My Night Out with John DeLorean and Roger Penske

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Some background is in order. My parents were close friends of Ed and Dolly Cole to the extent that they were designated to be legal guardians of their children should something happen to both of them. Although I knew him as Mr. Cole, I knew Dolly as Dolly. As Mr. Cole was busy being the President of General Motors, Dolly would be immersed in charitable works and include me at such events whenever she could. Being a young bachelor it was always great to be rubbing elbows with so many of the social elite and captains of the automotive industry. This was especially true during the early ‘70s; an era often regarded as the halcyon days of the U. S. automotive industry, and especially GM.

As Mr. Cole would come to our home, I was often privy to some inner scuttlebutt concerning the politics within GM. For example, John DeLorean would often drive a foreign sports car (Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, etc.) to work and park it in front of the GM Building on W. Grand Boulevard. Then he would saunter into the building dressed in casual, California-style, attire — that is a sport coat, open shirt, and no socks — as opposed to the standard three-piece suit, white shirt, and conservative tie of the time. The whole ordeal of what to do with such a brilliant man drove the upper echelon at GM crazy.

Dolly Cole loved his flare and was attracted to those younger driving forces behind the scenes of what made “Detroit” work. It wasn’t just the engineers and the stylists. What gave the industry, and Detroit, its panache was the relationships developed between a variety of dynamic people who got to know each other through outside events.

Among the many that were part of this entourage, beside me, were John DeLorean and his brother, Jack, Skip Villerot, Bob Nicols, and Roger Penske. Anyway, we were invited to a charity rodeo at the Michigan State Fair Grounds in Detroit one evening by Dolly Cole — the year and time was the summer of 1972. The evening ended relatively early — say 9:30 pm or so — so we all decided that “go-kart” racing was the thing to do. At the time, there was a go-kart track on Maple Road, between Coolidge and Crooks, across from what is now the Troy Motor Mall.

We all showed up and John DeLorean was taunting Roger Penske about his car-racing prowess, which ended up in a round robin challenge. In other words, we all strapped on our ineffective helmets and took to the track to see who could out race the others. Of course, both DeLorean and Penske, being so competitive, couldn’t stop at one race. Penske had the lowest time every time. In fact, I couldn’t imagine how Roger could beat me by 3 to 4 seconds per lap. It wasn’t that long of a course, and the cars didn’t go that fast. Finally, I cornered Roger along with John to find out the secret. When asked, Roger queried, “Did you use the brake?”

“Sure”, I replied. “Don’t you?”

Roger smiled and said, “Never! Braking dissipates all of your energy”.

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