In 1971 the future seemed bright indeed for a soft-spoken 21-year-old driver who was itching to get his hands on a Grand Prix car. Fresh from Driver of the Year honors in Canada and a phenomenal 21-29 record in one season of Formula Ford racing in the U.S. and Canada, David Loring of Concord, Mass., was in England, ready to take on the British Formula Ford circuit. He did so with style. In '72 Loring won five Formula Ford races—outdriving a youngster from Kentucky named Danny Sullivan, among others—en route to a fifth-place finish in the series championship, and was named Most Talented Foreign Driver.
The British Formula Ford series is the first rung on the ladder to Formula One, and young Loring was obviously on his way up. But he never made the next step. Now, at age 40, Loring is in his second season behind the wheel of a Nissan 240SX in the undercard GTU class of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) circuit. He is too old, and too far down the road, to hold out hope for a chance at Formula One. And it remains to be seen whether he can parlay his success in the GTU—he won four of 14 races last year, and through June has won three of the first eight events this season—into a ride in a more glamorous IMSA class. For all his driving talent, Loring is profoundly lacking in one thing required of any driver who expects to make it to the bigs nowadays: the ability to sell himself.
The following conversation is a case in point.
Journalist: "How many races have you won in your career?" (The correct answer is more than 60.)
Loring: "I have no idea."
Journalist: "O.K., how many times were you on the pole last season?" (Eight.)
Loring: "Haven't a clue."
It's no act. Loring doesn't know. And he doesn't mind not knowing. The way he sees it, rattling off his impressive stats would be bragging, and civilized people don't brag. When Loring does have something to say, he speaks in a half-whisper and stretches out the ends of sentences in a New England/Canadian/British accent. He says, "I went to Quaker meetings with my parents when I was growing up, and the message was 'You don't go around telling people how good you are; if you're good, you'll get recognized.' That's...the...way...I...was...brought...up." He is sitting in an unpolished antique chair in the study of Graycroft, his family's 103-year-old summer home in eastern New Hampshire. A civilized race car driver. Sounds like an oxymoron.
But not to those who know Loring. They wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that for an international-style rally from Hong Kong to Beijing four years ago, he painted the name of his father's employer, Cabot Corp., in Chinese characters on his car. Charles Loring had told his son that Cabot—which makes carbon black, a component of tires, and was building a plant in Hong Kong—would not sponsor him. "I just painted the car for my dad," Loring says. "He had gotten a lot of technical information about tires for me through his connections over the years." An additional payback came when Loring won his class in the 2,800-mile event.
"David's got a different personality from most drivers," says Frank Honsowetz, motor sports manager for Nissan. "A lot of them can be really obnoxious." Phone calls and glossy p.r. kits from eager drivers flooded Honsowetz's Carson, Calif., office in December 1989 when word spread that Nissan would be adding a second car to its GTU team for the following season. Loring wasn't among the callers, of course, but he earned an audition on the strength of recommendations from race car designer Trevor Harris and former driver Carson Baird.
Robert Bryant, Loring's partner in a race car building and repair business, recalls Loring's reaction to winning his first GTU race, last year in Miami: "He gave away his ticket to the victory banquet, and we went to a Cuban restaurant for dinner. Race car drivers have to be entertainers, and he's not comfortable in that role."
Those who know Loring also know that he was and still is—as folks in New England say—wicked fast. Sam Posey, the ABC Sports racing analyst who has finished as high as fifth in the Indianapolis 500 and third at Le Mans, still remembers the 18-year-old novice he saw charging into the first turn at Lime Rock Race Park in Connecticut. "Turn One is a litmus test," says Posey. "You come in fast off the straightaway, and it becomes a difficult maneuver to balance the car because of the decreasing radius of the turn. When you see someone come tracking in, fully in control, you can see the desire and ability in their eyes, and it's no mystery whether they've got talent. David had that absolute vision."
Loring's talent spoke for itself, but in the raucous world of racing, that was not enough. The Loring family funds that built Graycroft were used up several generations ago, which meant David could not "buy" good rides—a route many of the current generation of Formula One drivers have taken.
Despite his Formula Ford successes in 1972, no one hired him to drive the following season in England. So he headed back to the U.S. and worked as a race car mechanic. Loring scraped together a deal to drive the Formula Atlantic series in Canada in 1974, but the team quickly ran out of money, and he finished the season subbing for the injured Gilles Villeneuve in another Formula Atlantic. In his only concerted attempt at self-promotion, Loring used his winnings, about $12,000, plus $4,000 borrowed from his parents, to send p.r. packets to about 500 companies. Oilman Doug Shierson, who has sponsored Al Unser Jr. and Arie Luyendyk in Indy Car racing, agreed to provide a car, but Loring would have to come up with the money to maintain the team. Loring was close to signing with Universal Oil Products, which had sponsored Formula One and Can-Am teams, when the company was sold and exited the racing business. As Loring likes to say when things don't work out: Oh, well.
After a year spent helping run Skip Barber's newly formed (and now famed) racing school, Loring moved to California, where he helped design and drove a Formula Ford car for All American Racers, the team headed up by former driver Dan Gurney. He won the 1978 Sports Car Club of America Formula Ford championship, but when Gurney scrapped the program at season's end, Loring was out of a ride again. Oh, well.
While going over this litany of disappointments for a guest, Loring notices that the wood stove in the study at Graycroft needs stoking and fetches three logs from one of the seven-foot-high stacks just outside the door. David, the second of six children, is caretaker of Graycroft, living there with his wife, Kathryn, and their children, Evan, 7, and Aleks, 16 months. Graycroft is the embodiment of New England civility. On one wall of the study is a framed note from Henry James. A Civil War sword rests on a stairway windowsill. Ancient Egyptian pottery sits on a hallway shelf. The war relics and artifacts were handed down by David's great-grandfather, archaeologist and Union Army general Charles Loring. David's grandmother, Katharine, was the daughter of Walter Hines Page, the American ambassador to Great Britain in the Woodrow Wilson Administration. James and other authors were among the famous visitors to Graycroft.
David's contributions to the family legacy are not so visible. According to the engraving on the silver box on the desk in the study—his very first racing award—Loring was the MOST IMPROVED DRIVER in a 1968 autocross race in Salisbury, Mass. Pancake-sized medals from victories hang by their ribbons, but in the stairway shadows. Openly displaying them would be too much like bragging.
Loring is proud of his collection of animal remains, which include a fox skull, a whale vertebra, two grizzly claws and a couple of bear teeth. They are souvenirs of his stint herding cattle and repairing fences on a cattle ranch in Kodiak, Alaska. He fled to the Last Frontier after mercurial car owner John Paul Sr. (who is now serving concurrent sentences for attempted murder and for drug smuggling) fired him as driver of a Formula Atlantic car midway through 1979.
Alaska seemed the perfect antidote for the racing bug. That August, Loring tore the passenger seat out of his VW Beetle, put in a wooden floor to use as a platform bed and, to the music of Bob Dylan, set out north. The planned sabbatical turned into a three-year job, and the 5'11" Loring, who at one time weighed 230 pounds, became a rawboned, 180-pound cow-poke. "The nearest town was 75 miles away, on the other side of a mountain range," Loring recalls. "So you had to take care of things as best you could with what you had. It made you feel real good at the end of the day."
In 1983, his self-esteem finally restored, Loring returned to the Lower 48 to get on with life as an ex-race car driver. He returned to teaching at Barber's school. The next spring he helped prepare Pierre Honneger's Mazda-powered prototype for the 12-hour race at Sebring, Fla. After the race, Honneger offered Loring a full-time job in his Princeton, N.J., race shop. "That was like hiring an alcoholic to be a bartender," Loring says.
Sure enough, two years later, despite having vowed never again to drive a race car, Loring was spinning backward, almost hitting the wall of a test track, yelling, "No, no, no!"—and enjoying himself immensely. Loring was hooked on racing again. "Two laps, and it all comes back to you," he told Honneger gleefully that night as they uncorked a bottle of wine.
Loring won the 1986 Camel Lights race at Lime Rock in a Denali, a car he had designed and had given the name by which native Alaskans call Mt. McKinley. He and the car were repeat winners the next year, but by then Honneger had decided to get out of racing. Oh, well.
In 1988, Loring signed with Tom Hessert to drive a full Camel Lights season. He scored victories at Daytona, Sebring, West Palm Beach and Columbus, Ohio, and was named the series' Outstanding Driver. But when Hessert told Loring that it would cost him $250,000 to be on the team for the 1989 season, Loring knew another ride was gone. Oh, well.
And sure enough, the Nissan ride came along. Now Loring would like a shot at one of the Nissan GTP cars, those thundering prototypes with top speeds of 220 mph. But unless Nissan Motorsport plans to field a third GTP car, Loring will have to unseat the reigning GTP champ, Geoff Brabham, or runner-up Chip Robinson, to get that ride. Honsowetz says, "If I were David, I'd be trying to run over my teammates in the pit lane."
Loring will more likely be content to let fate sort it all out. "I'm becoming much happier about the way things have turned out," he says in his study. "We don't all get what we think we're due, but that's the way life works. I just go to the track and do the best that I can."
Posey says, "It's embarrassing that the racing system didn't give this guy of talent the opportunity he deserved." But he remains sanguine about Loring's racing future and holds out hope that Loring might drive not just in GTP cars, but perhaps at Indy, where absolute vision is a must and drivers in their 40's are commonplace.
Whatever happens, David Loring intends to keep a stiff upper lip. And you can bet he won't use it to blow his own horn.