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Abington, Pennsylvania







Al Holbert

By David Phillips

Al Holbert would be a shoo-in for the inaugural class of IMSA’s Hall of Fame for his record of 49 overall race wins alone.

But Holbert was much more than a race driver.

Were the IMSA HoF to have separate classifications for team owner and engineer, he’d be a slam dunk in each category, to say nothing of the peerless legacy for business acumen and integrity he established as Porsche North America’s first Director of Motorsports while overseeing the family’s automotive dealerships near Philadelphia. Small wonder Al Holbert has been likened to a combination of Mark Donohue and Roger Penske.

Son of four-time SCCA National Champion and Porsche dealer Bob Holbert, Al earned his B.S. in engineering at Lehigh University and was a regular winner in SCCA amateur competition before piloting the No. 14 Holbert Racing Chevrolet Monza to back-to-back IMSA GT titles in 1976-77. He later tested the NASCAR waters before turning his attention to the Can-Am series and subsequently returning to sports cars, winning the ’83 IMSA GTP title in the No. 14 Holbert Racing March 83G and capturing the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Porsche 956 with Vern Schuppan and Hurley Haywood.

However, it was in Holbert’s Le Mans debut three years earlier, paired with Derek Bell, MBE in a Porsche 924 GTR, when the seeds were sewn for one of sports car racing’s legendary partnerships.

“We had a great relationship,” Bell says. “Al always dove deep into things and, looking back, I think even in that first race together at Le Mans he was thinking ahead to the day when he might bring me into his IMSA team.

“I had great respect for his abilities as an engineer. We’d go testing and everybody figured I would be a great help. But Al loved the whole testing and engineering thing. He would drive all day and then about quarter to five he would say, ‘Derek, why don’t you do a few laps and give us some feedback?’

“He was an amazingly delightful man. Unpretentious. He was a great engineer, a great driver and a wonderful family man. He also had a superb sense of humor. Before I knew him, he had a reputation for being a bit of a cowboy, but once he had the responsibilities of a family and running his own team, he earned the respect of the entire racing community. He was a true gentleman.”

One could say two watershed events turned Holbert’s life and career around. First and most importantly came his marriage to Joy, a devoutly religious woman whose faith led Holbert to become a born-again Christian and with whom he raised two children, Laura and Todd, currently senior design engineer for Toyota Research and Development (TRD). Then, Holbert Racing secured sponsorship for its GTP program from Lowenbrau beer, a combination that would rewrite the IMSA record books.

Beginning in ’85, the No. 14 Lowenbrau Porsche 962 emerged as a veritable steamroller in IMSA GTP competition with Holbert and Bell (with occasional contributions from Al Unser Jr. and Chip Robinson) scoring more than a dozen wins en route to the ’85 and ’86 titles.

What’s more, Holbert (with Bell, Unser Jr. and Robinson) won back-to-back Rolex 24s At Daytona and 24 Hours of Le Mans (with Bell and Hans Stuck) in ’86 and ’87. For those counting, that’s four consecutive 24-hour race wins.

Although his growing business commitments led him to cede his seat in the Lowenbrau Porsche to Robinson, Holbert made the occasional cameo appearance, scoring a solo win at Lime Rock before teaming with Bell and Robinson to earn his last IMSA win in the ’87 season finale at San Antonio.

Holbert’s sports car success overshadows a multi-faceted career that saw him capture 10 wins in the Can-Am series, four top-10 finishes in NASCAR competition and a fourth place in his only Indianapolis 500 start.

What’s more, as head of Porsche’s North American motorsports, he oversaw the marque’s outstanding customer support efforts that produced scores of IMSA GTP wins for Akin, Bayside, Dyson, B.F. Goodrich and Preston Henn Racing. As well as spearheading Porsche’s entry into IndyCar racing, Holbert was in the process of developing a successor to the Porsche 962 sports car when he lost his life in a private plane crash following the 1989 Columbus IMSA race.

Nowadays, Porsche honors his legacy each year by awarding the Al Holbert Cup to the overall winner of the Porsche Carrera Cup North America. It is a fitting tribute to a fascinating man.

Al Holbert