VINTAGE RACING JOURNAL: Five forgotten heroes of Datsun racing

As we prepare for Datsun race cars to flood Raceway Laguna Seca for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion in August, let’s take a moment to remember the forgotten heroes of Datsun racing. You’re probably already familiar with names like Brock Racing Enterprises and Bob Sharp Racing, officially sponsored by Datsun.

However, thanks to their sheer affordability and incredible performance, by the 1970s Datsuns campaigned by privateer teams — those who did not receive any backing from Nissan — were swarming America’s race tracks. Here’s five underdog Datsun racers that we should all remember and praise for their contributions to the brand. 

One of the factors that made racing a Datsun in the 70s so attractive was the fact that the cars were affordable, obtainable, and reliable. While Datsun backed many race cars throughout their production lineup, like the 240Z, 510, roadsters, 610, 710, 1200, 200SX, and 280ZX, official team sponsorship was limited.

BRE was the official race team of the west coast, while BSR was chosen for the east coast. These teams gave us drivers like John Morton, Paul Newman, Dan Parkinson, and Jim Fitzgerald, are of whom are rightfully heralded as Datsun racing pioneers. 

However, factory backed teams often saw racing budgets in excess of a quarter of a million dollars, while privateer teams could only hope for less than a quarter of that. Furthermore, operating as a privateer meant that you were often second in line for the latest and greatest R&D.

To Datsun’s credit, many privateer teams were supplied with checks for winning races and representing the brand, which would in turn be used at the Datsun Competition department. If you made it to the Runoffs, the SCCA’s national championship race, Datsun Competition would house all the brand’s drivers under one large tent where parts were shared, camaraderie was built, and friendships were forged. Here, a Datsun Competition truck would hand out parts like it was Christmas!

Despite their many disadvantages, many privateers still managed to get to the Runoffs, and some even won outright. So without further ado, here are five Datsun drivers you should know.

Logan Blackburn – Blackburn Racing Inc. – Indianapolis, Indiana

While Logan Blackburn’s first SCCA National Championship came in 1971 behind the wheel of an E-Production MG-B, his Datsun claim to fame was winning the C-Production Championship in 1977 in his Datsun 240Z.

Little do most people know, the Blackburn 240Z chassis stretches back to the first year of the 240Z racing in C-Production. The car was built in 1970 by a little shop out of El Segundo, California called BRE. Blackburn’s Z was the second BRE car, originally driven by John McComb (1970), Dan Parkinson (1971), and Jim Gammon (1972). It was later sold to Logan Blackburn, who became the second privateer to win a SCCA C-Production National Championship in a Datsun.

Rob McFarlin – FAR Performance – Los Altos Hills, California

Out of all the drivers in this list, Rob McFarlin raced the most varied number of different Datsun models. In fact, he managed to get his 240Z, 510, 610, and Fairlady roadster race cars to multiple Runoff appearances, though he never nabbed an SCCA National Championship crown.

However, McFarlin did take five victories in a Datsun 200SX, in which he won the 1980 IMSA RS Drivers Championship. In that same 200SX chassis, he would go on to team up with famed Porsche driver Hurley Haywood for multiple IMSA endurance races in 1978, 1979 and 1980. McFarlin would continue his racing career in a variety of other notable racing cars including a Porsche 935, Ford Mustang, Pontiac Firebird, and Mazda RX-3.

Rob McFarlin recently passed away on July 17, 2018. Thank you Rob, for your contributions to the Nissan/Datsun brand. We take this moment to remember your amazing achievements in SCCA and IMSA racing.

Dave Frellsen – Evanston, Illinois

Dave Frellsen is one of the most successful racing drivers to ever run under the Datsun/Nissan banner. Piloting several Datsun 510 and 710 race cars, Frellsen won the SCCA B-Sedan/GT2 National Championship in 1973, 1974, 1975, 1978, and 1980. Frellsen made no less twelve Runoff appearances from 1970 to 1981.

What is not as widely known is that Frellsen began his Datsun racing career in a 2000 roadster, finishing fourth at the 1970 Runoffs. Frellsen’s first National Championship 510 is still racing today, and will be a participant in this year’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. His later model 510 and 710 are currently undergoing restoration, but plan to see the infamous yellow and black cars dominating the race tracks in the near future.

Frank Leary – Frogline Racing – Mountain View, California

Frank Leary had humble beginnings working as a part-time mechanic at Foreign Auto Repair (FAR) Performance out of Mountain View, California. After successful stints in Walt Maas’ infamous “Giant Killer” 240Z in 1972, 1973, and 1974 as a second driver, he decided to go independent. Leary started Frogline Racing and campaigned his own cars from 1975 on.

In 1978, he reached the pinnacle of Datsun fame, as he climbed the top step of the podium at the SCCA National Championships. In the dying laps, Leary managed to stretch the distance on second place Logan Blackburn, and became only the third privateer in nine years to receive the coveted C-Production first place medal. While it was his 260Z chassis that won the Runoffs, his earlier 240Z chassis won several IMSA and SCCA Trans-Am races. Leary’s IMSA GTU 240Z will return to Laguna Seca in August fort the Monterey Rolex Motorsports Reunion.

Walt Maas – FAR Performance – Mountain View, California

Walt Maas is undoubtedly the most underrated Datsun hero of the 70s era. With many Regional Championships under his belt, he joined the young FAR Performance privateer team in the early 1970s. Maas received his first FAR Performance 240z, sponsored by the Northern California Bay Area Datsun Dealers, in 1971 (as it happens, this is the same Z that I own and race today!).

Maas won in his very first race on May 2, 1971. His 240Z was the first to compete in and win an SCCA San Francisco Region race. In 1972, FAR Performance received a second 240Z that Maas would pilot for the next four years. From 1973 on, his 240Z wore a new red and white paint schema, one which he would dominate with through the mid-70s.

Back in the day, C-Production would often be included in a run group with more powerful A and B-Production cars. Maas consistently started in pole position and dusted his competition. The heavier V8-powered cars were no match for the nimble, lightweight Z. It was Japanese sports car racing at its finest.

As a result, locals named his Z the “Giant Killer.” In 1974, Maas became the first Datsun racer to win both the SCCA National C-Production Championships and the IMSA GTU Drivers Championship. He was also the first privateer to win such titles in a 240Z. Maas would later go on to win the IMSA GTU Drivers Championship for a second time in 1976, racing a Porsche 914-6 GT.

While John Morton is certainly one of my all-time heroes, I have made it a personal mission to keep the stories of these underdog drivers, teams and cars alive. After all, they played a key role in the early success of Nissan in SCCA racing. It’s also part of what I enjoy about owning my own 240Z race car, and I don’t want their stories to be forgotten.

Images from the collection of Glenn Chiou.


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39 Responses to VINTAGE RACING JOURNAL: Five forgotten heroes of Datsun racing

  1. Nigel says:

    The “Giant Killer” became a Revell or Monogram kit back in the 70’s. So I know the Walt Maas car. Thank you Glenn, we now know the story behind these cars.

  2. lacerati says:

    Thanks, Glenn!
    I’m going to try to memorize this entire article before heading up to Monterey. 🙂

  3. Tony Cassata says:

    Keep us posted!!!!

  4. Harry says:

    There’s a major issue with one part of this – the Leary car is long gone.
    The original was destroyed.

    • Edward says:

      Stories vary – Frank’s original IMSA GTU winning car (1978 Laguna Seca and Sears Point) was sold and shortly afterwards was crashed by new owner.

      Pictures from crash into a tire wall do not indicate damage was that severe. In fact the car had seen worse and been rebuilt after Frank’s 120 mph end-over-end at Sears Point in early 1978 (One or possibly both front frame rails, roof, a rear quarter, etc replaced and car rebuilt around driver compartment and roll cage.) And as an aside the rebuilt car won the 1978 Laguna Seca IMSA GTU 3 weeks after the Sears Point crash.

      After the crash by the new owner the car was apparently merged with another racing chassis – and residual parts of one or both cars apparently went to junk. I believe it went thru another ownership change and sat dormant for years possibly in a state or incomplete repair before Glenn found it. Here is where the question arises – Was Frank’s car trashed and his parts put on second car or was 2nd car trashed and its parts used to rebuild Frank’s car.

      The chassis Glenn has is the correct Roll Cage Ident from Frank’s original car and having seen some unique parts on/under Glenn’s car during its restoration (verified by 2 former Leary associates, myself included) I can not substantiate the rumor that Frank’s original car was totally destroyed.

      As a minimum, it would appear the roll cage was transferred to another car – and since the roll cage is an integral part of a race car such as Franks, I would guess it is more likely the front end of the second car was spliced to Frank’s chassis.

      • Andy says:

        Perhaps the car being discussed in the article “Leary’s IMSA GTU 240Z will return to Laguna Seca in August fort the Monterey Rolex Motorsports Reunion.” was Frank’s other car. After Frank’s 120 MPH end-over-end crash that Edward mentioned, Frank was fielding two cars. One for IMSA and one for SCCA. Prior to the crash, he fielded one car for both which was reconfigured as required. The 2nd car was not a result of the crash but was planned for in advanced with all the parts and, umm, trim already on hand. Which was a big part of how we were able to get the car racing 3 weeks after that crash.

        • Edward says:

          The new CP car we built after the SP End Over End is unaccounted for. If I remember correctly, the GTU car mentioned in the article has the correct roll cage ID for the original CP car that did the endo and was converted to GTU full time. It was brought back from Canada after it was found a couple of years ago. The controversy is whether the original car was destroyed or repaired after the new owner crashed it in Canada right after he bought it. The story is that parts from 2 race cars were merged after the crash and one chassis was junked – which one? The car changed hands in Canada and if I remember correctly the original buyer and the subsequent buyer and anyone with first hand knowledge of what happened in Canada circa 1981 is deceased. Dave Dodds and I can confirm many of original parts (including Frank’s Tab shims on sway bars which you may fondly remember), but I think Frank’s original logbook and the roll cage ID is considered conclusive.

  5. Johnny says:

    Hopefully will see these in Rolex Reunion!

  6. Marc williams says:

    Where’s the first photo from? Going to guess turn 12 at Portland international races at?

    • Glenn says:

      Hi Marc – The first photo is from Portland, you are correct. Pictured is Frank Leary leading of Loren St. Lawrence in a 1979 IMSA GTU race.

  7. Mark Newton-John says:

    Back then, I was bummed because Toyota had no racing presence, although there was the odd TE27 rally Corollas, but nothing in SCCA… Although it didn’t stop this teenager from driving fast in my dad’s RT82 Corona, then later when I got my TE27 SR5.

  8. Mark Newton-John says:

    Well actually, there wss some C and D Production Toyotas, but Datsuns were the car to beat.

  9. Ron C says:

    There are others that could be added to your list, great stuff Glenn! Gerry Mason, Jr and Sr. Racing Datsun’s and Nissans. Don Devendorf, Steve Millen…

    • Glenn Chiou says:

      Thank you Ron. Yes, there are definitely others that could be added to the list. Casey Mollett, Joel Anderson, Loren St. Lawrence, Neil Vanni, Don Kearny, Dave Madison, Jack Scoville, Brad Friselle, all come to mind. I would personally put Devendorf and Millen in the John Morton and Bob Sharp categories, as both of them had heavy support from Nissan throughout their careers. Go underdogs!

  10. Carl J Beck says:

    Great idea Glenn ! I couldn’t agree more, we should not only remember but highlight the competition records of the many Datsun Owners, Datsun Dealers and their volunteer crews. All of whom made Road Racing in America so exciting in the 60’s and 70’s.

    Not only were the Datsun Roadsters, 240’s and 510’s very affordable and supremely competitive Sports Cars / Sports Sedans; Mr. K. made it NISSAN USA’s Goal to support their Customers desire to drive and even race their cars.

    The DATSUN Competition Department was established to do just that – Support Datsun Customers. The Datsun Competition Dept. not only provided Competition Parts, but also published Technical Bulletins to help Datsun Owners make their cars the most competitive on the track. The BRE and Bob Sharp Teams contributed to those Competition Bulletins as well.

    As for the Pioneers, I’d suggest Paul Jaremko and Bob Sharp as they delivered the first Datsun Championships in SCCA driving their Datsun 1500 Roadsters.

    • Glenn Chiou says:

      Thank you Carl – I agree on all fronts with your post! Paul Jaremko, who I’ve personally spent time with at last year’s Monterey Historics, is a true gentleman and was a fierce competitor! His achievements undoubtedly influenced many later racers. Of course, the same goes for Bob Sharp!

  11. Thank you Glenn for all the effort to capture history and share with fellow Datsun lovers. Good luck at Monterrey and thanks for keeping the old race cars alive.

  12. Mike Anderson says:

    Love these articles Glenn! Looking forward to seeing you in Monterey!

  13. Spriso says:

    Great to see this post— there were some amazing efforts from the privateers with Datsun factory support in the early days.

    Here is a great (and rare) video of the 1969 ARRC Runoffs at Daytona with Jack Scoville beating the BRE and Sharp teams for the national championship in a D-Production Datsun 2000 Roadster:

    • Glenn Chiou says:

      Wonderful video Spriso. Jack Scoville is one individual that I plan on covering in the future. His story is truly an amazing one. A privateer that started with Datsun Roadsters in the late 60’s, he won the National Championship against the likes of Sharp and BRE, and also went on to achieve great things in his Z car. Did you know that his Z car is actually the Brad Friselle IMSA GTU 240Z raced on the West Coast today? Neat stuff!

  14. Larry Nerada says:

    I wonder how many So Cal folks remember George Eickoff and his killer 1200 he built with some help from some pretty famous guys Datsun guys…. I visited George in California and was absolutely stunned not only at the level of preparation in the car but in the shop he had in his backyard… to this day, I never seen a privateer shop as clean, organized and ready to go…. I wonder what happened to his car…and sadly I lost touch with him also…

    Oh yes, one other passing note …when we talk about Datsun Comp, please, let’s not forget about the great support from Tom O’Connor…

    • John Levitt says:

      I have George Eickoff’s 1200 and run it in vintage events in the Northwest. It is an incredibly balanced car, exceptionally fun to drive and has a lot of history.

  15. Jeff Winter says:

    That `69 Runoffs videos is one of the best I`ve seen………. without the B.S. from commentators who didn`t really know what they were talking about. Well produced for sure. This is why I so enjoy Vintage Racing today. This is how I remember `the way things used to be `. The older I get the more I sound like my grandfather. 😎
    We were having ignition timing issues with the 2.0 liter engine early on. The engine made gobs of H.P. but due to the imprecise timing gear issue we quite often broke pistons. When this video was being made we were in the process of building our first 510 ( a 4 door ) for entry in the Daytona 24 hr to be held in the next few months. At that time we literally had to custom make everything for the car. It was a great time to be in motorsports……… especially with Datsun.

    Thanks Glenn for taking on this site. Three thumbs up !

  16. Carl Beck says:

    Talk about Datsun History – at about 1:00 into that 1969 Runoffs video – the 240Z shown in the Video is HLS30 00007.

    One of the first 3 240Z’s sent to the USA for its Introduction 22 Oct. 1969. Nissan sent HLS30 00006, 00007 and 00008 to cover the USA New Car Show Circuit, then provided them to Nissan Sponsored Competition Teams. Of course we know that Bob Sharp received HLS30 00006 (Green) early as a model sat on the roof for a photo op – and dented it. HLS30 00008 (Silver) went to Bob Speckman after it was featured on the cover of R&T Dec. 69 Issue.

    Which brings us to HLS30 00007 – which was sent to the SCCA Run-offs for display at Daytona in 1969. Then given to Ron Cook in Southern California. (whereabouts presently unknown).

    46 years later the Runoff’s returned to Dayton in 2015 and Greg Ira won the E-Production Championship in his Datsun 240Z.

  17. Jeff Winter says:

    Good to hear from you Carl………… lotta water under the bridge, eh?

  18. pete240z says:

    D.J. Fazekas is listed as the SS/A SSCA champion for 1977 and 1978 for driving a 280Z. I was doing business with his son and mentioned his dad and the racing and it opened up a door of Datsun conversation. When discussing where the cars were at I believe he sold it but he did bring up the fact that Russ kept his stock Datsun 310 as it was his first car.

  19. Larry Hasseler says:

    Great article Glenn. I had a good time seeing a lot of those datsun’s at Monterey this summer. The reason I found the article I was looking for some pics of fast Eddy Johnson’s 240z. Ed passed away yesterday so we have another Datsun pioneer man to add to the list. He was a good racer and fun guy with a lot of runoff stories. Vara’s having a 50th Z car anniversary race at cal-speedway this January 18-20. Should be a good showing of z’s and other Datsun’s. I’ll be there with my 240z #39 if you come to the race please stop by for a cold beer.

  20. Bailey says:

    Does anyone on this thread have any stories about my dad? Thank you SO much Larry for mentioning him here. I was on the same search.

  21. MARTA L LEONARD says:

    And I had a wonderful time racing my b210.

  22. Jeff Winter says:

    I`ve also heard that Datsun will be the featured make at the SVRA championship at COTA this year ( 2020 ). Hope to see many of you there. BTW……… if you havn`t driven COTA yet this will be a great chance to bring your Datsun ride to race or to see the significant cars of the past. I hope to bring my RunOffs winning 510 and hopefully the ex Jim Whitaker 240-Z from seattle . Hope to see you all there.

  23. Richard says:

    I was a big SCCA fan in the 70s in the SF Bay Area. I enjoyed going to both Sears Point and Laguna Seca. There were some great cars and great drivers in the SCCA SF Region
    Walt “The Giant Killer” Mass was one of the best drivers I ever saw race.
    I even built that Revell model of his “Z”

  24. Andy says:

    Regard Frank Leary at the 1978 CP SCCA National Championship : Paul Newman came in second, not Logan Blackburn. Unfortunately despite a great race most of the way, Logan had mechanical problems and did was unable to finish. I was there on Frank’s volunteer crew on the radio with him and co-drove the equipment can + trailered car from California in 52 hours (i.e.: non-stop)

    • Edward says:

      Hi Andy – glad to see your name – Dont forget Casey Mollett was 3rd using Franks backup motor installed the morning of the race. Edward

  25. Carl Beck says:

    While we remember all these Privateers racing Datsun’s – “those who did not receive any backing from Nissan” – I’d like to point out that they did receive backing from Mr. K.

    Mr. Uemura, the Lead Engineering Development engineer at Nissan, for the Datsun 240Z; tells us in his book that Mr. K / Nissan Motor Company West (NMC-W), wanted the new generation of Datsun Sports Cars to support the Customers desire to race their cars.

    Mr. Uemura writes:
    “In regions where many amateur races were held, the Datsun Sports became quite popular thanks
    to perceptions that it was robust and saved retrofit costs when entering in races. One of the
    requirements from NMC-W was that any new sports car should not spoil the ability of the car
    to enable anyone to enter a race without spending huge sums on remodeling.”

  26. Adam Workman says:

    Hi all from Australia,

    I’m researching any information on a car driven by Don Thompson and Lother owned by ST Racing Inc, this was a car imported by Jack B Pray ex Okinawa air force in Japan that raced in 1971 Macau GP and other Asian events, Chassis number 2036. Can provide photos of it in 1972.

  27. Adam Workman says:

    Should have added Lother Stahlberg and events such as Fun One Watkins Glen 10/19/74
    SCCA National Watkins Glen 7/9/75,SCCA National Mospart 8/6/75, Road America 8/22/75,SCCA Mid Ohio 9/12/75, Pocono 11/78.

  28. Langheck says:

    I realize this article is pretty old, but I am trying to find any images or info on the F.A.R Performance 240Z run by Robert McFarlin at the 1971 ARRC Runoffs at Road Atlanta, and was wondering if anyone could help me?

    I am a hobbyist livery designer currently drafting up a large assortment of American and Japanese liveries for a C Production styled Z in tthe race sim Assetto Corsa, and was hoping to accurately replicate all of the Z’s that participated in this particular race.

    So far I have completed 6 of the 7 cars, including Walt Maas’ early Z. But the last car that eludes me is the #49 FAR Performance car, which there seems to be no info on other than being listed in the records as having participated.

    If anyone has any info or images, I would greatly appreciate it. I just don’t want to leave the car out and have it lost to history. ^^;

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