Ron Grable did not fit the normal profile of a race driver. Not only did he begin his racing after graduating from college, he raced sports cars, stock cars, formula cars, production cars, IMSA Prototypes, Trans-Am and Can-Am cars. He raced at tracks all over the United States, at Le Mans, in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and South America. Over the course of his three-decade career, Grable won championships in sports cars, sedans and formula cars. Throughout this period, he was an engineer for several high-tech firms and a technical writer for several well-known automobile, airplane and motorcycle magazines. Oh, yes, he also operated a restaurant and flew a Pitts Special Bi-Plane in aerobatic competition. Clearly, Ron Grable was cut from a different cloth.
Raised in Southern California, after completing high school, Grable enrolled at San Diego State in 1957 with aspirations of becoming an engineer. During his college days, there was nothing to indicate that a career in racing was in his future. Upon graduating with an engineering degree in 1961, Grable bought himself a graduation present—a Porsche Speedster. Unbeknownst to him, this vehicle would become much more than just daily transportation.
Grable moved to Arizona and took up residence with several friends. His new roommates also owned Speedsters and were involved in autocross competition. It wasn’t long before Grable took up this sport in his Speedster and enjoyed the experience. He did well enough to earn an award at the state autocross championship…a paid entry to the local SCCA Drivers School. After passing the course, Grable decided to enter a few local races in Arizona and more races in Southern California. These first few races were enough to whet his appetite for more road-racing competition.
Relocation and First Racing Success
In 1962, he accepted a job offer from Westinghouse in Baltimore, Maryland, so he packed up and moved to the East Coast with the Speedster in tow. After settling into his new job and residence, he resumed road racing in local SCCA races. His first race was in April of 1963 at Virginia International Raceway where he drove his Speedster to a 3rd-place finish in E-production followed by a 1st-place two months later also at VIR.
The year 1964 would bring a much busier race schedule with Grable competing in events at VIR, Cumberland, Vineland, Reading, Bridgehampton, Watkins Glen, and Thompson. With several wins and other top finishes, he was Northeast Division E-Production champion and was invited to the first American Road Race of Champions at Riverside where he finished 2nd in class. There was no turning back now…he was fully hooked on racing!
The following year, Grable continued racing his Speedster, but a new opportunity surfaced during the season that would provide a glimpse into the future. Quite out-of-the-blue, Grable received a call from a Dodge factory representative with an offer to co-drive a Plymouth Barracuda at the 12 hours of Marlboro. Due to an illness, one of the original drivers could not participate, so when the Dodge representative needed a local driver as a replacement, Grable’s name was suggested and he was offered the drive. With co-driver Nelson Sims, they qualified the sedan 5th, then in the race, they finished 1st in class and 8th overall. After the race, the Dodge rep offered Grable his first sponsorship in the form of a car, parts, and expenses. There was only one catch…he’d have to move to the West Coast. While mulling over this offer, Grable continued racing his Speedster and did well enough to finish the 1965 E-Production season in 4th place.
Sedans, a Championship and More
Grable decided to move back to the West Coast and settled in the San Francisco Bay area, with a new job at Fairchild. He had been in contact with the Dodge factory about the offer he received at Marlboro and, as promised, he received a new Dodge Dart, which he promptly turned into an A-Class Sedan racer in preparation for the 1966 SCCA season.
Grable took full advantage of the sponsorship, earning enough points to finish 2nd in the SF Region and then beating all the Mustangs in the ARRC to become A-Sedan national champion. To see how he would do against the “big boys” in Trans-Am, he competed in events at Green Valley (TX), Crows Landing (CA), Riverside (CA), and Continental Divide (CO). With co-driver Miles Gupton, they finished each race with a best showing of 4th at Green Valley.
He continued with the Dodge Dart in SCCA events for the 1967 season, finishing 3rd in the SF Regional points, and competed in the AARC at Daytona where a first-lap accident put him out of the race. He also drove the Dart in one Trans-Am race at Continental Divide finishing 23rd. Next, Grable added another new line to his racing resume with a Winston West drive at Riverside. Racing a Ford Galaxie, he ran up front most of the race, finally finishing 2nd to stock-car veteran Herschel McGriff. It was becoming evident that Grable was quick to adapt to whatever type of car he drove and with good success.
Besides racing the Dart in A-Sedan for the 1968 season, Grable decided to explore new territory. With a desire for more horsepower and speed, he worked with a local San Francisco Bay area designer on a new racecar that became known as the Spector HR1. This was a V-8, Chevy-powered, open-wheel car built for the new SCCA Formula A class, the U.S. version of F1. Grable adapted quickly to this new type of car as he dominated West Coast Formula A races with 1st-place finishes at Cotati (twice, plus a track record), Riverside, and Portland. He was Division F/A champion and would top off the year by winning this class at the ARRC at Riverside. In addition, Grable competed in two other Formula A events, the Colorado GP at Continental Divide (DNF—suspension), and the Ken Miles Memorial Race at Laguna Seca (21st, out of gas). He also amassed enough points with the Dart to win the SCCA Pacific Coast Division A-Sedan title. Overall, it had been a very successful year…and important people had taken notice.
The rest of this article can be found in the January 2007 issue of Vintage Racecar.