AI: Gary Umphenour - NASA interview

Interview with Gary Umphenour, 2005 West Region American Iron Champion Interview by Andy Bowman Talking to Gary Umphenour is like talking to a Formula One driver. While doing the interview, all I could think of was Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren...

Interview with Gary Umphenour, 2005 West Region American Iron Champion
Interview by Andy Bowman

Talking to Gary Umphenour is like talking to a Formula One driver. While doing the interview, all I could think of was Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren doing an after race interview... So I would say Gary would be the West Region "Ice-Man". And Gary drives like it as well. On the track, he makes no radical moves; he is sometimes almost like a ghost, just until he is passing you. Then it is all business. After any race he wins, he simply gets out of his car with no particular smile, goes through tech inspection and heads to the garage to prepare for the next race, with a few race comments with his crew and competitors. Yet, Gary is one of those guys that has point blank good advice, he is technically strong and is always lending tools and a helping hand to fellow racers. A key note about Gary is his team mate, is Father, Greg. The both of them make a great team combination. Greg is friendly and always has a great smile and ready to chat with other AI racers. They both show that sincere concern if anyone is have problems at the track. They are both from the same block of ice for sure...

Q. Tell us about your race team, we always see your Dad at the events and others that give you great support.

A. Crazy George, and my Dad, Greg, are my main crewmembers. Crazy George is a family friend and is a big help, and my Dad is my crew chief. My Dad has been vintage road racing for 10 years. We have always been a close father-son operation as I hung around him and supported his efforts. We own and operate United Truck Recycling out of norther California. We run the business together, which consumes a lot of time. I got involved in American Iron in 2004 at Thunder Hill Raceway. After I researched NASA and the American Iron (AI) series, we decided to find a car and try a run for the championship in 2005.

Q. Your American Iron (AI) championship in 2005 was awesome. How did you decide to race the AI series and how did it all develop into a race program?

A. I like to do things start to finish, so after we went to some races and talked to Griggs, we came up with a plan to get a car and get on the track and see where it led us in mid season 2004. I love road racing.... V8's and American muscel cars are fun. We knew it would not be cheap, but fun.... Between my Dad and me, we know a lot about cars, engines, transmissions and building solid chasis's.

We looked into SCCA AS (American Sedan) and SCCA Improved Touring Enduro (ITE) series, but it just did not seem as attractive as NASA AI series. Initially, we heard about NASA AI via Hot Rod magazine and Mustang Monthly, and went to watch Guy Cunningham race once at one of the Northern California tracks. We then called Bruce Griggs at Griggs Racing and got some input on how to prep the car. We then went searching for a race car, wanting to get one already partially prepped.

In 2005, the plan was to race every race. The main goal to finish every race we started. We wanted no driver errors. It seemed from watching a few AI events, that was the best plan versus planning to drive the heck out of the car to win every race, but dropping out due to some driver or mechanical problem. You gotta finish to win the championship. It just seemed drivers were taking themselves out of races by either driver error or poor-prep work before the race. The whole 2005 season, we tied with Ryan Walton in points, so to win the series, we had to show up.... I was shocked Ryan had a DNF at Button Willow Raceway near the end of the season and then he did not show up to the last race.... Going into the last 2005 season race, if we had one DNF in the weekend, we really felt like Ryan was good enough to take the championship back from us, it was that close.

Q. Tell us about your car, what modifications and changes did you make to it to become a 2005 Champion?

A. It's an original 1997 Saleen Mustang. Then it became a Griggs Racing shop car at some point. Griggs set it up with their GR40 world challenge suspension.... We got it with no motor, so we installed a 347CI motor and all the typical header, exhaust and safety components. We purchased the car in December 2003, and began working on it for about six months and started racing in mid 2004.

Q. You had some really intense races in 2005, what were some of the best races for you? Tell us a little about your overall season memories?

A. The best moment was the last race win and season championship by far. I will never forget it. The best race was at Willow Springs Raceway with Ryan Walton, going at it door to door for forty minutes. Then at Button Willow Raceway again with a full race group late in the season, winning one of the races that weekend against some great drivers.

Q. What is your racing style? How do you prepare yourself for each race, what goes through your mind?

A. I focus on the car a few days before each event, and right before race days, I try to clear my mind of the car. I just think of my race, I think about how I need to drive. A smooth driving track focus. I get as calm as I can. I usually dont get butterflyies. I prefer rolling starts, but the standing starts get pretty exciting. I feed off the competition, which keeps me focused.

Q. What are your racing plans for 2006; can you repeat your championship?

A. We have a simple plan. To make every race, get a few victories, and see where each race puts us. But fininsh every race, that is key. There are more cars and good drivers this season. Winning the championship will be a harder challenge. So I must raise my own performance, meaning no driver errors.

Q. The AI-West region is going to have more cars and drivers on the track this season, how do you think the growth of NASA and the AI series is going, and what would you like to see in the future for the series?

A. The growth of AI is positive. It will help spur more competitors each year. Guys are going to be wanting to get back on the track; they will feel like they have to, like they can't just skip a few races. The overall series is a better product this year. There seems to be more energy.

Q. What is your personal life like, what else do you do when you are not buring up the AI tracks?

A. I work a good solid 12hrs a day and play some basketball when I can. I work on other race cars. I eat sushi, do yard work around the house, and kick back with friends. I keep things pretty simple.

-nasa-

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About this article
Series Road racing
Drivers Kimi Raikkonen