Durham Morning Herald, 10/22/67
By SYLVIA WILKINSON
Russ Norburn's sleek Beach Mark 4-B--"a car built for racing and nothing else"--is facing a tough christening Oct 28, 29 at Virginia International Raceway in Danville.
"I've driven all over the country and in England and have never seen a track that presented the driver challenge of VIR," says the Durham driver.
Russ had the blue and gold fiberglass speedster built to his specifications by a Florida firm and equipped it with a Nathan modified Sunbeam Imp engine from England. When asked why he turned to this exotic machine after a summer racing season behind the wheel of the brute power of a Shelby Mustang, Russ says, "I drove a formula car in England last spring and developed a fascination for the accuracy of its handling.
"The Mustang is a street machine turned into a racing machine; the Beach is a true sports racing car, a baby Can-Am car using the suspension and chassis principles of the Formula I Grand Prix car and keeping to the definition of a true sports car by having enclosed wheels and two seats."
Russ knows every foot of the twists and turns of VIR's 3.2 mile road course, giving the local man a valuable edge over outside competitors. "VIR has everything," Russ states enthusiastically, "long straights, hairpins, uphill and downhill esses, a beautifully arranged track with the feeling of a backwoods road. .The driver concentration is so intense, you don't get to look at your gauges except for a few seconds on the straight."
When asked what he was shooting for this weekend, the Duke University history major said. "This weekend I'm aiming for the H Sports Racing class record.
"To be truthful," Russ admitted, "this is the second debut for the new car. The first constitutes my worst moment in racing. . . . I hit a rock at the Chimney Rock Hill Climb and broke the suspension because I forgot the tires were two inches wider. But I've put every spare minute away from my studies into getting that car ready, and by Saturday I plan to have all the bugs out."
Russ's desire to be a good formula driver is evidenced by the fact that he shaved his 205-pound frame down to 160.
"In the Mustang, 50 extra pounds on me was not crucial, but in a car that weighs only 750 pounds, the driver's weight is vital. If you'd like a comparison, the average American road machine checks in at about 3,000 and Mustang's 289 engine weighs close to 500 pounds while the rear mounted aluminum Nathan engine weighs only 170. Now I couldn't let myself weigh more than the engine!"
This puts Russ astride a machine that fully equipped is about as heavy as a good-sized pony. How do you prepare such a vehicle for competitive racing?
"The rules limit you engine wise," Russ explains, "so your engine potential is reached early in the development stage. The engine makes the car go, you have to make it go faster--thus comes the most fascinating stage of sports car development."
"You throw out all excess weight, work on aerodynamics--a headlight cover can streamline the car enough for a speed gain--, suspension, gearing, brakes "
How can brakes make a car go faster?
"The brake explanation," Russ says, "is one of the keys to sports car racing. In a stock car you travel on an oval and put on the brakes to reduce your speed only 20 miles an hour or so; in a sports car there are constant applications throughout each lap as you set your machine up for the variety of turns.
"After a stocker reaches a peak speed, the gearbox isn't used, but a car such as the Beach has a five-speed gear box--on one lap the speed varies from 130 on the back straight to 30 m.p.h. in the hairpin.
"Good brakes mean simply that you can go fast longer before you have to slow your car down for turns. When your car is handling well, you can get on the power sooner on the way out. Each one of those wheels has eight inches of rubber on the ground and that, as any drag racer knows. gives you more to bite with."
Those precious seconds gained with good brakes and accurate timing have made Russ a frequent race winner at VIR. He held the sedan record there until it was broken by his co-driver national champion Pete Feistmann, and last spring Russ was in charge of the Sports Car Club of America Drivers' School program that has produced drivers like Dan Gurney and Phil Hill.
Russ lives at 133 Pinecrest Road with his wife Helen and two sons. When asked about the race coming up. Helen said "I hope I'll ride in that other seat to carry the checkered flag on the victory lap."