Bandit

Among the many historic racing cars in the Northwest, there is a 1982 Oldsmobile called the Bandit, whose early fame came out of the pages of the book Fast Guys, Rich Guys and Idiots. It's a classic racing memoir that Brock Yates in the Wall Street Journal Book Review called one of the five best books ever written about motorsports. First published in 1985, the book has been remastered by its author, with an e-book and print-on-demand edition to be released in September 2014. 

Fast Guys ends with the Bandit blowing two engines in one day at Daytona, driven by Sam Moses, the book's author. After being set aside and mostly forgotten for 20 years behind a shop in the heartland of stock car racing, it was restored to its famous final livery and came back in glory, winning its class at the Sebring Historic Sports Car 3-Hour race, twice in two tries. After being purchased by noted collector Larry Bowman, it came west, where it found its way here to the Northwest and the garage of its Fast Guys driver, Sam Moses. 

Driven by Ronnie Swyers, who's been racing in the Northwest since he was in high school, the Bandit won for the third time in three races, in the Wemme Trophy race at the Rose Cup in the 2011, the biggest single vintage race in the Northwest. Moses drove the car in the 2012 Wemme Trophy and repeated the win.  

Moses also drove the Bandit in the Historic NASCAR race at the Portland Historics in 2011 and 2012, where the boxy Oldsmobile in Skoal livery was clearly the crowd favorite, running up front with the later-model stock cars. 

A beautiful photograph of the Bandit graces one full page of the new historical book by Portland author Jeff Zurschmeide, titled, Portland International Raceway and published by Arcadia Publishing, the leading local history publisher in the U.S. It's the classic and spectacular shot on the PIR front straight with Mt.Hood hovering over the track. 

 

Before Moses became the driver of the Bandit for the 1983 IMSA Kelly Series, it was driven in NASCAR races by a number of drivers, including a young Dale Earnhardt Sr. when he was a first-time Winston Cup champion. 

Materials in this package explain how Moses came to own the Bandit after losing track of it for 25 years, and how it found its home in the Northwest. Moses kept much of the Bandit memorabilia, including posters from the day, as well as two hardback copies of Fast Guys, Rich Guys and Idiots still in shrink wrap after 30 years and remaining on the car's flat-black dashboard. Dog-eared first editions have brought as much as $300 at collector book sites. 

Moses is likely the most experienced motorsports journalist in the country, if experience is based on depth and variety. With roots going back to Watkins Glen in the 1950s, he has written extensively about every type of racing from the Mojave to Monaco, from frozen lakes to fairgrounds dirt tracks. He's covered 18 Indy 500s, 20 Daytona 500s, 16 Long Beach Grands Prix, and 6 Le Mans 24 Hours. In 18 years as motorsports writer for Sports Illustrated, he wrote nearly 400 articles, many of them in-depth profiles of a long list of legendary racers, including Dan Gurney, Don Garlits, Mario Andretti, Roger Penske, Sir Stirling Moss, Dale Earnhardt, Parnelli Jones, Nigel Mansell, Kenny Bernstein, Rick Mears, Kenny Roberts, Bobby Unser, Bobby Allison, Shirley Muldowney, Al Unser Jr., Bill Elliott, Emerson Fittipaldi, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Darrell Gwynn, Freddie Spencer, Ricky Rudd, Tim Richmond, Walker Evans, Rusty Wallace, Jay Springsteen, John Buffum, Dave Marcis, Peter Gregg, Tommy Kendall and more. 

When Fast Guys, Rich Guys and Idiots was first published, reviews declared it a must-read for every budding or would-be racedriver, and in fine-tuning the classic memoir for today's times, Moses makes it  indispensable, with more stories and timeless lessons by legendary drivers and races he's known. 

Meanwhile, the star of the book, the Bandit, is fully restored and period correct, with a 1982 Penske Racing engine and chassis setup by Eugene, Oregon's Dave Wimsett, who worked alongside Dale Earnhardt Sr. through seven NASCAR championships. The legendary racecar remains the carriage for the timeless story soon to be retold to a new generation of racers.

Moses lives in the Pacific Northwest and is a popular speaker on the subject of historic motorsports.  

   

Hickory Motor Speedway, 1982. A Saturday-night short track for the car that would become the Bandit, driven here by 18-year-old Bobby Labonte, who would become the 2000 Winston Cup champion. At that time it was a Pontiac Ventura NASCAR Late Model Sportsman car, built by Hedgecock Racing and run for the first time at Martinsville by Phil Parsons. Dale Earnhardt Sr. also drove it that year, in an appearance at Caraway Motor Speedway after he won his first of seven Winston Cups.

 

Billy Hagan, who owned the #44 Oldsmobile that Terry Labonte drove in Winston Cup, contracted Tex Powell Enterprises to convert the car to an Oldsmobile road racer, for the IMSA Kelly American Series. Sam Moses made his debut in the #44 car he called the "Old Refrigerator" at Charlotte in 1983, with 60,000 spectators in the stands. He hit the wall, trying. Tex loved it.

 

With Miller High Life beer sponsorship, and no brakes, Moses rams his way to fourth in the Kelly race at Road America. Best finish of the year, behind three superior cars built by series champions: Craig Carter (Camaro), Tommy Riggins (Monte Carlo) and Robert Overby (Buick).

 

Daytona. It's now the Skoal Bandit, with a Junior Johnson short-track motor. Killer on the banking at 8600 rpm. Blew two engines in one day. Moses wrote "Fast Guys, Rich Guys and Idiots," starring the Bandit. The book became a classic but the car was forgotten, abandoned for nearly 20 years behind various North Carolina shops.

 

Because the book had made a legend out of the car, in 2000 Sam White Motorsports in North Carolina began a total restoration, down to its Skoal Bandit livery and Moses' name on the door. It was bought and finished in 2004 by Udo Horn, noted Lister-Corvette vintage racer and member of the Bonneville 200MPH Club, and his partner Steve George.

 

Moses was enjoying a mango-banana-date smoothie at an internet juice bar in Baja, when he got an e-mail from Udo Horn inviting him to co-drive in the Historic Sports Car Racing three-hour enduro at Sebring. To make the event, Moses raced up the Baja in his Astro van with his sons Tai, 7, and Maks, 5; the van broke down on the Baja Highway and they hitch-hiked to Ensenada. Moses caught the flight to Sebring, where he and Udo Horn smoked the field in winning their class, the first time the car had raced in 21 years. Udo and Steve George raced it at Sebring the next year, and won again.

 

Udo Horn sold the Bandit to noted collector Larry Bowman, and the car moved west. The Bandit lived in Bowman's shop alongside million-dollar cars, including an original King Cobra and Corvette Gran Sport. Moses nagged Bowman to race the Bandit, until the hedge fund manager finally just pulled the engine and transmission and did the right historic thing, donating the roller to Moses, who installed this Penske IROC engine (period correct to 1983) and a 4-speed transmission bought from his 1983 crew chief Mike Powell.

 

In 2011 Ronnie Swyers drove the Bandit to victory in the Wemme Trophy race at the Portland Rose Cup, the Northwest's biggest vintage race. In 2012 Moses repeated that victory. Moses drove the car both years at the Portland Historics, running against later-model NASCAR Cup cars; the Bandit was clearly the crowd favorite as Moses battled near the front. Its boombox exhaust note was glorious and distinctive. With engine and chassis work by Dave the Gear Man Wimsett, who had built engines for Dale Earnhardt Enterprises for years, the Bandit was never better than in its last race. It made 710 horsepower, compared to 550 back at Daytona with that Junior Johnson motor. And at 64, Moses drove it faster and better than he had 30 years ago.