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John Delane
Redondo Beach, CA

1971 Tyrrell 002
Tyrrell 001
1972 Tyrrell 006

Team Tyrrell


When John Delane is racing, you can almost see the huge grin through his balaclava. I get a tremendous charge out of driving well," says John. "And if I have driven well and had a really good time, whether I fought it out for 15th place or maybe won, maybe didn't, that is what gives me the charge. If I've driven badly, and there was nobody to race with, I can still get a kick out of driving the cars because I just love the pure joy of getting the chance to do it. But at the end of the day, the real hoot is a hard fought race with somebody. (HMSA's manager) Cris Vandagriff talks about measuring the success of the event by the size of the smiles of the drivers coming off the track. Well, as you say, nobody has a bigger smile than me, because the sheer joy of being able to get out and play with the cars is just magic. There's no other way to describe it."

The first race Delane saw made a significant impact -- it was the 1961 24 hours of Le Mans, while his family was living in France. "A major and his wife living nearby offered me a ride in the back of a 356 Porsche to go the 90 kilometers up the road to Le Mans for the 24 hour race. They slept in a tent and I slept in the driver's seat of the Porsche with the seat reclined. And like all Le Mans weekends, it rained off and on. I slogged through the rain carrying my Brownie 8 millimeter movie camera and stood on the wall. I watched Stirling Moss run across the track and jump into Rob Walker's dark, dark blue-with-the-white-band-on-the-nose short wheelbase 250GT Ferrari and never got over it." Today, Delane's two Lotuses are painted in Rob Walker colors -- he has a 26R and a '59 Lotus 18 Formula Junior (driven by Innes Ireland, Denise McCluggage, and Jim Hall). Of the Lotus 18, Delane says, "I'm commemorating Stirling Moss's car that won the Monaco race in '60 and '61."

Motion is in Delane's blood. His father was an Army Air Corps fighter pilot who became a government contractor and moved the family all over the country, as well as France and Turkey. Delane went to grade school in six different states and high school in three different countries; he and his two brothers were all born in different states.

Delane was bitten by the car bug in junior high back in the late 1950's. "Even though I was only 12 or13 years old, I participated in cruise nights up and down  the main drag of beautiful Santa Maria, California. From high school to the drive-in and back to the high school was our route. I was the classic kid-with-the-Road & Track-hidden-in-the-notebook in the back of class, paying absolutely no attention to what was going on. Pontoon Testarossas were what I sketched in my part-time life, and I read and absorbed everything that was feasible on the subject." 

Delane's love of photography was entwined with the racing. As a college student in California, he'd hang over the fence at Riverside International Raceway with his camera craning for a shot of his heroes zooming past. “I spent time at Riverside, the dry lakes, anywhere I could watch.” Delane remembers sneaking into the pits at the ’65 Times Grand Prix and rubbing elbows with greats like Jimmy Clark, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, and Bruce McLaren. And he still has the pictures to prove it. (Several years ago, Delane won VARA's photography award for his contributions to the club's Vintage Voice magazine.)

A few years down the road, he took up autocrossing with the Pacific Sports Car Club in his first car, a TR3. When he married Mimi, and started a family, Delane eschewed the requisite wood paneled station wagon and squeezed everyone into a Lotus Elan (which he also slalomed) and an MGTD.

Meanwhile, Delane was following in his father's footsteps in contract services. While attaining his B.A. in political science at Seattle University, Delane managed contract services for the university and in the summers, worked for his father at the Tumpane Company, sweeping floors, toting sheetrock and basically learning the business from the ground up. In 1977, Delane and his father Ed Delane, along with Fred Jensen, founded Del-Jen, Inc., a government contracting services business. Del-Jen performs services across the country as diverse as maintaining the housing, grounds, and infrastructure at military bases, to operating a swing bridge across the Mississippi River at Rock Island Arsenal, to running Job Corps Centers (training for disadvantaged youth). Del-Jen has expanded into a multi-million dollar company, with operations in 33 states and 1,300 employees.

Delane says his two daughters eventually became "sort of participants in the racing adventure." In 1984, when his oldest daughter Megan graduated high school, Delane recalls, "We gave her the choice of a graduation gift: a trip to Hawaii with her buddies, a new wardrobe for college, or a racing school with her father, and she opted for three days at Jim Russell in Formula Fords at Riverside. I'd never done any racing per se, only having done parking lot type events, time trial type events, and so this was my first real taste of wheel-to-wheel racing. My daughter never raced again after that, but I was hooked completely."

Soon after, Delane appropriated his younger daughter Colleen's MGB (a 16th birthday gift) to warm over the motor, install a rollbar, and race on weekends. Delane's first race was a VARA event at Riverside in spring of 1986. "I was locked in a hard fought battle for dead last in the G Production group against a friend's XKE roadster that was absolutely street bog stock, not even a rollbar... I got completely hooked."

Delane's youngest, son Ryan, became his pit crew. That started the road towards another, more race prepared MGB built up from a "derelict rust bucket," the Lotus Formula Jr., a '75 Lola T-400 Formula 5000 (formerly driven by Al Unser, Sr. and Mario Andretti), an ex-Piko Troberg Brabham BT 18 Formula B (winner of three European Formula 2 races in 1965), and a '64 Lotus 26R (Gil Nickel's old car, developed by Lotus guru Dave Vegher).

The Dave Vegher prepped Lotus 26R at the 2001 Wine Country Classic at Sears Point.

"I really got the 26R because I wanted a car I could take my grandchildren in for rides at lunchtime because it's got a second seat. On average, though, my focus has always been on the single seaters," says John. 

John in his Brabham BT18 Formula B ex-Piko Troberg ride.

People often ask Delane which is his favorite car. "I've currently got four cars -- Mimi says I'm one over my limit. It's in many respects asking, 'Well, which kid do you like better?' You can't say which of your children you prefer because in fact, you love them all equally. Well, I happen to love all the cars. The ones I sold, in some respects, I love just as much as the ones I still have. In many respects I regret I sold anything through the years, but at the end of the day, it's a reasonable compromise because nobody needs 20 or 30 cars. I enjoy all my cars. I get a chance to drive them all and that's pretty great."

John Delane in his Lotus 18 Formula Junior at the 2001 Monterey Historics.

"A lot of people would assume the Formula One Tyrrell's got to be more fun than the Lotus 18 and I say, 'Well, there's days when it is. But there are other days when the Lotus 18 is more fun than the Formula One Tyrrell.' Why is that? The answer is if I've got a good friend like Mark Nichols in his Kieft. We can run elbow to elbow for 15, 20 laps and just absolutely thrash back and forth and have a really great time. It's every bit as rewarding as going out and having a stunning battle with somebody in the Formula One car."

Delane has raced all over the country, winning a few VARA championships (including an overall points championship) and was on the VARA board for four years (three of them as treasurer). He instructed at VARA driving schools and Drive Safe school in his spare time. Delane has also volunteered with CART for the last 10 to 12 years to do timing and scoring for the Long Beach Grand Prix and a number of other races around the country, "mostly as an excuse to get out on the wall to have a credential," says Delane. "I would lunge out on the wall to take pictures because I also love to take pictures." Each timer is assigned a car which they time all weekend. There are redundant computer systems -- the manual timer feeds into one computer, the transponders on the car feed into another and the combination of the two is what the timing and scoring people use to make sure they have accurate results. 

When the 1971 Tyrrell Formula One came up for sale four years ago, Delane had no choice in the matter -- after all, it matched Jackie Stewart's Tyrrell on the poster that he acquired at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. "I have had that hanging on my wall in my den, my office, my garage, and my son's bedroom lo these many years and finally got the chance to acquire the car."

Delane's car is chassis #002, the sister car to Stewart's chassis #003 (which he still owns and keeps in the Donington Museum after promising Ken Tyrrell that he would never sell or race it). Ken Tyrrell's family still owns chassis #001 and fellow Historic Grand Prix member John Dimmer owns chassis #004.

Of the difference between his and Stewart's car, Delane says, "While they're not exactly identical, they are very close in appearance. There is a difference in wheelbase length on Jackie's car in that he tried an even shorter wheelbase than is on my car. He had been driving a factory Matra and a factory March up until Ken Tyrrell decided to build his own chassis. The first chassis they built was essentially about the same wheelbase as the March and Matra, maybe slightly shorter. Jackie wanted a shorter wheelbase because he felt it would be more nimble, something that his driving skills could match the capabilities of."

Stewart's successes in Tyrrell #001 inspired them to build the first factory Tyrrell (Delane's #002) for Francoise Cevert, which had the same wheelbase as #001. But when it was #003's turn to be built, specifically for Stewart, he asked that it be four inches shorter. "It turns out that it was even too short for Jackie. The difficulty with the short wheelbase is the car wants to spin at the drop of a hat. So they found the limits on that side of it as well. They had to put a spacer in between the chassis and the tub and the engine in order to make it driveable, because even Jackie couldn't keep up with it."

Even with four inches more of chassis, Delane admits it's not an easy car to drive, but he likes the challenge. "We've been fortunate to have had some help with the set-up, and between John Dimmer's car and mine we're both experimenting with set-up to make the cars a little quicker. We've both toyed with the idea that if we take the cars to Europe, we should get Derek Gardner, who designed the car, to give us a hint with the set-up and see what he can do to improve it even further. But they're fun, fun cars to drive. It's a great, great hoot to drive, having that much horsepower and that nimble a chassis."

Going from the Formula 5000 to the Tyrrell, Delane found that while his Formula 5000 and the Tyrrell both dynoed at 500 horsepower, the delivery of the power and the handling was like night and day. "What I discovered is that there is a world of difference between the Tyrrell and the Formula 5000 in that the 5000 is wider, has a much, much longer wheelbase and therefore is not so prone to spin. I characterize the Lola as sort of like trying to muscle an old 60's muscle car around a road course whereas the Tyrrell is like a Porsche that's very nimble but changes directions, you know, just really slick. But you have to keep the Tyrrell revved up like a Porsche in order to get any kind of performance out of it. The fuel injected motor in the Tyrrell does not respond well to partial throttle, whereas the fuel injected motor in the Lola's Chevy small block is perfectly happy to run at very, very low RPM. You use torque to get it off the corner, whereas the Formula One four-cam motor has to be revved -- anything below 7,000 and it just doesn't want to pull at all. Dimensionally, the Tyrrell is closer to a Formula B car in dimensions and in fact drives more like a Formula B car on steroids. Typically, a B car has 175 horsepower -- this thing with 500 horsepower is a whole different game."

A year ago, John Delane lent moral support to fellow HGP member John Dimmer's purchase of Tyrrell chassis #004 at the Christies Auction at Monterey. Shortly thereafter, the two decided to recreate Team Tyrrell. " It was really John Dimmer's idea as much as mine. We came up with the idea about the same time when he was just sort of brainstorming buying chassis 004. He approached me when he was aware of the fact that it was going to come up for auction at Monterey and suggested that he was serious about buying it. He wanted to see if I would be amenable to assisting him in doing the research on buying it, and if he did buy it, was I amenable to having some sort of a combined effort on recreating the Team Tyrrell concept. So I really have to give credit to him. He's certainly done the vast majority of the legwork to get it pulled together." It was Delane's friend, graphic artist Edmond Stoops, who designed the matching suits. He also worked all of the graphics on Dimmer's car to match Delane's perfectly.

Delane has been with Historic Grand Prix from its inception. "It's great from the standpoint that you know all of the participants. You know kind of what to expect. We've had very, very few squirrels participate with us in HGP and that's one of the real attractions of it. People who want to go really, really fast and hang it out all the time can do that as long as they do it within their own limits. Those who would prefer a more sedate pace are comfortable doing that. Every now and again I like to ratchet it up and try a little harder and beat some faster cars, and there are other times when I'm perfectly content to sort of run as a show filler and be comfortable and that's all there is on a given day."

For Delane, business, racing and family are inextricably linked. His wife, two children and two sons-in-law work at Del-Jen.

Members of his family are also involved in racing -- son Ryan has accompanied Delane to racing school in France and last season, Ryan raced Delane's Lotus 18 in three events. Ryan recently returned from a year and a half internship with German racing photographer Rainer Schlegelmilch and is under contract to LAT, Europe's big racing photography house.  Delane's eight year old grandson Tony (he's up to five grandchildren now) is an accomplished go-kart racer. Delane occasionally treats employees to go-kart racing days at Perris Lake and also often invites employees out for race weekends. "I took the car out for the inaugural event at the Fontana road course and had a group of employees and families come out. We let the kids sit in the car and get their picture taken and watch the races. We make it into a family type of affair."

For Delane, vintage racing is the realization of a dream begun long ago. "If you go back to my boyhood days of watching Stirling Moss, now I can go pretend to be Stirling Moss. It's an opportunity to do something I've always wanted to since I was very young and at the same time, find an outlet for my energies that is a whole lot cheaper than having to go to the emergency room once a week from pounding my head against the wall dealing with the government."

But it's not just the cars that draw him back. "At the same time, it's the luxury of a venue where you get to know some of the nicest people in the universe, which is a by-product advantage that I didn't anticipate when I started. In many respects the cars were the bait, if you will. The hook is the marvelous people we've gotten to know over the years."

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