|Geno’s Garage, Turbo Diesel Register|
|Editor and publisher|
Favorite TV show:
|Anything race related|
|“Smokey and the Bandit”|
|McLaren Can Am car|
NASA Southeast’s Robert Patton is something of a taxi driver. His old Spec E30 actually looked like a taxi till it met an untimely demise at Road Atlanta’s Turn 10A last September, and even his new car is a four-door sedan rather than a coupe.
But that description doesn’t just apply to his choice in cars. Like a taxi driver, Patton helps bring people together, and if you feel like having a conversation, you can learn a little something along the way. Perhaps an explanation is in order.
By day, Patton is the owner of the Turbo Diesel Registry, an organization that brings together owners of Cummins-powered Dodge pickups. He also is the editor and publisher of the Turbo Diesel Register, a quarterly publication for TDR members. It serves a lot of the same purposes that Speed News does. In fact, it’s available digitally on the same software.
“Everybody’s got a niche, and we’ve got a car club. It’s not a club, actually. It’s a benevolent dictatorship, and I’m the dictator,” Patton said with a grin.
Over the years, Patton has staged get togethers for TDR members, including a trip to the Cummins engine plant in Columbus, Ind. He doesn’t do many events like that anymore, but he publishes the magazine, which helps people get the most out of owning their heavy-duty Dodge pickups.
Much as he enjoys those trucks, he also likes racing in Spec E30. An original member of NASA Southeast, Patton is one of the few drivers who prefers the four-door E30 car. It’s partially related to the cost of donors and partially a matter of practicality.
“The nice thing about Spec E30, it’s the same chassis,” he said. “There’s no difference in the wheelbase. There’s no real difference in structure. The four door is no stiffer or any better. I like it because you can put all your junk in the back. With a two door, you can’t. With a two-door, if you have a fuel pump that’s gone bad, you’ve got to crawl around back there. With a four door, you can open the back door and fix the fuel pump. And we have plenty of fuel-pump problems.”
In addition to his duties as second in command of Spec E30 in NASA Southeast, Patton was for a long time the region’s lead instructor, a duty he has since passed onto his daughter, Laura Patton-Parkhurst. By spending weekends together at NASA events, Patton and Parkhurst have been able to stay close as they work side by side as HPDE instructors. Here’s where people can learn a little something along the way.
“As you get hooked in HPDE, and you want to move up, go buy yourself a car so you can continue to push yourself,” Patton said. “The instructor isn’t going to push you. He’s not there to push you. It’s not a race school. It’s a driver’s school. As it is a driver’s school, and you are now solo in the car, as you want to try to improve your golf game, you’ve got to push yourself, and if you push yourself, you’re going to make a mistake.
“Can you afford to take your 911 Carrera and put that into the wall?” he asked rhetorically. “If you can, cool, but most of our group can’t. Find yourself a car in which you can afford to push yourself to get better. If you put it in the wall, so be it. Take the suspension goodies off it, find another shell, put them on the shell and you go back and continue with your hobby.”
Patton likens it to golfing. You’re going to hit the ball in the water. You don’t want to hit your good balls in the water, so if you know there’s a water hazard up there, use your scruff ball. Patton also recommends finding a mentor, and if you ask him, he can probably help you find one. Even if he or she runs regularly in the midpack, you’re still likely to learn a great deal.
Patton also is one of the first members of Spec E30, and NASA Southeast regularly grids one of, if not the largest Spec E30 fields in the country. Car counts of 20 or more are not uncommon at Southeast events. He’s pleased with the way the class has grown and proud of the core group of racers he helped bring together, even if it means fewer podiums for him.
“My racing success was really good for the first three, four, five years. I was one of the few in the class,” he said. “It is cool to say the class has grown so much that, no, I’m not the fastest guy in the class. We’ve got a lot of talent, and it makes me happy to finish in the back part of the front group or the front part of the mid group. That’s a good day, to run with these cats. To say I’m not too far off their pace makes me feel good as an old guy.”