Synonymous with Porsches, a routine winner for Dan Gurney which helped the Toyota brand build its name in IMSA GT racing, Dennis Aase (top right) was one of the most respected and accomplished drivers in North American sports car racing.
Born in 1942, the native of Southern California who also distinguished himself as a businessman in the aftermarket auto parts world and later applied his vast experience to managing motor racing teams, passed at the end of February, five days shy of what would have been his 80th birthday.
“Dennis Aase was THE Porsche 911 guy in IMSA in our first decade,” said IMSA’s Mark Raffauf. “As the driver of the No. 64 911 in the ‘70s, he was great behind the wheel, always smiling and just an all-around great person to be around. In the 1980s, Dan Gurney saw the talent and personality and he became a mainstay in the AAR Toyota Celica GTU and GTO program for its duration along with the late Chris Cord.”
Aase’s influence was undeniable. Heralded within the IMSA paddock as one of its more remarkable drivers and high-character individuals, a bonafide legend of sports car racing points to Aase as the blueprint behind his Hall of Fame career.
“It’s safe to say that my introduction to racing was more influenced by Dennis Aase than any other single person,” said Tommy Kendall, owner of seven GT championships spread across IMSA GTU and SCCA Trans Am, whose father signed Aase to drive his BMW M1. “He was my first exposure to a pro IMSA driver. He was a Vietnam vet, tough guy, no BS, really capable, low maintenance guy.
“When I turned 16, I was able to drive down every day to get to work in the shop. And looking back on that, to Dennis, I could not have been more useless, but Dennis always found something for me to do. I got to just tag along and be one of the guys and go to the greasy spoons for the meals and listen in on all the stories.
“And Dennis was a great storyteller. Always told stories, but never told any on himself. That was a kind of a consistent theme throughout as I got to know him better and better. Really reluctant to take any credit or talk up his own accomplishments.”
Aase had a penchant for winning in whatever he drove, writing his name into IMSA’s history book at Sears Point, Hallett, Portland, and Road Atlanta in the late 1970s. Seeking a trusted pair of hands as Toyota’s foray into IMSA GTU was forming on the early 1980s, Aase was hired by Gurney to introduce the brand to endurance sports car racing in 1983 and stayed for years, adding more wins when AAR’s turbocharged Celica took command of GTO.
With his career on the rise, primed to graduate to GTP with the team near the end of the decade, the unpleasant side of racing intervened.
“Dennis was testing the new AAR GTP Toyotas, ready to step up to the GTP ranks, until a nasty accident curtailed his career,” Raffauf said of the life-changing 1987 incident.
His time in a big factory team was over as years of recovery stalled Aase’s ascension as a driver; he’d return in 1993 and continue racing a variety of Porsches while expanding the AASCO company he ran with his brothers.
“He drove and won races in a variety of cars, and rarely – if ever – scratched the paint,” Raffauf continued. “He was successful in business with Porsche parts, on the track and as a team manager in his later career well into the GRAND-AM era, and was one of the nicest and cleanest race car drivers in IMSA’s history.
“I am honored to have known him and worked with him as a competitor. When he had something to say on tech or on track issues, he was always someone to listen to, because he was always there helping make it better for everyone. IMSA was lucky to have him in the paddock for many years.”
Kendall is left with a lifetime of appreciation for Aase.
“Dennis wasn’t low maintenance, he was zero maintenance, which definitely left an imprint on me in terms of what the driver’s role in the team was,” he said. “Another memorable experience, I guess this would have probably been before I got my license, was in the early ‘80s. We went out to Riverside raceway and my dad had just bought this Gulf Porsche 917 and my dad asked if he wanted to drive it, knowing Dennis’s background with Porsches.
“And so I got to ride in the 917 around Riverside in this passenger seat next to Dennis. And it’s the first time I’d ever heard someone really relate to a car with awe. And while we were driving, he was just yelling over the engine, reveling in the motor sounds and the intake noise, and just seeing someone celebrate a car like that was the first time I’ve ever been around someone like that.
“And he would never complain about anything. After his accident testing at Riverside in the Gurney Eagle, his life was very painful physically after that. Unlike me, where I do everything I can to stay off my feet after my crash, he still ran teams and was on his feet all day and his life was hard after that.
“Everyone always had time for him and thought the world have great respect for his talent. And that 917 ride was my first time ever riding in a car on a racetrack. What an introduction. Riverside raceway, wheeled around by Dennis Aase. No wonder I pursued the life I did.”