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"Most racers are nuts, some are weird, others are crazy and I fit right into this group, easy" Kas Kastner

Published: 20 Dec 2018


For those that don't know, Kas Kastner was a racer and "the" master tuner for for all things Triumph TR in the 50's and 60's over in the states heading up Triumphs racing department. Kas has been kind enough to supply us some extracts from his various publications for our followers to enjoy, here are a few words from the man himself... 

Most racers are a little nuts, some are crazy! (but crazy things keep happening) That is a kind of tongue in cheek comment, but still things happen in race cars to drivers that are weird, and drivers hear strange things to go along with their weird thoughts. You think of things that are happening in the car, and can be observed instantly by outside folks. True? Not really. Here is an example:

The Del Mar, California, race track. This was a simple tight little 1.5 mile race track on the huge parking lot at the Del Mar Horse track. Early 1959. I've got a nice 1958 TR3A, and am running very well for the past season and into this event also. The race starts, I'm working from the pole. Down the front chute around for a couple laps, and then it happens. As I enter a sharp left turn and toss the car into the corner, as I had every lap for two days, my right arm is thrown out of the socket. I mean it is totally out of the joint. No pain though. I suppose adrenaline took care of any pain

Anyway, as I turn on out of the corner I need to shift, but my right arm is useless. Using my left hand, I throw my right hand up onto the gearshift. It just falls off. Glad to have overdrive; I hit the O.D. switch and that gets me to the next corner, a couple corners more, and I'm running down the front straight to the finish line. Here is the weird part, I figure the starter and other officials on the front straight can see that my right arm is useless, and will black flag me. Clever me, Using my left again, I put my right hand up onto the steering wheel by pulling on a finger with my left hand to keep the right hand on the wheel. Yup, see, you people out there, everything is okay. I'm driving with two hands. Silly, right, but it's true. Finally running past the folks at start finish I realize I cannot continue this, so take the next corner, a hairpin to the right this time, and pop, the arm drops back into place, and I'm just as if it had never happened. Finished, won, and never a single bit of pain.

But thinking everyone out there could see me causes me to have a hell've good laugh at myself. I never told anyone. I figured there is no way this is possible, and they wouldn't believe me anyway. But,........ believe me. I checked with my doctor the following Monday. He marveled at the experience, but understood how it happened, and said I should be glad he did not have to manipulate the arm back into place.

Go forward 30 years. Pulling my racing sailboat into the slip at the marina, step back, catch a line with my right foot, and fall over the side onto the dock, hit on my right elbow and pop my arm out of joint. The pain is so intense it took me several minutes to be able to breathe regularly. All alone on the dock and pain not letting up a bit, except, I know what has happened and am trying to figure out what to do. I push my right hand into my belt using my left to hold the arm up a little, tie off the boat with my left hand and go up onto the bulkhead looking for some help. Not a soul around. On top of this arm problem, I've got go to the restroom BAD. Work the head keys out of my right pocket with the left hand and get to the restroom. As I am sitting down on the toilet seat, my arm pops back into place again. The pain is instantly gone. The whole point of the story is to describe how much the adrenaline can mask pain. No pain on the race track and intense pain at the dock. Racers have a good thing going here.

This crazy stuff is not a single happening. This time it is racing at the airport in Stockton, California, 1959. Qualified poorly due to a flat tire, and just working hard to get thru the pack. Do this nicely and going into the front, finally getting by Ed Leslie (great guy) in his 2.7 liter Healey by passing partly on the grass at a hard 3rd gear corner. All is looking good. Afterwards, this happens. I'm going through the first and second short corners quick; I had been taking them as one long corner, with a lot of tail out sliding and down changing right at the apex of the second part. Okay for several laps, and running in the lead. Then going into the same corner the rear motor mount breaks. As I'm rotating through this corner, the prop shaft is grinding against the metal gearbox cover, making a hell'va racket. I figure of course the corner workers can hear this (Over the exhaust of twenty five or thirty cars and squealing tires etc. hah!!) So for six or seven laps I lift on the throttle going through the corner so the prop shaft would not jump sideways and grind away. Almost caught up by the pack before the flag. You wonder how can anyone think this driveshaft scraping noise could be heard and fear you'd be black flagged? You really need to be a racer to understand. Yup, weird and crazy. Racers truly are not normal folks. Funny stuff happens to race car drivers. Sometimes they alone know what it was, big laugh or fall apart at the seams.

The pit area, 1955, the Steamboat Springs, Colorado race. The Main Street pits were numbered, but mainly you used the store front to identify your spot. Here I am, in my just finished racer the night before, then driven from Salt Lake City, Utah, about 350 miles away. The white Triumph on the left is the first Triumph I ever raced. It belonged to the Salt Lake City dealer, Dunn Auto....... I liked it.

This time, it was lucky and truly funny. To start with, this is about 1955, I am working on my MG special out of a dealership in Salt Lake City where I am the "foreign car" mechanic. They let me build my car there, so my evenings are golden. I'm working at night and have the total framework completed to hold the proposed bodywork. This framework is built of thin wall steel 1/2" electrical conduit (cheap). Just finished the engine wiring and felt I had to test the system to see that it all worked and the engine would start. It is early evening, and the car is completed except for the body. I fire up the engine. Everything works; it is great to hear the engine rapping with a throttle blip. Inspiring I will tell you now. Been working all winter on this deal. Got to try out this puppy.

(Side note) As a working mechanic I had the habit to always have a tiny adjustable wrench in my right hand pants pocket and a jack knife in my left pocket. (To this day I still have the knife.) This is important. On this occasion having the knife was very very important .

No body, and of course no lights on the Special, but what the hell, it's just slightly dark and who will know? The shop opened onto a quiet side street and this street led right into the normal housing neighborhood. Several other sports car people are there as it was sort of hangout after the day's work was done, and they came to chat and watch the progress of the Special.

I pull up the big side street door and step into the chair of the Special. Great feeling, nifty noise, good vibes everywhere. I slip into gear and let out the clutch, slide out onto the street. I figure I'll just go a block down and right back so the locals don't call the "heat" and so I can get a "feel" of this baby. Man it feels good. I've taken six hundred pounds off the weight of the stock MG and the power is about 85 bhp and it will rev right out your ear. Down the street I go and accelerate up to speed, then reach an intersection, slow down, (brakes are good) and start the U-turn to return to the shop. As I make this slow move, my body shifts over towards the gearbox, which of course does not have a cover at this point. My right pants leg gets caught in the open u-joint, the driveshaft winds my pant leg up tight and pulls me into the driveshaft. It pulls all the fabric of my pants tight. This stalls the engine. Now both pants legs are dead tight and I cannot move my legs at all. I turn off the ignition and sit there. Unable to move either of my legs or the car. But, I am right in the center of a four way intersection, no lights, no horn, and seriously tight to the driveshaft with a car that was not moveable. Did you say dangerous? But now the cool part.

 

I finally wiggle my big left hand into the left pants pocket and slide my jackknife out with my finger tips, got it all the way out and open, cut my right leg pants leg off (slowly) and am released from the problem. It all sounds so easy now and trust me it was NERVE WRACKING. That jack knife was working really close to my skin and I kept waiting for someone to roar into the neighbourhood intersection and "T bone" me in my fine illegal racecar. Removed the pant leg from the driveshaft and u-joint, started up, and motored back to the garage. I stepped out to a series of questions, "Where the hell were you?" and "What happened to your pants?" When I told all the guys what had happened they wanted to know what I was going to say if the police happened by with me sitting there in the middle of the intersection. I said "you guys were towing me and the car on a trailer, the car fell off and me in it, and you didn't bother to check on me." Would they have bought that? One leg of the pants gone and no one else insight......yeah, probably, why would you ever you doubt a story like that? We laughed and tried various other lies that might have pacified our police patrol. So, got out from that scrape easy enough, spooky, but then that was yesterday.

Today it is bright sunny and this car is just begging to be run again. Saturday afternoon, work is over, the shop closed. My friend and fellow sports car nut, Dr. John (Jack) Crenshaw thought it might be a good idea to take the car up the canyons for a ride to see how it really went, and how it handled. I could not think of one good reason not to do this. Clever me, I wired a license plate to the back of the car's skeleton framework, still without a body, and out we went. Roaring up Parleys Canyon, ten miles or more, just as fast as it would go. Straight exhaust pipe blaring away, up and back, no problems and no cops or other interested parties. Whoopee, great time. It is amazing that Jack and I both lived to be old. Good guy Jack had lots of great ideas.

To find out more about Kas's remarkable history not only with Triumph but also other manufactures head over to his website on the link below:

http://www.kaskastner.com/