from an interview with Jim Downing as part of my senior design
20, 1996... As a note, the sound quality was very poor for
interview, notably so in the first half. So for the first half
I reconstructed what Mr. Downing said from my notes and tried to
what was said over the tape, so it is by no means an exact duplicate of
the conversation. As for the second half, it is a near precise
how the interview unfolded.
Tech with a degree in industrial management
did you get into racing...
derbies since he was 11, raced those for several years, won a local
slalom event when he was 16, basically grew up around cars and racing,
his father was a major foreign car dealer in the Atlanta area
you start out with Mazda...
did you join forces with Rick Engeman...
when he first
started racing (in the '60s), Mazda wasn't even
around, when he
started in I.M.S.A. in '74, he ran a Mazda RX-2....(note:
car number, #63, is the year he started racing)
Downing's engine builder and is the most experienced rotary engine
in the United States. Rick started building them for
Downing met Engeman in '74, and by 1976 they had a mutual agreement
Rick would come and work with Downing. That year they were
Mazda RX-3s, the first RX-7s didn't come out until '78.
was your role in the development of the Camel Lights series...
RS championship in '81, in '82 Downing won the GTU championship, at
point the Mazda competition department in Irvine, Ca. had been
him for several years in a relatively small way, decided they wanted to
run for overall, the Mazda competition department gave Downing a choice
of running a GTO car or running a GTP car and competing for overall
Downing chose to run a GTP car, there was no Camel Lights
yet. They were going to run a 2-rotor Mazda engine, the
didn't exist as a racing unit at this time (Downing goes on to
that Mazda was experimenting heavily with the rotary units, and a
might have existed, but it was years from being race ready).
In '83 Downing did his homework and bought an Argo chassis to
in the GTP championship in '84. In '83 Downing was still
in the GTU championship, all be it not as seriously as in '82
was concentrating on getting the GTP program together and settled), and
ended up finishing second in the championship. The GTP car
to go in '84, there still was no Camel Lights series, but by the time
Mazda GTP car was ready to run, the car was outclassed by the other
(people like Al Holbert in the Porsche powered March)
in terms of
horsepower. Downing goes on to explain that when the idea was
to run a Mazda GTP car, the rotary engine was already so reliable that
it could have won the Daytona 24 hour race outright. What it
in horsepower, it made up for with unmatched reliability. But
the time the program had evolved to a car actually being prepared, the
competitors had increased their reliability through development and
and that combined with superior horsepower, made the Mazda-Argo
even before it ever turned a wheel. Downing suggested to John
(I.M.S.A. founder and owner) that a class needed to be created for
less powerful GTP cars, John Bishop understood and recognized this, and
the Camel Light series was born. Downing vehemetly denies
for the creation of the Camel Lights series for if it wasn't for John
fore sight in recognizing the need for such a series, it wouldn't have
did you decide upon choosing to run the Argo chassis in the Camel
series... What other options were there...
choice, they didn't have a car at that point, Spice did not exists,
was a possibility, Osella, Tiga wasn't even thinking of coming out with
a car for a couple of years. A man by the name Hugh
north Georgia got together and financed Argo and Jim Downing was the
customer. The first car was the Argo JM-16 designed by Jo
(the JM in JM-16).
Argo cars...how successful...Did you do any modifications to improve
JM-16) was pretty successful, had a good finish in '84 in the
GTP series, good overall finishes...When the Lights series started in
Downing won the championship with the JM-16, then the JM-19, which
had commissioned Argo to build, came out in '86, was a beautiful car,
Jo Marquart had designed a full fledged Group C car with the JM-19,
to Downing's disappointment. It was really a car built for Le
but Downing needed a car designed to take advantage of the Camel Lights
rules to the fullest extent, and the JM-19 was not that car.
JM-19 was somewhat of a disaster, Downing won the Camel Light
that year on superior reliability and preparation, but won
races that season...Downing went to work on modifying the JM-19 to fit
his need, he took the Argo and down sized it, building a completely new
body for the car, and in the end he had a 7/8 scale Mazda-Argo JM-19 (called
the JM-19B). Downing managed to win the
championship in '87 winning
only one race, but accumulating lots of seconds and thirds, always
superior preparation goes a long way in racing...Lost confidence in
felt they had very little control over the design of the car, and
Argo had "fooled" them with the JM-19 which really hurt them
This was the catalyst that convinced Downing to try his hand at
a car to his needs and specifications. In '88 they built a
new chassis and combined it with the 7/8 scale Argo body work and they
had the first Mazda-Kudzu, the DG-1 (Jim Downing,
were the priorities in designing the Mazda-Kudzu DG-1...
frontal area, streamlined, looked a lot like a 7/8 scale Argo JM-19
with Downing's own tub, suspension, trying to improve on all those
that were vastly overbuilt on the JM-19, which was designed to handle
horsepower, while they were only running 330 horsepower in the Mazda
you do any initial wind tunnel studies on the Kudzu DG-1...Where...
the Argo to
a wind tunnel in Ottawa, Canada and came out with a notebook of data on
the car which became reference material for the Kudzu
much did the aerodynamics change from the Argo JM-19 to the DG-1...
reshaped air intakes on the front for less drag, different ducting for
less drag, had been chopping up the Argo with shorter tails to reduce
high polar moment (with the longtail Argo JM-19, the rear wing
out so much that it effected the load moments in a dramatic way, by
off and making the tail shorter, you could move the rear wing in closer
and reduce the distance in which the load had to act through, but more
importantly you could reduce the amount of weight hanging out at the
and therefore reduce the polar moment), less concerned with
than drag, reprofiled the underbody tunnels so as to move the center of
pressure forward, started the tunnels farther forward so that the
angle of the tunnels was more gradual and the air was convinced to stay
attached. The tub had to be modified to incorporate
tunnel shape that started farther forward. In this way,
his car to run under the I.M.S.A. Camel Lights rules as far as the
were concerned. Other competitors had optimized their cars to
legal under Group C rules so that they could run at Le Mans if they
to, but the Group C rules mandated a flat bottom area under the tub
restricted how far forward the tunnels could start, the Group C rules
restricted the size of the tunnels. This reduced the effectiveness of
tunnels. If your car was legal at Le Mans, it was legal in
but if the car was legal in the U.S., it didn't mean the car was legal
at Le Mans because I.M.S.A. allowed more freedom in the design of the
tunnels. The sacrifice was that the car wasn't legal at Le Mans, but
was concentrating solely in the U.S. on the I.M.S.A. Camel Lights
competitive was the Kudzu DG-1 in its first season...
out of the box, didn't actually win any races, but led races which they
were unable to do the previous year. Unfortunately,
year was plagued by basic new car problems, mufflers falling off, etc...
transition from the DG-1 to the DG-2, what new ideas did the DG-2
were the DG-1's shortcomings...How different was the DG-2 over the
DG-2 was meant
to be a more versatile car, Downing wanted to sell these cars to
so they made sure the car would take a V6. Tried to optimize
car even further as a Camel Lights car, lightened it up, etc...tried to
create more top side downforce, continued with the same underbody
as the DG-1, trying to optimize the whole package...ran a number of
scale wind tunnel tests out at the Lockheed full-size wind tunnel in
successful was the DG-2...
Sold one to Andy Evans (Scandia racing) , sold one
to Mike Gue (Essex
racing) who won the first race with it. Won Sebring
Morgan driving, didn't win the series partly because of the onslaught
Comtech racing and the Acura (Honda) engined Spice
driven by Parker
Johnstone. Comtech basically just had a better package than
else, wasn't just a better car, better preparation, managing, driving,
financing, just plain did a better job than everyone else, and that's
guy who usually wins. Honda was willing to spend a lot of
engine development while Downing really was the engine developer for
So, the DG-2 was successful, but it didn't win a series. The
were run by customers in '91, '92, '93, all were converted and are
run as World Sports Cars, basically the none of the DG-2s exist anymore
as originally conceived(one is currently racing in
Car Racing], the ex-Scanida Buick DG-2).
mentionable aerodynamic improvements incorporated into the DG-2...
body, trying to make topside downforce with out sacrificing drag, did
size wind tunnel testing out at the Lockheed facility(Marrietta
different was the DG-3 over the DG-2...
only ran a Mazda engine, the Camel Lights Car was converted into a
Sports Car, new body, transmission, suspension, almost a clean sheet of
paper, the tub was basically the same, there wasn't much left to do to
the tub except make it totally flat bottom(*see story from
regarding the DG-3
and its optimization from the start as a WSC).
were the keys to success with Wayne Taylor and the Kudzu DG-3 WSC in
a head start on the Ferraris (the Ferrari 333SP
didn't debut until
round 3 of the I.M.S.A. championship at Road Atlanta and missed the
points paying endurance races at Daytona and Sebring), good
at the Florida endurance race getting second at both Daytona and
good consistent finishes throughout the year.
Kudzu DLM, evolutionary or revolutionary...
little of both,
you can't say that its totally a new concept, the tub is somewhat
but nothing would interchange with the old tub, the tub is 45 lbs.
somewhat simpler, all the rear is completely new, the uprights in the
are completely new, the front uprights are very similar, if not exactly
the same as the best we've built, completely new body, its a clean
of paper car, its as clean a sheet of paper car as we've ever built.
new ideas does the Kudzu DLM incorporate...
truth is there
are almost no new ideas in racing, if you look back you see every one
them back sometime, and they can go waaaay back, somebody realized that
this works or that worked, its just kind of putting the package
that fits the current situation of the sanctioning body rules...we
are going for more wing efficiency, thats one of the things, I guess,
pretty new about it, with the rule now, the wing is very limited in
you know, has to fit into a box 16 inches by 6 inches tall, so how do
make something in there more efficient? Well, it can be any
you want, so you make the most efficient shape, then you get as much
air to it as you can, so that you can get the same downforce for
it at a lesser angle of attack...
do you hope to achieve with the Mazda-Kudzu DLM...I.M.S.A. series...Le
at the endurance races?) Its about all we can do.
You can see
as clear as I can, there are no secrets here, the 400 and what ever
we have is not going to beat a 680 horsepower Ferrari, so we have to go
with endurance where perhaps we can run at a higher percentage of our
speed than an piston engine can and hope to survive, and thats why Le
comes back into the picture, there's another place, a chance,
we can do well...
you initially intend for the Kudzu to become a customer car...Did this
compromise the design any...
we would have
like to sold more, we began to think we could sell cars, it actually
to a head with the DG-2, we realized we had to have a completely new
and the DG-1 was successful and we were able to lead races and be right
there, so we thought we had something we could sell and we learned
from there to make a car with a new look to it...
of the Kudzu name...What other names were you considering...
had a long list
of names, my wife Connie finally suggested we use Kudzu, it grows all
the south, you could make decent jokes about it: creeps up on you,
the competition...my father actually helped spread Kudzu around during
World War II, he was with the Department of Agriculture in Georgia and
thought to bring it back as erosion control, cattle feed, unfortunately
it got out of hand. It had been in Georgia since 1878, but he
get the idea that it was good stuff, turned out he was totally wrong...
a race car builder's standpoint, what are your priorities in
a perfect world, what would your priorities be...
stuff is really
kind of personal, I mean, I like racing, I'm not trying to be
business man/race car seller, if I had my drothers I wouldn't be
cars for customers, I would just build my own car because I like to
a car just perfect for, for me. My team. And its
we did that (build the Kudzu). You build
them for customers,
either because your ego is out of hand and you want to be famous or
ever reason, or to make a living. So we were trying to make a
and allow us to go racing and have our customers help pay for it just
we were selling Kracker Jacks. So happens our expertise was
cars, its what we like to do, so thats the direction we went.
few people ever make much money building race cars. We
would give it a try for a while. I don't think much about whether or
I'm a manufacturer of race cars. I don't want to put a damper
your story or anything, but I don't want to leave you with a false
striving to become a race car manufacturer...If I was I wouldn't be
these kinds of cars, I would be building something I could get some
on, like Sports 2000, there's a lot of competition there, but these
that do want to do that realize that they got to go were they can sell
a bunch of cars, its much better to have a wide audience with $40,000
than it is with one or two or three at $250,000. At least
view, its just not where I want to race, I want to race here so I'll
something that I can race, and if some other people want to buy it that
would be nice because it would help defray the cost some, spread the
of the development of the initial car...and, and it really hasn't
very well, we've sold some, we're building our eighth now...I made a
more money in real estate...
sort of input does Rick Engeman have when decisions are being made
the construction and design of the chassis...
stick his nose in too much, but he has a very level head on his
a very logical one...he comments on all areas of it, but primarily he
concerned with proper cooling which does affect the body shape, proper
filtration, proper fuel pickup, all the things that are ultimately
to the powerplant and he has a lot of input in all those area...past
he doesn't try to give aerodynamic advice, he wants the cooler to
he ever specify packaging requirements? Just make access easy
him?) yeah, and he fusses alot if its not easy for him.
are some of the packaging problems associated with the Mazda
what are some of the benefits...
it takes a lot more cooling than piston people ever realize, especially
the oil, oil is used to cool the engine, and you have to get rid of
heat some how, so we have coolers that would cool a 1000 horsepower
engine, people with Chevys always laugh at us saying, "I have 700
and I use an oil cooler 1/4 the size!". Thats fine but it
work for us, that's one reason I couldn't buy a Spice. Spice
wanted to sell us a car, their cars weren't shaped in a way that you
get any cooling, you just couldn't do it, and they could not understand
it, and being English they would not except your explanation...I've
found that true, they know how to do it and you don't...
the history of the Argo and Kudzu cars, what has been Mazda's input
has been very
supportive of following our directions, they really gave us a free
they said here's the job, here's the budget, do the best you
It's been a wonderful relationship.
has been your primary input for aerodynamics design and development...
Garret was the
main designer in all phases of it, as John Greene got his aero. degree,
and then went to Boeing, he began to have input, we payed him on a
basis, solve this problem, that problem, but primarily Sam did it, and
then through the DG-2 and then David Lynn came in and was certainly a
on styling...and for the last couple of years, John has come here to
with us...we've had other people advise us, outside consultants to come
in when running full size wind tunnel tests with Sam, we would hire
to come in and do full reports...so, we've gotten it where ever we
and of course a lot of it is just plain old experience, you learn what
works and doesn't work, but it's, as I'm sure you realize, a very
discipline, black is white, white is black in that business, what you
it's going to do it doesn't, it does that, it just fools you every
you got to go try it. It doesn't mean that some day there
enough literature where you can accurately predict what's going to
and its tough for us, especially at our level, we don't have the
seat-of-the-pants comparison of absolute downforce figure between the
-19, DG-1, -2, and -3...
we got to the DG-3, well, the DG-3 was the Camel Lights car, and it was
probably the best, the DG-2 body...forgetting what I have here, the
body was really raced in Lights until the end, the -3 (as a WSC
was a flat bottom car, and you could immediately tell you lost a lot of
downforce, so, while we are all gaining a little of it back a little at
a time as everyone gets better at it, we're not back to the tunnel
when you had your tunnels right, and you got the car at the right ride
height and the right rake, all your little tabs and everything you
go around a corner terrifically fast, significantly faster than your
to do right now, so, from the -16(JM), the -16 was excellent, in fact,
I don't know if there was alot of difference between the -16
the -19, the -16 was a great car...(phone call interrupts us)...so,
anyway, personally, I think we could have stayed with the JM-16 and
to develop it and we would have been far better off then the work we
to do to turn what was really a big car into a small car with the
just really threw you?) Yeah, it did, it hurt us a lot, we
it quite at the time it just didn't come into focus...aero wise, by the
time we built the first Kudzu, and got the size down to a reasonable
for Lights, we had a car the equal of the -16, besides from a
looking sleek car that the -19 was, which is that shape right there, in
Camel Lights it wasn't any better than that JM-16 right there, which
a wonderful car...short wheel base, a little twitchy, people got a
nervous sometimes at high speed on the braking until they got used to
from a drivers point of view they thought the wheel base was too
they thought they weren't in control, but, I guess we tend to think
those were folks who were a little out of control anyway, and
pushed them over the edge to where they weren't comfortable, but if you
were driving at a professional level, you could drive the car just
it reacted very quickly with that short wheelbase, good car in traffic,
you had to sort of be a real race car driver...(those that couldn't
it) just hadn't matured to being a quote sports car race car driver,
then our car was just wonderful, it was just the best car you ever
the Kudzu that Sam Garrett completed...compared to other cars, the
center of gravity of the Mazda engine was a big deal, you didn't have
roll in the back, the lower weight of the engine allowed you to have a
little better front to rear distribution and that helped handling and
tune the car a little better...
many of the Kudzu cars were built...
simply highlights the confusion over of the Kudzu line chassis history,
see separate link for the actual Kudzu
chassis history) One DG-1, there must have been
four DG-2s, six
was the DG-3s, and now we're building the seventh car, which is the
car, the DLM, and now we're going to build another Buick car, that new
tub back there, we're building that because we still have alot of
a couple of engines and the stuff left over from the wrecked car (referring
to the car wrecked on the last lap at Sebring last year) last
and we'll put that together...I actually quite haven't decided what
cars going to look like yet!...(a new body?) we
might put this new
body on it (referring to the DLM), it's a little
the back is so high with the engine and suspension, so it doesn't fit
well, but there may be a way to make it fit and still have the
of the new car, the new look...(also the advantage of less
yes, it's much simpler to deal with cooling wise, actually, so...(it
has a 3.4 litre Buick engine?)4.2, 530 horsepower, I mean, on
that car should be able to compete with anything out there, the Buick
makes a hell of a lot of power, if you get your weight down to where
sliding scale is...(and what would the weight be for this car?)I
haven't looked at the new one but it should be around 1700, 1725, and
you're able to get it down there, I think this could be kind of a
car...well, we'll have to see...
was the motivating force in the development of each of the Kudzu cars...
and learned what we thought we could do better, once you finish a
you have to put a design to bed some time and build it, but even while
you're doing that you realize how you could have done it better,
just no end to it, and if you ever think there's an end then you're
through with being competitive, and of course, then the motivating
is to build a better car, thats all...cars that you can't but, I mean,
in truth, its really much cheaper to just go and buy a car, building
own car, you're only doing it because you can't buy it...you don't want
to reinvent things, or build things that someone else has already done,
that you can use to solve your problems, your problem is to have a car
to go race and that you can be competitve in, and if you can buy it,
it, if you can't then you got to build it. We never felt that the right
one was out there that fit us, and we're Mazda people, O.K., so we had
some constraints on us, we weren't ready to go buy a $200,000 Ferrari
stick it in our car, we're Mazda people...(well you have so
with the engines, you know what to expect with them)
have facilities for rebuilding, I don't have $200,000 to set up a
shop, and I don't want to, Rick doesn't have any interest in doing
doesn't have any interest in running a piston engine, have you ever
what his initials are?...(R.E.?)...(uhhh,
hmmmm) think about
our engines...(Rotary Engine, there you go!)I have
no idea if that
has anything to do with it, I honestly don't, some years ago I suddenly
realized those were his initials, I can tell you he has no interest in
going racing with anything but a rotary engine that's his life work, if
you want..(his passion?) Yes...and he's good at it,
he's as much
part of any success as I've had as anything else...