Racing with Datsuns
When Toyota made a sharp, unexpected 180 in late ’67 and gave their promised and contracted team of lovely 2000GT coupes to Shelby American for the ’68 racing season instead of BRE, Brock was understandably upset. Looking around for the best opportunity to embarrass his former boss and the double crossing Osaka-based manufacturer, he saw the opportunity in Datsun’s underperforming 2000 roadsters. He knew they’d make the perfect weapon to destroy Toyota’s million dollar debut with the Texan! Talk about cold calls…. Brock contacted Datsun’s North America office to gauge their interest and mysteriously there was none. It turned out the person responsible for the existing Datsun race team on the west coast was a Datsun executive’s son-in-law! Not only was the influential manager not going to take food out of his daughter’s mouth but the son-in-law truly had everyone at Datsun convinced the company’s 2000 roadsters were not competitive and that’s why they were losing. Because of nepotism, Brock couldn’t even get in the door to make a counter proposal.
Brock however continued to see the cosmic symmetry of his plan and had confidence in his and Datsun’s potential to right the situation. That night he called Japan for advice. He spoke with his mentor and previous employer at Hino relaying what had happened with the Toyota deal and how he saw potential with Datsun’s 2000 but couldn’t get anywhere with the US office. Brock’s friend told him to wait a few days while he met with an old school friend of his to discuss the situation. A few days later Brock got a call back from his Hino contact; this man’s old “school friend” turned out to be the president of Nissan! (parent company of Datsun North America). Unbeknownst to Datsun North America and the executive, Brock was given two 2000 roadsters and a small racing budget directly from Nissan in Japan. The cars were secretly flown to Los Angeles for BRE and prepared in complete seclusion. When they showed up at tech for the first SCCA race of the ’68 season, their appearance was a complete surprise to everyone that didn’t work at BRE, including all the management at Datsun!
Shortly thereafter, the BRE Datsun 2000 won its first race and Yutaka Katayama (Mr. K), then president of the western half of Datsun North America, was informed of the Datsun’s amazing recovery on the racing scene. Mr. K, of course, hadn’t been told of Brock’s previous entreaties with his company but now was ecstatic… especially with the defeat of Toyota’s new supercar. Peter endearingly recalls: “Mr. Katayama loved cars and he loved racing. He saw the connection between ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’. It was the beginning of a great friendship and a great relationship. I had his support to win and within Datsun he directed a comprehensive marketing campaign that connected our race wins with the production product. It was a successful combination that put Datsun on the map in the USA.” BRE, Peter Brock and his talented driver, John Morton, went on to dominate US club racing for three years with the 2000 roadsters and 240Z coupes, soundly defeating Shelby’s Toyotas, BMWs and two powerful teams from British Leyland (Triumph).
In 1971, with the import market heating up in the US, the SCCA and its professional TransAm series relented to pressure from a number of teams who wanted to race imports. A separate series for smaller displacement engined vehicles resulted in what became known as the 2.5 TransAm series. BRE then took on the professionals, using Datsun’s ubiquitous little, tin-top, two-door sedan called the 510. Against tough teams from BMW and Alfa-Romeo, BRE again decimated the series, winning two straight 2.5 Championships. It all ended too quickly however as the pressure from BRE was too tough for the competition. They quietly dropped out of the series leaving BRE no one to race with; end of game. With nowhere to race within the SCCA, BRE began a brief competition program in NHRA and on the Bonneville salt flats setting national records there as well. BRE continued to experiment with other forms of racing such as their disastrous Formula 5000 program which ended when the team’s only race car was totaled at Road Atlanta in a blinding rainstorm.
The best and most interesting racing however was… Baja!