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The 50th Anniversary and Reunion of the Deutscher Automobil Club, held last Saturday night, was a celebration of the accomplishments of members like driver Rudy Bartling, who raced in the 12 Hours of Sebring 18 times, and driver David Deacon, who led the first all-Canadian team to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1983.
Not to forget other racers and rallyists like Horst Petermann, Uli Bitterlich, Rudy Mueller, Harry Bytzek and about 150 other participants and supporters who were in attendance.
But the one man who dominated the evening, mentioned time and again by speakers â€“ including retired Toronto Sun auto racing columnist Dan Proudfoot, Can-Am series champion Horst Kroll and Deacon â€“ was Klaus Bartels, who ran the club for most of its existence until he died a year ago January.
That he was a larger-than-life fellow, let there be no doubt. Bartels took over the club â€“ which was started originally in 1958 by a gentleman named Herman Fickert â€“ in the early 1960s and ran it his way right up until the end of his life.
Proudfoot once urged me to consider joining the Deutscher club.
“The fellow who runs it is named Klaus Bartels,” Proudfoot said. “Even if you don’t join, it won’t be a wasted evening as Klaus is as entertaining as any television comedian.”
Deacon, who raced in that ’83 Le Mans classic with Jacques Villeneuve Sr. and Ludwig Heimrath Jr., seconded that thought.
“You’d go to a meeting and Klaus would have the people there cheering, whistling, clapping and guffawing about everything having to do with the club, with motorsport, or even what was on the front page of that day’s newspaper,” he said.
“It was like a nightclub floor show and he was the headline act. I’d take my friends and they’d have the time of their lives. A few days later, they’d call and say, `When are we going again?’ and I’d say, `Sorry, some of my other friends want to go now.'”
The guest of honour last Saturday was Bartels’s widow, Ruth, who was there with their son Alex and his wife. She recalled how she was working at Volkswagen Canada in the 1960s as a secretary when she met Klaus Bartels, who demanded to know her name.
It seems he was as determined to run the show in his private life as he was at the club.
“I didn’t know if he was the president of Volkswagen or somebody who cleaned the floors,” she said, “but I told him my name and a little while later there was a phone call and my boss answered and said, `Yes, Mr. Bartels’ and `No, Mr. Bartels’ and `Let me ask her, just a moment.’
“And he asked me if I was available on Saturday and I’m thinking, because I’m new with the company, that I was going to go to work on Saturday and I said yes, I could do that, and my boss asked my address and said that Mr. Bartels would pick me up and I thought: `Isn’t that so nice â€“ he’s going to pick me up and drive me to work. What a gentleman!’
“And he did pick me up â€“ but it turned out he was taking me to work a checkpoint for a rally being put on by the DAC. I had no idea what a rally was; I had no idea what a checkpoint was.”
Ten months later they were married â€“ for 46 years.
The reunion wasn’t all about Klaus Bartels. Everybody else had their own memories of the DAC, too.
Take Petermann, for instance. He was 19 when he came to Canada from Germany in 1957 and, a year later, he heard there were some cut-rate tickets available for the Indianapolis 500.
The lower price was only available for members. “So that’s why I joined the club â€“ to save money on Indy 500 tickets!”
Petermann later teamed up with fellow DAC enthusiast Ray Brezinka and went racing with, first, a Sunbeam Alpine and then a series of Porsches, starting with a 904 and advancing through a 906 to a 908.
Then the two bought a McLaren Mark III and went Can-Am racing in 1971, with Petermann driving the car at Le Circuit St-Jovite and Brezinka behind the wheel at Mosport.
“When you’re out there against drivers of the calibre of Denis Hulme and Dan Gurney,” Petermann said, “you don’t expect to win but you do your best. I can say that we did our best.”
Sometimes it isn’t the big series that elicit the fondest memories. Bytzek recalled a race leading up to the six-hour Sundown Grand Prix at Mosport.
“Rudy (Bartling) and I basically had the same car and we were both fighting for the championship. So we thought, `Okay, we are going to save our cars for the six-hour race and basically take it easy.’
“Well, that 20-lap preliminary race was the wildest race that either one of us was ever in. We must have passed each other once on every lap! We ended up seconds apart â€“ we had tire marks on both sides of both our cars.”
Bartling credits many DAC members for giving him a driving career.
“All the race cars I drove belonged to DAC members who could afford to own them and they gave me the opportunity to drive them.
“For instance, Ray Brezinka provided me with cars for years and years. So did Klaus Bartels, Harry Bytzek and Roman Pechmann.
“Fritz (Hochreuter), he was Number 1. We were two bachelors living together and he brought over one of the first Porsche 911s in 1968. It was eligible for SCCA Trans-Am racing (which had two classes in those days) so we went racing in the Trans-Am.”
Candace Calder is one of the club’s younger members. She has lots of racing experience and heard the club needed fresh blood.
“I race, I’m an organizer, I’m a licenced official and I’ve done almost everything at the track and I thought, `Here’s a club I would enjoy helping,’ in that here was a club that would probably appreciate me coming in, unlike an established club that might have had 10 people who could do what I could do.
“I joined and within a year I was on the executive and for five years I was the competition director and the starter. They’re a wonderful group with a lot of history and a lot of experience who have a lot to offer back and they’re as young at heart as you would expect the motorsports community to be.”
Member Brian Stewart was unable to attend because his Indy Lights team was at Chicago.
“I joined the DAC way back when,” he said in a telephone interview, “because it was the cheapest club to join at the time. I needed all my monet to go racing.”
“Anyway, my favourite story concerns â€“ like everybody else â€“ Klaus Bartels. I won the club championship in 1970 but I wasn’t going to go to the banquet. Klaus called me up and convinced me that I had to be there, so I agreed to go.
“Now, it’s 1970 and I have my hair long, really long. So I show up at the banquet and I’m in my suit and I have my wife with me and she’s all dolled up and we’re met at the door by Klaus who looks me up and down and says:
`Brian … you look … so … British.’ ”
Motorsport writer Norris McDonald wraps up weekend racing every Monday at wheels.ca [email protected]