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A history of the Minnesota Autosports Club by Don Gettinger

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  • A history of the Minnesota Autosports Club by Don Gettinger

    A history of the Minnesota Autosports Club by Don Gettinger

    Since I have been a continuous member of the Minnesota Autosports Club and its parent club, the Minnesota Opel Drivers, longer than any other current member, I’ve been asked to serve as club historian, and put together a history of the club. Some of the information on the early years comes from a booklet put together during the club’s fifth year (1976) by Cathy Zimmerman. Personally, I joined MAC (MOD) late in 1973 or early in 1974.

    THE EARLY YEARS

    The Minnesota Opel Drivers club was formed in 1970 by six energetic individuals. The club was formed to promote and foster the ideals of sports car enthusiasts and help set up guidelines for autocross events, and assistance in improving performance of their cars. At the time, the German-build Opels were being imported and sold through Buick dealers. The Opel GT was the performance car (looking like a “mini-Corvette” to many), while models such as the Manta, the Opel 57 Sports Coupe, the 1900, and the Opel 51 sedan were also available. Earlier versions such as the Kadett and Rekord had made their way into the US for several years, at least from the mid 60’s. The Opel line featured a base 1100 cc motor in several models with the 1900 cc motor being the high performance version. Opel had a long history of success in rally and racing events in Europe, and a strong performance image was associated with the GT’s.

    Drake Anderson, who many of us remember from recent years as an autocrosser, had the original idea for the club, and was the first president. Other members were Norton Johnson, Candy Anderson, Wayne Dahl, and Bill and Mary Ellen Thul. Bill Thul handled the legal work for the club for many years. The constitution and by-laws were voted on and adopted in 1972. June of 1972 saw SCCA National Champion and future BIR owner Jerry Hansen along with Lynn Woodward driving Opel Sports Coupes in Donnybrooke Skogmo Memorial Race. Hansen finished first, and Woodward second in the race. The sport coupe was replaced by the two-door sedan in showroom stock racing for 1973. Gene Anderson, who later campaigned a very successful Formula Ford in SCCA racing, joined the club in 1972, and won the novice class in his first autocross. The Minnesota Opel Drivers joined Met Council in September of 1972, joining clubs such as Corvettes of Minnesota, the Land O’Lakes Region of SCCA, and Nord Stern region of PCA. Other Met Council Clubs at that time included the U of M Sports Car Club, 3M Sports Car Club, Univac Sports Car Club, and the BMC Club of the Upper Midwest.

    In its second year, MOD added icekhanas to its program. Dave Zimmerman (Sunbeam Tiger) and John Davis (Opel GT and a ’53 Corvette, Serial #20) were major forces in the icekhana move. MOD connected with Basso Presto Club of Mankato, and an Ice Series was formed. MOD events were held at Sugar Lake near Annandale, while most Basso Presto events were at Hinicker Pond in Mankato. Within a year of it’s inception, MOD had grown to 56 members. By 1974 membership had grown to 85.

    In addition to autocross and icekhana events, MOD sponsored a rally series, generally putting on about five TSD rallies. At the time, several clubs were also involved in putting on open autocross events at BIR. Each fall COM, MOD, U of M, and the 3M Sports Car Club sponsored a weekend at BIR. Several years a Solo II was also put on by SCCA at BIR, and for a few years the track provided a weekend for the “Workers Autocross” when those who had worked at SCCA events during the year were able to run autocross events for a weekend with no entry fee, while others were charged something in the neighborhood of fifteen dollars for the weekend. How times have changed!

    In the early years, most of the MOD events were held at Minnesota Dragways in Blaine, at schools in the Robbinsdale and Plymouth area (arranged by Ken Zieska), at Signal Hills Shopping Center, at Anoka-Hennepin Tech Center, North Hennepin Community College, or at the Hastings Go-Cart track – a wonderful facility with tech barn, small grandstand, and a road course that produced lap times of about 50 seconds, with runs sometimes being two or three laps. In the fall of 1974, six members made the trip to the Solo II runoffs in Columbia, South Carolina, placing as high as fourth (Vern Reichow). Vickie Reichow took seventh out of 45 entrants in her class.

    Meetings for the first years were held at various Buick dealerships (Burkle, Win Stephens, etc.) on a rotating basis. As the club grew, we outgrew the facilities of dealerships, and we moved to the GM Training Center facility in Golden Valley.

    MOD always had a strong social program as well. Club events included a Halloween costume party, a Christmas Party, and many days where a group of us would caravan (perhaps 6-8 cars) to events and back. The MOD presence was always strong at LaCrosse, at Mankato’s Basso Presto events, and at Solo II events in Eau Claire or Duluth.

    The MOD logo was designed by Jane Scott, and adopted in 1975. You can see that the MAC logo comes directly from the old MOD logo. The Articles of Incorporation for MOD were filed with the state of Minnesota on September 24, 1975. Within a few short years, the club would become Minnesota Opel Drivers, dba Minnesota Autosports Club.

    THE TRANSITION YEARS

    In the mid-70’s, Buick stopped importing the German Opels, Massive energy-absorbing bumpers just wouldn’t work on the Opel GT. Buick switched to “Opel by Isuzu” as their import, economy line. These were fun cars, and didn’t perform badly, but in the eyes of sports car enthusiasts, they certainly weren’t “proper Opels”. The Isuzu was dropped from the Buick line within a few short years, with the Chevrolet Chevette being the corporate replacement in the US, along with the Arcadia in Canada. At the same time, Ford was replacing the German Capri with a strong rally and racing image with the Pinto. Several popular sports cars, such as BMC’s MGB series ceased to be imported as well. The Opel became an orphan car, and the Opel Club had no new, exciting models to anticipate and support. Locally, the BMC club was in a similar situation. Without their marque being imported, there were a smaller number of members driving the club-named cars every year, and membership in the BMC club was becoming smaller.

    The very late 70’s saw some changes in the autocross picture. Gas prices began to stabilize, and performance cars began to appear again. Many of our autocross events were held at the State Fairgrounds racetrack, and a new track became available in the early 80’s in St. Cloud. The Hastings Go-Cart Track had been returned to farmland, as it still is today. During the 1978 season, negotiations between the MOD Club and the BMC Club for a merger went on. At the time, Bruce Bengtson was president of BMC, while Don Gettinger was president of MOD. At the end of the 1978 season, the BMC club purchased memberships for all its members in MOD to close out its treasury, and MOD acquired the BMC club property as well. The name remained MOD in 1979, but in 1980 was changed to Minnesota Autosports Club. Papers were filed with the state for the name change, and we officially became MOD, Inc. dba Minnesota Autosports Club. Meetings in the late 70’s for BMC, MOD and Met Council all were held in St. Paul’s Snelling-Larpenteur area during this time, either at the Pizza Hut or at Shakey’s Pizza. MAC soon made the move to Parrish’s, where COM had been meeting since the late 60’s.

    The BMC club had long sponsored the MOWOG series. Phil Ethier can explain the significance of the term MOWOG, but suffice to say MOWOG on a BMC part is like GM stamped on a Chevrolet part. Something about the Morris-Wosley-Group in the parts bin, I think. At any rate, the series was known as the MOWOG Series through 1976 in 1977 it was called the BMC/MOD MOWOG Series as MOD took on an active role in it’s operation, in 1978 it became the MOD MODWOG Series (I actually have one trophy that says “MODOG”, but that was a mistake!) In 1980, along with changing the club name and letters to MAC, the club logo was revised to reflect the change, and the name of the series reverted to MOWOG in honor of the BMC club, and it’s contribution to autosports in the Metropolitan Area over the years.

    THE GROWTH YEARS

    As the Opel and BMC cars declined in numbers, and the club took on a new name and image, memberships again began to grow. The University of Minnesota Sports Car Club ceased operations (major problem being finding enough UMSCC members who were actually students to be officers as required by the University), and many of it’s members joined MAC, with a few going to LOL or COM. The 3M Sports Car Club also ceased operations, and MAC took in several of it’s members, along with much of the club property (like all those pylons with reflectorized tape).

    After a few years of using the Hiway Safety Center in St. Cloud, Raceway Park, Elko Speedway, and the Forest Lake Go-Kart Track, we moved most of our events to Canterbury Park (formerly Canterbury Downs). The shortened horse racing season, small fields of horses, and small betting handles gave us a great opportunity to negotiate a rental package for the “overflow” lot at Canterbury. This was a facility with a paved area about 380 feet by 1100 feet, with additional parking adjacent. We were able to set up an unlimited variety of large, safe courses, and autocrossing again began to thrive. At the same time, small import sedans were becoming much more performance oriented, and a variety of new cars were emerging (Miatas, etc.). MAC also made a series of significant investments in timing equipment and club property that enhanced the club’s image, and provided better events. KMAC radio gave way to our current timing and display systems, and better software will continue to speed the operation of events.

    About three years ago, we were fortunate to have arrangements made that gave clubs access to Dakota Technical College at the same time that Canterbury found it was much more lucrative to rent storage space to the Ford plant for vehicles awaiting shipment than to rent to us. While most drivers love the feeling of driving on an actual road course that Dakota presents, some traditionalists miss the concept of driving through a pyloned course in a large parking lot.

    What lies ahead? Certainly energy costs, the nature of new vehicles being produced, the availability of “tuner” items in the market, and the types of facilities we have access to will all influence the future of autocross events and autocross clubs. Part of adopting the name Minnesota Autosports Club was to provide for a broad base of operations for the club. The current total emphasis on autocross reflects what the current members want, but the opportunity remains for rallies, concours, or any other autosports events in our future. We are starting our thirtieth season of operation, and will celebrate out thirtieth anniversary in about a year. It’s fun to look back and see where we’ve been, but in a club full of drivers, it’s even more important that we keep looking ahead.


    [Phil Ethier edited for spelling on 1-9-06]
    [The roots of MAC include BMC Club, and we don't have a complete history available. BMC and the Mowog Series certainly predate my arrival in 1968. More research is needed. -ed]
    Phil Ethier - Numbers Czar Emeritus
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  • #2
    Opels

    Phil, little did I know my wife and I could have joined the MOD in 1970 using here 1966 Opel Kadett S which she purchased new in 1966. Picture was from Honeymoon in the Colorado Rockies Sep. 1968.

    Good History fun to read.
    Attached Files
    Gary Kullman
    #164 2013 Mercedes SLK55 AMG
    Previous TBSP - 04 Subaru STi
    04 A Stock MAC Champion
    "Anyone can speed, Few can go Fast" :gent:

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    • #3
      I actually belonged to the BMC club for a year. Until I got too busy in my career as a auto mechanic........
      Had to work Sundays.....
      I ran two events in 1966-67 at the Hastings kart track. In my '65 MGB [red] with wire wheels on Dunlop radials.
      Amsoil Dealer in Ham Lake, MN

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      • #4
        Kart Track

        Originally posted by DCM View Post
        I actually belonged to the BMC club for a year. Until I got too busy in my career as a auto mechanic........
        Had to work Sundays.....
        I ran two events in 1966-67 at the Hastings kart track. In my '65 MGB [red] with wire wheels on Dunlop radials.
        Small world, I ran Box A Kart at the Hastings track in 1965/66. Track was wide enough for a couple of karts, would have been something to see two MGB's in a passing move.
        Gary Kullman
        #164 2013 Mercedes SLK55 AMG
        Previous TBSP - 04 Subaru STi
        04 A Stock MAC Champion
        "Anyone can speed, Few can go Fast" :gent:

        Comment


        • #5
          Very cool to read about the roots of the club especially for those of us that are relatively green. Thanks Don.

          Kind of disappointing there isn't more a social aspect to the club now though.
          2013 Scion FR-S Build Thread

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          • #6
            Very cool! Thanks for your efforts!

            I love the last line.

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            • #7
              More on MAC History:
              MOD (Minnesota Opel Drivers) was formed in 1972.
              In 1976 BMC Club was still doing the MOWOG Series alone. In 1977 and 1978 it was called the MODWOG Series put on by MOD and BMC, on awards and in the literature. The merger occurred in 1978 when I was MOD President. In 1979 the club was still Minnesota Opel Drivers, and it was the "Minnesota Opel Drivers Series".
              After the merger, we (MAC) filed a DBA (Doing Business As) document with the state Attorney General for the name change, and continued on with the MAC Constitution/ByLaws as our guiding documents. Part of the merger included MOD (soon to be MAC) acquiring all the pylons, flags, fire extinguishers, etc., owned by BMC Club, and the treasury of BMC Club being used to buy memberships in MAC for all the then-current members of BMC. A BMC member (Bruce Thompson, I think) kept the BMC timer for use on rallies; it may have even been his personal property at the time. One key issue that led to the merger, in addition to the BMC products no longer being imported and the decline in new members, was that BMC didn't have sufficient funds to buy into the Met Council insurance policy. For at least one season, the MOWOG Series continued as the MODWOG Series, when MOD was insuring and running the events. In its last year or two, lots of the leaders of BMC were actually Mustang drivers (Rich Gardner, Jim and Barb Bradshaw, Brad Wethe, Curly Cardinal, etc.).
              MAC also acquired all the pylons and much of the other equipment when the 3M Sports Car Club disbanded; same for some of the equipment from the U of M Sports Car Club when they disbanded.
              The club name officially changed to Minnesota Autosports Club (MAC) in 1980. In tribute to the heritage of the joint organization, we reverted to the terms "MOWOG Series", and MOWOG events.
              Looking at old awards (my flashlight from the night autocross) and printed results, the Night Autocross (MOWOG IV) at Hastings Kart Track was in September 1974, and the MOWOG V event also at Hastings Kart Track was officially designated as the 10th Anniversary Autocross for BMC, also in September 1974, so that clearly puts the starting date of BMC Club as 1964. Note-We did three laps on the track per run for that event, with times generally in the 2:30 to 2:50 range. FUN!!! If you're looking to find the old track, within a year or two it was removed, and still today is part of a field (often corn or soy beans) about 2 miles south of Hastings, on the west side of US 61. The entrance road is still visible, if you know where to look.
              When did the club start? 1972, or 1978, or 1964, depending on your point of view. In terms of the "legal" date in terms of State of Mn records, I'd go with the 1972 for the founding of MOD. If you're planning an Anniversary Party, why not celebrate each of them?
              Don Gettinger

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              • #8
                I recently bought a '70 Opel GT with some local SCCA road-race history, I wonder if it ever was autocrossed or if anyone in the club remembers or has old pictures of it?
                It was owned and raced by Gene Harbour. I bought it on his estate auction.


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                • #9
                  Lee used to autocross an Opel GT, but that does not look like his unless it has been changed up a bit (I was thinking the color was a bit different). I kinda wanted to buy it when he sold it but just could not justify another car or have a place to put it back then.

                  Good think you bought this, we were afraid you did not have enough cars sitting around
                  2001 S2000
                  Proud Recipient of the 2019 Spirit of the Sport Award

                  Originally posted by 86SVO
                  ..... then I found a broken chuck of plastic bumper cover to use as "paper".



                  No one really listens to anyone else, and if you try it for a while you'll see why. - Mignon McLaughlin

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by gkullman View Post
                    Kart Track



                    Small world, I ran Box A Kart at the Hastings track in 1965/66. Track was wide enough for a couple of karts, would have been something to see two MGB's in a passing move.
                    We were autocrossers. We didn't pass in MGBs. Worst mishap I witnessed there was a FIAT 850 roadster that went off-pavement and rolled. Damned swing-axles. Driver hid in the passenger seat and escaped injury.

                    I didn't see if he had had the shotgun-side seatbelt fastened to provide a handle. I used to do that in my MG Midget.

                    Management wanted us to always run the opposite direction as the racing karts, so that any ruts we caused would not be in the runoff for the karts.

                    Of the three times I broke the centers of SAAB wheels whilst cornering at autocrosses, one was at Hastings.
                    Phil Ethier - Numbers Czar Emeritus
                    1973 Triumph Stag LE22439UBW "uncle jack", Sapphire Blue
                    2004 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 8.1, Sport Red
                    2005 Lotus Elise, Bordeaux Red Pearl
                    2006 Gulf Stream Conquest Super C Chevrolet Kodiak 8.1
                    2017 Ford Fusion SE, Oxford White, as befits an appliance.
                    pethier7 [at] gmail [dot] com
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                    http://www.mntriumphs.org

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Derek69SS View Post
                      I recently bought a '70 Opel GT with some local SCCA road-race history, I wonder if it ever was autocrossed or if anyone in the club remembers or has old pictures of it?
                      It was owned and raced by Gene Harbour. I bought it on his estate auction.

                      I did not know that Gene had passed away.

                      Gene was a great member of The Upper Midwest BMC Club in the old days. Gene came to Minnesota from Oklahoma. He was just the sort of person you would now expect to be voted The Spirit of the Sport.

                      The last time I remember seeing Gene was at a Jack Pine Sprints weekend. It rained a lot that weekend.

                      Over time, the NHRA had become more important to the financials at BIR. Changes around Turn Ten made for drag racing had caused some safety problems for the road-racers. Biggest one of these was the building of a 5-story concrete-block building in the run-off for Ten. I recall at a MAC track-day watching an RX-7 slide into the hay bales stacked against this building.

                      Needless to say, the road-racers at this wet Jack Pine Sprints took it a bit easy through Ten since that building was pretty intimidating. The trouble for many drivers that weekend began after they were out of Ten and had their cars straight. The coating on the dragstrip worked well in the dry, but in the wet was astonishingly-slippery. Officials at the driver's meeting cautioned drivers to avoid the site paint on the pavement. I later talked to several drivers who said they purposely drove on the paint because it was superior to the black areas.

                      FWD cars and some of the lower-powered cars didn't have a problem. The late Bill Cammack told me that the spec-racers were OK.

                      Unfortunately, Gene's Opel GT was rear-drive and had a locked rear axle. Gene always used to tell me that the car didn't need a parking brake because all he had to do was crank the steering wheel over and that car wasn't going anywhere. The exact same thing happened to Gene that happened to many other drivers, right up to a Formula Atlantic.

                      I had quite a vantage point for viewing the area. I was standing on top of that concrete building, protected by an umbrella. Driver after driver would come out of Ten, successfully complete the exit and then lose it when (s)he hit the dragstrip. The car would step out and the driver would attempt to catch it, then the car would spin, slow down, then hook up while going backwards and crash into the Armco on the inside of the track. Cars of many different types struck the barrier in practically the same place.

                      One driver in a Formula Ford was caught in this trap, but recovered masterfully. I do not at this moment recall his name, but he was the fellow who wrote the FUBAR column in THE TONNEAU. When he reached the dragstrip, the rear stepped out. Instead of trying to save it, he immediately went two feet in and while he was spinning, changed down a gear or two. As he saw the front of the car near alignment with the Donnybrook Straight, he matched revs, released brake and clutch and sped away. It was a thing of beauty, especially as seen from high above.

                      About Gene's Opel GT: I am trying really hard to remember if it was the same car that Norton Johnson had. Norton was involved at the beginning of MOD. I remember going over to Norton's place back in the 1970's and Norton had the car body on its side on mattresses in his garage. He was scraping out all the insulation and removing all the parts that one does not need on a racing car. I can almost state that Gene told me it was the same car, but I can't swear to it.

                      Norton is the same guy who took the color photo of me racing the #37 SAAB 96 at the Saint Paul ice race. We were about the same age. If he is still around, Norton can surely confirm the provenance of your Opel GT.

                      If it is Norton Johnson's car, it was definitely autocrossed.
                      Last edited by phile; 01-24-2020, 04:56 PM.
                      Phil Ethier - Numbers Czar Emeritus
                      1973 Triumph Stag LE22439UBW "uncle jack", Sapphire Blue
                      2004 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 8.1, Sport Red
                      2005 Lotus Elise, Bordeaux Red Pearl
                      2006 Gulf Stream Conquest Super C Chevrolet Kodiak 8.1
                      2017 Ford Fusion SE, Oxford White, as befits an appliance.
                      pethier7 [at] gmail [dot] com
                      http://www.flickr.com/photos/pethier
                      http://www.mntriumphs.org

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                      • #12
                        [QUOTE=Derek69SS;n471838]I recently bought a '70 Opel GT with some local SCCA road-race history, I wonder if it ever was autocrossed or if anyone in the club remembers or has old pictures of it?
                        It was owned and raced by Gene Harbour. I bought it on his estate auction.



                        I'm almost 100% certain it was built by Gene Anderson, and owned and raced by Norton Johnson in SCCA events. Both Gene and Norton autocrossed the car roughly 1973-1975 seasons, and it often took FTD at MOWOG, SOLO II, MOD, and COM events. Pretty sure that after it was retired from Norton's SCCA racing it was run as a mini-stock at Elko Speedway for a couple of seasons, where it was a top car. I think next owner after that was Brad Wethe, another former BMC member. I think Brad traded it to Gene Harbour for Gene's '65 Shelby Mustang, which had the original 289 V-8 replaced with a 6-cylinder from Gene's Maverick autocross car. Then Gene used it for his SCCA racing for several seasons, and gradually moved into the RX-7s for his SCCA racing.
                        Congratulations on your purchase. Hope you return it to Vintage racing, or at least the local ayutocross scene. Hope this gives you some people to contact. Both Brad Wethe and Gene Anderson are still in the Twin Cities area.

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                        • #13
                          Phil,
                          The FF driver you mentioned exhibiting expert car control exiting turn 10 was Tony Foster. He competed in FF and authored the entertaining FUBAR articles for many years.

                          “One driver in a Formula Ford was caught in this trap, but recovered masterfully. I do not at this moment recall his name, but he was the fellow who wrote the FUBAR column in THE TONNEAU. When he reached the dragstrip, the rear stepped out. Instead of trying to save it, he immediately went two feet in and while he was spinning, changed down a gear or two. As he saw the front of the car near alignment with the Donnybrook Straight, he matched revs, released brake and clutch and sped away. It was a thing of beauty, especially as seen from high above.”
                          Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by toddfreem View Post
                            Phil,
                            The FF driver you mentioned exhibiting expert car control exiting turn 10 was Tony Foster. He competed in FF and authored the entertaining FUBAR articles for many years.

                            “One driver in a Formula Ford was caught in this trap, but recovered masterfully. I do not at this moment recall his name, but he was the fellow who wrote the FUBAR column in THE TONNEAU. When he reached the dragstrip, the rear stepped out. Instead of trying to save it, he immediately went two feet in and while he was spinning, changed down a gear or two. As he saw the front of the car near alignment with the Donnybrook Straight, he matched revs, released brake and clutch and sped away. It was a thing of beauty, especially as seen from high above.”
                            Yes, I did put that together back then, but didn't post it. Thanks for the reminder!
                            Phil Ethier - Numbers Czar Emeritus
                            1973 Triumph Stag LE22439UBW "uncle jack", Sapphire Blue
                            2004 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 8.1, Sport Red
                            2005 Lotus Elise, Bordeaux Red Pearl
                            2006 Gulf Stream Conquest Super C Chevrolet Kodiak 8.1
                            2017 Ford Fusion SE, Oxford White, as befits an appliance.
                            pethier7 [at] gmail [dot] com
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                            http://www.mntriumphs.org

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