Bill Auberlen joins us for a success-themed edition of My Racing Life and Career after taking ownership of the record for all-time major sports car wins in North America, and goes well beyond those 61 victories as he shares insights on his family roots, long development period in IMSA’s GTU category, and weaves through a series of fascinating stories of highs and lows — including a flirtation with IndyCar — through five decades of pro racing.
An excerpt on his first win, taken at Fuji in 1993 at the oft-forgotten IMSA invitational events in Japan, driving a family-run Mazda RX-7 powered by a twin-rotor 13B engine.
“I wish, wish, wish they would take us over there again,” Auberlen said. “It was some of the best days of my life. When we got the invitation to, I guess that Japanese racing (promoter) would come over and invite, I don’t know, six or seven cars to go over, whether it was, I think GTO, GTU, and we were one of the guys that got invited over. We did Fuji, I think Autopolis, a couple of different times. And when we got there and we tested, our car was very good there. We were quickest in practice sessions and things were looking great.
“I remember right before, a couple of hours before the race, we were to start our engines and make sure, warm it all up, make sure everything’s running. And for some reason, we had somebody looking at the air cleaner. He was talking to fans and spectators — very strange — and he got distracted. When he put it all back together and put it down, we started the motor and the motor seized up instantly.
“So, it went, ‘Rup, rup, rup,’ and just locked up. We’re like, what just happened here? We opened the airbox up and the rags he put in the intake stacks, he forgot to take them out and they got sucked right in the motor!
“Motor’s dead locked up. We’re thousands of miles away from home, ready to do this race. So, all we could think of was, we poured gas or ether on it and started lighting the rags on fire, until everything was trying to burn up. And we put it in gear and start trying to rock the car, to see if we can break the rags loose. We broke it loose and it ran, and none of the apex seals were broken, the carbon apex seals. The thing ran and we won the race. Can you imagine that? Oh, I wanted to murder this guy. I was so mad.
“That was my first IMSA win. It was just an incredible story. And then, the best part of it is, in Japanese culture, when you win, they hand you a stack of cash with a really beautiful bow around it. And I’m like, no way! We had all this money. It was like, $10,000 or something like that, which was huge at the time. Then we brought it home. I thought, this is fantastic!”