports in North America. Finding one that ties in the present to the past adds to the closing of our remembrance of Bob Holbert.
Porsche earned the American Le Mans Series sportscar racing LMP2 championship this year in the hands of Roger Penske who ironically purchased his first race in 1958 from Bob Holbert. Later Al Holbert would work for Penske while attending a local university before his racing career began.
The Penske-Holbert connection continued in SCCA's race for the President's Cup back in 1962 at VIR. With darkness descending onto the circuit and heavy rain, the race would indeed be challenging. It was! Penske had the E Modified pole in a Cooper Monaco and second on the grid was Bob Holbert in a Porsche RS61. Penske took the early lead, Hobert managed to overtake him in the wet conditions. When the rain ended, Penske took the lead back and won the President's Cup.
Indeed, Bob Holbert was a legend ...