Personalities: Peter SchwartzottBy Robert Beaulieu, northeastracer.com Editor
Periodically Northeastracer.com will be featuring personalities, people whom have been signifigant in the sport on Racing in the Northeast, our first being, out of Western New York, Peter Schwarzott.
Forward to a few months later, and I had the occasion to have a short leave before my final assignment (Germany, fortunately… more racing) and one of the events on the leave, was that my wife and I went to Lime Rock Park to watch the 1970 Trans Am race. Literally all the factory teams were there, and the entry list was the proverbial list of the who’s who in racing… and one other entry Peter Schwartzott… Ultimately, I do not recall how he finished in that one particular race, but… my interest in this individual was sparked.
Through out the future years to come, his name would appear as a leading competitor in the Bilstein Cup Series, Playboy Cup etc. etc.. He always seemed to be involved in some kind of racing
This past summer, once again I noticed his name in some results out of New York… I needed to know more about, Him. So on to Facebook, make the connection, and now we can get the abbreviated scoop of his participation in racing. So a few e mails, hence, a brief history of over fifty years of participation!
Peter registered and entered his first driver’s school at Watkins Glen in 1962, in a 1957 TR3. Bob Grossman was his instructor! His first race, was held at the same track, then followed up quickly at Dunkirk, New York (has anyone ever heard of this venue) followed by continued regionals at Mosport and Waterford Hills. In 1966, he tried open wheel in a Formula Vee competing in both SCCA and Canadian Series races. By 1969, he moved up in the horsepower range, and ran a 1966 Group Two Shelby in local National racing as well as the Canadian Touring Car series.
During his initial foray into racing, he returned to school to major in Art Education and also worked a stint as a graphic designer, at this time while at school, he met another fellow Enthusiasts, a Dr. Trudeau. The two key needling each other as when they should they go racing. So Peter bought a really tired mustang, with no motor and dropped off at Trudeau’s lab to work on.
Trudeau, said ”I’m okay with the racing, but not in with this car.
In response, the two pooled their resources, each contributing about 3K a piece and bought a new Camaro. The vehicle was the hot setup of the time, Four wheel disk package, two by four manifold hiding in the trunk to be installed by the buyer. The car’s dealer cost was $3,400! You got to remember, at this time, Peter’s annual salary was only $6,400 (gross) ….three grand was a chunk of cash...a stretch for each of them.
So the total budget of 6K was put into the car to prep it for the track. But the budget did not include a tow vehicle nor a trailer. Help consisted of students, friends and such, volunteered to help in the build, yet none had ever built a race car. Fortunately, GM Motorsports became an almost direct dial on the phone.
They were “prepared” for their first race mid-spring, that year in 1970, Borrowing a truck and trailer and off they went to Lime Rock Park for the Trans Am event held that mid May weekend. Tires for the event were bought from Dan Gurney (then running Barracudas with Swede Savage) for $25 each and they were ready for the track. Like all new car wows, the clutch blew in practice, and of course, as limited as they were, there was no spare. Paul Richter, another Buffalo competitor, offered one they could borrow. Their lack of mechanical knowledge (at the time) the two literally sat there wondering where to go from there. Fortunately, while sitting in despair, four young gentleman came up to their paddock, and said.
“Hi, we see you are from Buffalo, we are too.”
Peter replied. “Can you change a clutch.”
One of the four, Richard Dilcher, said,“Sure just graduated Morrisville.”
And under the car he went, a new clutch, a new partnership and an entry to the Trans Am was fulfilled.
Unfortunately, their first Trans Am, went rather poorly, with a stock wiring harness that broke after about an hour (fried??) or so, and in the meantime the power steering had given up. As long a he could Peter fought it out, but finally had to called a day... His First Trans Am, a DNF...
The second, was quickly followed by the TransAm at Bryar, carb fire, another DNF. This was then followed-up with the event at Bridgehampton, even though the vehicle was 600 lbs. heavy they finished 6th…and were rewarded with a $1,200 reward… WOW!!!
Back to Watkins Glen, their home track, was an embarrassing event in front of many friends, after getting a flat tire, driving into the pits, the tire was changed as though by triple A on the highway. No impact or speed wrench, just get the tire wrench out, and make the change. “At leaset we had a hydraulic jack and lug wrench…”
Their last race of the season, at Elkhart Lake ended the season in a disappointment, with a blown motor... They had had it, and sold the car to Warren Agor, as long as their crew member Richard Dilcher (having helped them since that initial Trans Am race) could go along as part of his crew, although with no pay!
As a foot note, eventually the car established a little history. Brock Yates raced the car for research for his book “Sunday Driver.”
After the TransAm Camaro period came to close, the gas crisis of the seventies arose. Peters' answer to this was re uniting the team form his Lime Rock Experience, each contributing about 2K, and building a killer 510 Datsun for the very popular 2.5 class in Trans Am. The vehicle raced in both Canadian series, and SCCA Nationals, coming in second at the 1975 runoffs back in the Paul Newman/510 era. The following year, Paul Nichter’s Trans Am car was purchased and Peter raced one Trans Am event at Nelson Ledges, netting a fourth... A few Nationals were run after that, and like all racers, the car was sold, ready for the next endeavor.
In 1976 Peter bought a Scirocco for the advent of the VW Bilstein Cup series. He does remember winning the first race he entered, paying off the bills incurred by the car. This continued for a few years, until the series changed to VW Rabbits in 1979. Peter was the second winningest driver for the next two years. 1989, Peter built two cars, one to race, one to rent, as he says, He did very well in the series, and actually paid the bills.
Peter was hired by Bill Pate to drive his rabbit at the Nelson 24 hours for the Playboy series… that was one by them as well. As the series shifted form the Playboy series, to the Escort series (dependent on major sponsorship) Peter continued to be an up front competitor.
His reputation became known as an exceptional consistent up front driving and was hired by TC Kline in the Firehawk series in a Honda Civic, where they reportedly “cleaned house” with numerous wins. The were the team to beat! By-The-Way, Peter interjects here, we built an oval Sports Modified, here in 1982,,,just for a different venue…. see if we can do it. He remains mum about what or where or what became of this.
TC then hired Randy Pobst to be his co driver and that was the start of a 5-years of so of best deal in town. The two won championship after champions, starting with the Civic then Civic SI, then Preludes, and then the Prelude V-Tec. Four consecutive 24 wins at Watkins Glen were part of Peter’s winning resume.
Now into his fourth decades of racing, whats next? The World Challenge in the the Prelude. Once again winning numerous Watkins Glen events. A broken wrist after massive rollover at Lime Rock set him back a little, so Peter bought Taz Harveys Spare car, and put the engine from the wreck into it and rented for the season with Peter Jr., (Petersson) chief builder and crew chief at 20 years of age.
Before he knew it, it was 1998, Honda gave them an Integra to race. Peter, Jr. built the car in a week , dragged it down to Sebring.. and won the Imsa Grand Am (there were so many different championships, can’t remember which was which!) They won 5 of ten races in the 98 99 season, winning the championship for both those years.. Peter Jr. won the STP crew chief of the year award.
2003, more front- wheel -drive with factory supplied Honda. Again, numerous races both in the Grand Am and SCCA races.
A few highlights in his career from rabbits up to the Honda/Accura, Peter, earned Four World Challenge victories. 32 Professional wins, Six Endurance Championships, 1998 Speedvision (remember that?) Cup Team and Manufacturers champion and numerous World Challenge Cup winner. Not bad for a casual ”professional/amateur” racer.
That’s not all, Peter Jr, also mentions the many strange tales of the Mini Truck Series in a Mitsubishi, the Corvette Challenge, being the pace car driver for the Niagara Falls Grand Prix and many more series, most of which have fallen to the way side.
Still racing you bet! Pete Jr. has taken up the gauntlet mostly, but Senior is still competing when he can, running an Integra in STL.
2019, intentions are local Northeast races, and something he says he wishes to try, Dirt Modified. Something on his proverbial bucket list, with a list of racing experience, still the thrill of racing needs to be answered only in a different venue.
Besides the life long passion of racing, Peter claims his main driving force is his son Peter Jr., As senior says.
“Pete Jr. is my jewel, I tell people I brewed my builder crew chief, never having any money, without him I would never have been able to indulge my addiction, I love him!. He is certainly as quick on the track as old pop and faster. but, again,,, he lets me drive.”
“The secret here is having a passion and the thrill to carry it out. No Daddy Deep pockets, but with my academic schedule , I have had summers off, and of course a wife that is most amazing in letting this addiction happen.”
Northeastracer wishes to congratulate Peter on the success and thrill of six decades of racing, and hope to do followup once he is in seventh decade.
Best of Luck Peter.