John Oates
Interview by Dave Zortman

Unless youíve been living in a cave, or under a rock for the last 30 years, itís no secret that the duo of Hall and Oates has continually been a major factor in the music business.  In 1975, Hall and Oates recorded a little song John wrote called ďSara SmileĒ which deservedly rocketed them to fame.  They havenít looked back since.

Singer, songwriter and guitarist John Oates developed an interest in racing at an early age.  As time went on, his success as a musician allowed him to pursue his interests in racingÖ and pursue it he did!  From Go-karts, to Formula 2000, to GTU, John definitely earned an outstanding reputation as a talented driver.  Thankfully, John was kind enough to take some time out from his busy schedule to share his memories and thoughts on his involvement in racing.

John Oates
Birth date: 4/7/48
Birthplace: New York City
Years in racing: 10

TVR: Do you remember when and where you saw your first race?
John: When I was about 8 years old one of my friendís fathers ran the hot dog concession at the old Hatfield Speedway close to where I lived.  He would take us with him on Saturday nights and can still feel the excitement as we would pull into the parking lot and you could hear the roar of the cars practicing and see the dust hanging in the air over the fence.  Weíd wander abound in the infield among the midgets and jalopies and find a seat in the stands by the first turn and get splattered with dirt.  As I recall, Destruction Derby night was always one of my favorites!  I remember seeing Mario and Aldo Andretti sharing a car...people were talking about them even way back then.

The first sports car racing event I remember seeing was the Giants Despair Hillclimb in the early 60ís somewhere in NE Pennsylvania...I believe it was near Scranton but I canít be sure.  I was fascinated by the collection of exotic European cars, especially the tiny formula juniors, and 3 cylinder Saabs.  One of the things that stands out foremost in my mind was the smell of Castrol, its something Iíll never forget.  Around the same time I went to the Reading Road Races, in fact I actually have some great Super 8 movie footage of this event.

TVR: At what point did you know you wanted to become involved in racing and how did you accomplish that?
John:  I read and fantasized about the European racing scene by pouring over my old collection of Road and Track that goes back to the late 40ís.  Although I wanted a go kart my folks were dead set against in the mid 70ís I finally had enough money to indulge my fantasy and got a 125 Yamaha stock light sprint kart and began racing out at Bridgehampton N.Y. with the local kart club.  Then in 1977, while on tour in England, I met an up and coming racer named Richard Lloyd (he helped develop and ran the successful Audi and Bentley Le Mans efforts in the past few years).

With his encouragement I enrolled in the Brands Hatch racing school and completed their formula ford course.  When I returned to the U.S. I continued karting and set out to get my SCCA license by attending another school at Pocono with Bertil Roos.  From there I ran Bertilís formula Ford in regional and national races at Lime Rock, Pocono and Bridgehampton where I won my first National event (when my good friend and later to become famous Porsche and Toyota IMSA driver, Drake Olsen dropped out with mechanical problems).

TVR: What different types of racing were you involved in? 
John:  Karts, Formula Ford, the Pro Sports 2000 serries, and IMSA GTU.

TVR:  Prior to your involvement in racing, who were the drivers that were your favorites?
John:  When I was a kid I was a Tazio Nuvolari fanatic.  I read everything I could find about him.  I also liked Stirling Moss and read Denis Jenkinsonís account of their Milia Miglia win in 1955 over and over.

TVR:  Who do you feel were your biggest influences and mentors early in your career? 
John:  At first it was the go kart community out on Long Island where I first learned allot about race craft and set up...then Richard Lloyd who introduced me to many of the British racing people. I must mention Bertil Roos whoís driving instruction and techniques took me to another level and finally, Mike Gue (Essex Racing Services) with whom I ran Fords and Pro Sports 2000 with the Tiga race team.

TVR:  Who were some of the notable racing personalities you worked with during your career? 
John:  Iíve had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the best and most famous drivers in the past 30 years.  Jackie Stewart, Richard Lloyd, Bobby Rahal, Derik Bell, Rupert Keagan, Derrik Daley, Bob Earl, Tommy Riggins, Elliot Forbes-Robinson, Doc Bundy, Drake Olsen, Buck Baker....

John at Road America 8/25/85
Photo by Mark Windecker
TVR: Who do you feel were some of the most talented drivers you competed against?
John:  I couldnít begin to name general I have found racers to be some of the most competitive people on the planetÖ and some of the nicest as well.

TVR:  Who do you feel were some of the most talented car builders and mechanics you drove for/against?
John:  My IMSA races in the Porsche GTR at Lime Rock and Daytona stand out in my mind as high points.  Also my seasons in Pro Sports 2000 with Team Tiga run by Essex racing was also very good.

TVR:  Who do you think were the most underrated drivers?
John:  All the guys who showed up every weekend at the various SCCA events and worked their butts off regardless of where they ended up.

TVR:  What cars/teams were you directly involved with?
John:  George Drolsom Racing and Richard Lloyd Racing (Porsche GTR), Essex Racing (Pro Sports 2000) Huffaker Racing (Pontiac Fiero GTU).

TVR:  Which track do you feel was your favorite track and why?
John:  I loved Lime Rock and the old Bridgehampton track.  Also Sears Point and although I never did well there...Elkhart Lake.

TVR:  What was the most memorable and proudest moment of your career?
John:  I believe it was my drive with George Drolsom at an IMSA event at Lime Rock where I made up 2 laps and put the car into second place during my stint and almost passed out from heat exhaustion (I had never driven a closed cockpit car in and endurance race).  Also having the chance to drive at Daytona with Richard Lloyd.

TVR:  What was the most disappointing or hardest moment of your career?
John:  My career ending crash at Elkart Lake driving the Pontiac Fiero GTU car.  The transmission packed up in the middle of the kink and I ended up waking up in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

TVR:  What do you feel was the funniest moment during your career? 
John:  Going to a NASCAR driving school run by Buck Baker at Atlanta.  My sporty car techniques were totally useless in these cars and it wasnít until I asked Buckís son, Randy to drive me around the track (where he proceeded to scare the sh** out of me) did I manage to get with the program.  Afterwards over some great Bar B Q at lunch, Buck announced that if I worked at it he just might be able to turn me into a decent stock car driver. 

TVR:  If you could pick a list of the greatest drivers ever from any point in history, from any venue in racing, and could magically bring them through a time machine to compete together in a race, who would they be, where would they race and why?
John:  Iíd pick Tazio Nuvolari, Stirling Moss, Ralph DePalma, Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhart, A.J. Foyt, Aryton Senna and Michael Schumacer.  Iíd put them on a road course in Formula Atlantic cars and on a 1/2 mile dirt track in Midgets and see who wins...Iíll bet on Tazio!

TVR: What changes do you think could be made in racing today that would improve the sport most?
John:  The conflict between technology and the costs involved are the biggest obstacle to overcome...Spec racing series (like NASCAR) have proven to be successful and I believe in order to survive most other series will have to follow their formula in order to survive.

TVR:  What advice would you give to a young man or woman who was thinking about starting a career in racing?
John:  Have patience and a thick skin and an unwavering desire to succeed.  Then surround yourself with the best people and equipment you can afford...then work your butt off.

TVR:  When future generations find your name in the history books of racing, what is it about you and your racing career that you would most like to be remembered for?
John:  The fact that although I did most of my racing during my high profile years as an entertainer/celebrity... I took it very seriously and worked very hard to be accepted and do well against guys who were professional racers doing it for a living.

John at Lime Rock - 1983

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