At Z Car Garage we are fortunate to work with passionate owners who have great histories behind their cars. Joel Anderson is a Datsun race car driver with an extraordinary story. We also just happen to be restoring one of his famous Z-cars to compete in the 2014 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion in August! When I first met Joel at the shop I immediately asked him a bunch of questions about racing as a privateer in the 70’s…it’s an era of Datsun racing I’m fascinated with and would love to share his responses with all of you. Enjoy the interview and read further to see our progress on the restoration. Thanks Joel!
Interview: Race car driver Joel Anderson
How did you end up racing Datsuns?
In 1972 I bought my first Datsun 240Z while living in Southern California. At the time I was driving a 1961 VW I built to autocross in Northern California the year before moving to Newport Beach. The VW had a 1900cc Porsche motor, Big Porsche alum. drum brakes and a Porsche transaxle, Koni’s, 10” wide wheels with intermedate rain race tires and a loud stinger exhaust. On the outside no two body parts were the same color but the interior was nice: full gauges, black leather buckets with thick black pile carpet…a true sleeper and absolute blast to drive.
My employer at the time hated the VW and offered me a car in lieu of a raise. I ordered a Porsche 911S from a local dealer and when I went to pick it up they had added over $500 in what they called “Dealer Prep.” I was pissed and after a few hours of arguing I got my deposit back. On my way home I saw a 240Z in the showroom on a turntable at Garden Grove Datsun…it was beautiful, Safari Brown with chrome wire wheels and it had been in the L.A. car show. I knew nothing about 240’s except they were kinda cool looking and they were fast. I went inside and told the saleman I wanted to buy it and take it home that night. The next day driving in the rain on my way to work in my new Z I came to a red light, hit the brakes and went all the way through the intersection…scared the crap outta of me. Joined a Z owner’s club to hopefully get some help on how to fix the brakes. After a couple of meetings I started running slalom events in the stock class and won most of the events entered that year.
In 1973 I moved back to the SF Bay Area and went to an Autocross and got my doors handed to me. The cars here were more prepared than Southern CA…Lowered, race tires, sway bars and a lot more power than my stock Z. Little by little I started modifing my daily driver to be competive. Within a year I had a few 1st in the Prodified class and the car was becoming less and less streetable. I bought a ‘71 Z from an auto wrecker that had a interior fire, took all the goodies off my street car and started trailering the ‘71 to the events. While preparing the cars I got to know the people at FAR Performance fairly well. In 1974 Walt Maas had just won the National Championship in C/Production in Atlanta, GA in the FAR Performance 260Z called “The Giant Killer”. At the time Frank Leary was Walt’s crew chief and the service manager at FAR. Frank was also building a Z of his own to road race in the carport of his condo in Santa Clara. I helped Frank build his car in exchange for his secrets to make a Datsun fast. While working as Leary’s crew chief I had converted my Z to a full on road racer and ran SCCA solo events and won the C/P class. In 1977 I went through SCCA’s driver’s school and started road racing, by the end of the year I had won most of the races and regional championship and was issued my National license. In 1978 I ran SCCA’s National events and qualifed for the runoffs in Atlanta. At Atlanta I had my first DNF due to running too much timing which split and exhuast valve. In ‘79 I turned the SCCA car over to my wife so she could compete in regionals and I built my IMSA GTU car.
Autocross or road racing, what do you prefer?
Road Racing…The autocrossing was a great learning experience in car control, but it was just over too soon. You wait around all day for under 2 minutes of driving rush. The solo competition was better, it gave me lots of track time and a gauge to judge if I had what it takes to be competive on a road course.
What’s your personal code of conduct on the track?
Clean…The rule I’ve always gone by is…”It’s the responsibility of the over-taking driver to pass safely” I’ll run you hard and close but I won’t rub you unless you bring it and if you’re going to pass me you gotta earn it!
What was it like to be a privateer race car driver?
After doing so well in SCCA Club Racing moving up to IMSA Pro Racing was a rude awakening at first. I soon realized that I wasn’t going to be on the pole or in first place for awhile if ever. My self satisfaction and reward came from the fact that my low dollar effort of me alone, in a car I built with the motor I built, was competing against factory backed efforts with professional driver’s with the best equipment money could buy!
Did Nissan back you?
Back then Datsun Competition offered contingency money for Driver’s and Dealer sponsors. You got money from Datsun Comp. for podium finishes and if a dealer sponsored you he got paid as well. Datsun helped me by once in awhile when getting parts from Datsun Comp. not invoicing me. If you made the runoffs at the end of the year you would get tow money. The year I went to the runoffs I got $1,200.00 when I got to Atlanta.
I heard stories of Nissan having tons of spares ready just for racers like you at the track…true?
Only at the runoffs they had a giant Datsun tent for you to pit in and next to the tent a 40 foot trailer full of parts. All you had to do is ask and you got it FREE…if they didn’t have your part it was flown in the next day.
Runoffs at Atlanta…turn 7 before the back straightaway…the first lap of practice…the first time on the track ever…on a cool track…on cool tires and I’m trying to set a new track record? I hit a concrete wall at 80 mph, move the wall 1 ft. and moved the left side of my car 2 ft…really hit hard!! (some good‘ol NASCAR boy’s at a shop near the track fixed the car overnight)
Regional race at Laguna…last lap, front straight, went up the center of 4 back markers, for the win, leaving 2nd place car nowhere to go!
3rd National race at Riverside, finished 2nd behind Leary in pouring rain.
Co-Drove with Leary at Sears Point Enduro, Finished 1st finishing production car and 2nd overall.
What was the first win you remember
The race I remember the most was my ever first race. I started on the outside pole next to Carlos Garza in a Lola T292. After 6 laps he retired with motor trouble. On lap 10 of 15 while running in first overall I got a flat tire and had to dropped out. Even though I didn’t win or finish…I started on the pole, ran first overall and if it wasn’t for a flat tire I was going to win.
What percent of your career races can you remember?
100 percent…racing is so intense it’s like it was just yesterday!
Tell us about the Z that is being restored at Z Car Garage
The car was originally presented by Mr. Katayama to Mr. John Cooper, President of Ontario Motor Speedway in 1972 to be used as the Official Pace Car for the Third Annual ” California 500″ held on Sept. 3, 1972. (it still has the built in flag holder) The car was later given to the Bob Bondurant Driving School at Sears Point. In 1977 I purchased the car from Datsun Comp. for one dollar and picked the car up at Sears Point. I ran the car at all the west coast IMSA races in GTU for three years. Starting in 1980 I ran the car in SCCA Super Production setting the track record at Sears Point and Laguna Seca and winning The Pacific Road Race Championship as well in S/P. The car had been through three owners since I sold the car in 1982 to Rich Johnson as a GT2 car, with smaller flairs and wheels. Rich raced the car for one year and won his class. The car was then sold to Roger Edsinger and he used parts off the car for a car he was racing at the time. It was then sold to Grant Brown and he autocrossed and solo one’d the car. When I got the car back it had been in a storage shed for 15 years or more.
What motivated you to restore the Z and how did you end up taking it to Rob?
In 1989 I started buying back all my old race cars. I bought my 1971 SCCA C/P car that had been turned into an autocross car and setting in a storage lot for 20 years, My IMSA car that had been in a storage shed for 15 years and a IMSA body street Z I built for my son, that he sold and was in storage for 10 years. My plan was to restore the cars with my Son and Grandson and race them. Shortly after getting the cars my Son died of a massive heart attack. At that point I changed my plan and decided to sell the cars. I listed the cars on Craigslist and sold the street Z right away and got all kinds of interest in the race cars. At the point I met Rob I was talking with Les Cannaday owner of Classic Datsun in Vista, CA. During a phone call Rob made me an offer I couldn’t refuse…and here we are today.
You got accepted to race at the 2014 Historics, when they announce your name on the grid how will you feel?
Special for sure since the first time the car came to life and moved under its own power was the IMSA GTU morning practice 25 year ago at Laguna Seca…it will be a rebirth of the car with its creator at the wheel.
Interested in some really cool vintage racing print? Check out this 1978 article featuring Joel and his Autocross efforts, HERE
Restoring an old and tired vintage racing car is both art and science. Z Car Garage is both honored and excited to bring this Z back to life! Present day vintage racing expects both performance and concours condition, in the same car. It is a much different process to restore a forty year old car that will be used at high speed under constant stress and strain than it is to spruce up an old Packard for boulevard cruises. The goal for Joel’s IMSA 240z is to restore it back to its condition cosmetically and mechanically as it was raced decades ago. This means keeping little details like original suspension parts and period-spec braking components intact but using modern tires and saftey equipment as required by the racing bodies.
One of the best parts of any IMSA car and especially the Z’s are the enormous fender flares. Lucky for us most of the bodywork was present or sourced easily. Time for paint! We turned to the best: William’s Auto Body.
William did an incredible job of laying the black paint with bespoke striping. Single-stage paint was chosen of course to give it that 70’s vibe. Here’s a shot of Joel at Laguna Seca in #49:
The livery is complete!
Joel originally ran some “Trick Mag” magnesium wheels which are no longer available. We thought the closest replica would be the V48 from Vintage Wheel Works. These are custom sized and will have gold centers with some meaty Avon slicks to provide grip. For now we drool over the mock-up:
The 80’s vs 2014:
William also shot the interior in gloss white. Check out the cagework:
With paint complete chassis restoration is underway. All suspension pieces originally run will be zinc plated:
Next, we tackle the engine! More updates to come with Joel and friends helping with the build.
We are extremely amped and looking forward to the Historics when Joel races this very special 240z. It will even be towed on the very same trailer that took Joel to Road Atlanta over 30 years ago, and me to the Solvang Roadster Show last April!
Long Live the Z!
Lots of pictures of the restoration in the gallery!