Through The Esses - Rob Whitener's Racing Ambitions Are Out Of The Bag
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Twin ROAR Racing Mazdas at Homestead
© Andrew S. Hartwell

Rob Whitener knows a lot about industrial-use plastic bags. Want to pack some bulk items? Call him. Want to go racing? Call him for that too. And if you do sign on with his ROAR Racing Team, you won't be driving a car that looks like something you brought home from the supermarket - you will be driving a Mazda RX8 in the KONI Challenge Series Street Tuner class.

Groceries are optional.

We talked with Whitener just before he left for the Homestead Miami Speedway round of the 2007 KONI Challenge season. This former serviceman, successful businessman and lead-footed aficionado of life's more rapid pursuits came into the racing game at an advanced age. He is acutely aware of that fact and is reminded of it every time he goes to a race.

"Over time I started to transition from being a driver to being a team owner. When you look at it, I am 250 pounds and 49 years old competing with guys that are 130 pounds and 20 years old. There is a certain amount of realism involved!"

Servicemen know about realism and Whitener performed his military service primarily in Germany. While stationed there his six years went fast but his cars went even faster. Well, one didn't.

"When I was in the service, stationed in Germany, I got used to driving at high speeds on the autobahn. I had taken a Mercury Monarch over there with me. Because I was on what was called a company tour, an extended tour of duty, they would let you bring your car and your family over there too. This was around 1979. Anyway, I couldn't get that Mercury to go over 95 miles per hour and so I said I have to get something faster. In 1982 I went out and bought a new BMW 320. I got it with US specs so I could take it back to the states with me.

"It ran a lot better than the Monarch but even with a top speed of about 120 I was still getting outrun on the autobahn by bigger cars. I was passing more cars but not enough for me. There is nothing more frustrating in Germany than being in a fast car and finding there is someone who looks like they are 10 miles behind you flashing their lights at you and the next time you look in your mirror they are on your rear end screaming at you to get over!"

'Getting over' wasn't something Whitener enjoyed doing and so he set about getting himself in the position to be the 'flasher' rather than the 'flashed'. And this has nothing to do with raincoats.

"In 1984 I bought a second BMW, this time a 525I. Now I was doing much better, tooling up and down the autobahn at about 150 miles per hour. At that point it was only the real big Mercedes and cars with bigger engines that were getting past me. Now it was me who was getting to do all the flashing!"

Running in the fast lane soon became routine, so much so that Whitener had to be reminded he was a man with a family and perhaps, a bit of restraint would be prudent at times.

One day, my wife Ravelle was with me in the car, and we had our twin sons Robert and Adam in the back seat. She looked over at the speedometer and said, Would you slow down? You are going 140 miles an hour with the kids in the back seat! I hadn't even noticed it because I had gotten so used to the speed. Over there the roads are great and the cars are built to handle the speed.

Ah but those fast days came to an end and, as is the case with most servicemen returning to the states, he too found he needed to make adjustments to his new civilian lifestyle. One thing Whitener quickly discovered is that most traffic policeman do not speak German'. He knows, because he was introduced to many of them.

When I got out of the service I shipped both BMW's back home. It didn't take me too long to rack up a few American speeding tickets! Having just come back from being in the service only helps with the police for a little while so after about six months the cops are just not as forgiving which is how I started my speeding ticket collection.

Realizing that there<