After breakfast on Tuesday I hit the road in the P71 anxious to get some real highway miles on it. Come June when the Big Road Trip starts it will be a long time before this car sees the inside of my garage again and I want to find out now what things I need to fix before that long trip.
I was anxious for another reason. I was going to meet up with Dick Bear in Winston-Salem. It has been several years since I had been able to spend some time with Dick and I had a lot of catching up to do.
I first ran into Dick back in about 2007 when he arrived at Performance Chassis (PC) to get his car tech inspected for an event at Virginia International Raceway (VIR). PC always had several cars come by for tech inspections as the owner of the shop was the Chief Technical Steward for Tar Heel Sports Car Club. This time it was a little different though. Dick’s car was his own design and had been built by his own hands.
This was no kit car either. It was a McBearen. Dick’s interpretation of the McLaren Can-Am car. Can-am started in 1966 as a class of racers whose only requirement was a full body,two seats and that it pass safety standards. This resulted in a series of six races, two in Canada and the rest in the US where monster race cars thrilled the fans and challenged the drivers. The cars designed by and driven by Bruce McLaren were powered by monster Chevy V8 engines and were the cars to beat until Penske campaigned turbocharged Porsche 917 variants that were said to put out 1500 hp in qualifying trim.
Dick had been impressed when he had a chance to see the McLaren at a race in Bridgehampton, NY, in 1969; and stepped up to the challenge of building his own version of this historic race car.
So in 2007 I didn’t see this orange car come rolling off a trailer. No, Dick’s creation, the McBearen, was fully licensed and registered for road use and he drove it to the shop from Winston-Salem.
It had a big wing on the back and was so very – well, orange. It was amazing to see such a unique car.
His car was inspected and declared track worthy. There was plenty of time for conversation and Dick shared with us all his project and his experiences with his creation. He had never been an automotive engineer and had never done body work, but that didn’t stop him. He found a site called MetalMeet.com and as he learned he shared his experiences with this friendly group of metal shapers that not only provided a great environment for learning the craft but later in the McBearen’s life showed just how great a group of skilled craftspeople they were.
Dick chose a Honda 2.0 liter VTEC engine to power his creation. He felt that he had found a power plant that was affordable and practical that also had plenty of options for power mods. He also used the Honda transaxle and the front suspension was from a Mustang II (does anyone remember them?). The rear started with coil-overs mounted in a somewhat vertical mode and later moved to a horizontal configuration and actuated by rocker arms.
So who is this guy that is not an automotive engineer and yet builds a tribute race car?
Dick has had a varied career that has provided him with a rich background of experiences. From college he went into the Army and spent his time working at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. From there he taught photography and some cinematography in a private school. A brief stint as a real estate broker allowed him to move on to a become Event and Operations Director at a marketing company involved in racing and NASCAR in particular.
He also has a passion for art and design that has resulted in some profitable inventions. For the Mazda Miata he designed the BacPac which attaches to the rear of a Miata and provides much needed, weather-protected, storage space so that two people can take a road trip in that fun roadster. Then came the TCK, of Tire Change Kiosk. It is a NASCAR inspired game where you can use a half-inch impact gun to remove the five lug nuts on a race car hub and then quickly reinstall the wheel all while being timed. The best part of it is that the heaviest part a participant has to deal with is the impact gun. The wheel that comes loose is held on a telescoping shaft that supports the weight of the tire/wheel assembly and facilitates the reinstallation of the wheel. This allows children and even wheelchair bound folks to join in on the fun.
In another NASCAR inspired development he designed a lug nut attachment device that greatly improved things in the pits. Typically lug nuts on the race wheels of NASCAR race cars (and trucks) are “glued” on to the wheels so that when they are changed the installed doesn’t have to waste any time picking up lug nuts and putting them in place to be secured with an air wrench, they are already on the wheel. The “glue” that was used was most often window seal such as you might pick up at a hardware store. This worked okay, but had its limitations. There was a curing period where a weight needed to be placed on the horizontal wheel to hold the lug nuts in place until the adhesive was ready to do its job. This adhesive was also temperature sensitive and over time would lose its elasticity and harden. This would lead to lug nuts falling off the wheels at the worst times. Dicks invention was a foam ring with adhesive on both sides that is not affected by swings in temperature and did not need to be held in place to cure. You just place one side on the nut and then press it onto the wheel and you were done.
So what else has Dick done? He put over 42,000 miles on the McBearen. That’s right, forty-two thousand. Remember, this is fully registered and street legal and in 2010 he took it on a coast-to-coast journey to support the Prostate Cancer Foundation. It was an adventure that only an open cockpit car can provide. In most states he was stopped by the law to ensure that he was really driving a registered and licensed motor vehicle. He actually got to enjoy the stops as opportunities to get out and stretch his legs as well as get to know the local state police.
His twenty-one day trip resulted in contributions for the foundation as well as a great appreciation for how interesting and varied this country is. I know from my own adventure in 2007, just how enlightening an extended road trip of America can be.
Dick’s adventures with car building did not stop with the McBearen though. In his mind was the idea of an open wheeled creation based on the style of the Lola. The Mabaan.
This car would be the culmination of all that he learned from building the McBearen and incorporate a mid-engine V8 in an aluminum body that was far more complex.
This car had everything. The underside was designed for ground effects and aerodynamics mattered in every part of the body and chassis. Don’t forget, this is a fully licensed and registered motor vehicle as well.
Dick had a blast taking this open wheeled wonder to track events and other shows. Weighing in the neighborhood of 1500 pounds and using an LT1 as a power plant gave it tremendous power combined with a chassis that really did its job.
Dick and I had plenty of time to talk about his creations that day as well as what he plans to do in the future. For a time it looks like he will give up on his focus on the tarmac and will now move on to the ocean as he would like to spend his time on the ocean around Florida and the Caribbean. Somehow I expect that Dick’s creativity won’t just slumber to the rhythm of the sea. There is more to come from this artist.