Remembering Andy Porterfield (1931 – 2012)

By Art Evans | Photos as credited

Andy Porterfield portrait photo

Andy Porterfield (Photo: William Edgar)

On the morning of April 18, 2012, I received a call that Andy Porterfield had died the night before. I knew he had been ill and in the hospital; I had been expecting a call telling me it would be ok for me to visit. His is survived by his wife Judy, daughters Pamela and Melanie, plus a son, Tracy. Andy and I were best friends and Judy recently told me that I was also his oldest friend.

I remember the Readers Digest used to have a series of articles titled something like “The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Ever Met.” High on my own list of such characters was Andy. He was amazing for a number of reasons. Among other accomplishments, he won more than 400 SCCA races. One time I asked him about it and he said, “I don’t know the exact number; I didn’t keep track; I just wanted to race.”

I met Andy in 1956 at a race at Santa Barbara. Next we raced against each other two times in 1957 at that long-abandoned course in Southern California’s Agoura Hills, Paramount Ranch. In those days, Andy was racing a 1957 Corvette and I my 1954 XK120 Jaguar. When I wrote a book about Paramount Ranch (Paramount Ranch Remembered, 2006, EnthusiastBooks.com, 800-289-3504), Andy related his own remembrances to me: “The thing I remember about those races was that I really didn’t know how to drive yet. Paramount was a lot more challenging than the Santa Barbara Airport. At the first one, I finished about a minute behind my friend, Art Evans. I did a lot better at the second one and came in second overall and way ahead of Art. The brakes in the Corvette were the weak link and this got me thinking about their importance.” Most of us in the over-1500cc production group knew one another or were at least acquainted. During those long-ago days, Andy and I struck up a friendship that lasted his lifetime. Even after all of those years, we still got together for lunch every month or so. Our last was on January 18 of this year. He told me all about a new engine he was installing in his Camaro and his racing plans for the year.

During the late fifties, Evans Industries was the distributor of Devin products including the Devin SS. I started to race the prototype at Southern California circuits, but soon realized I was more suited to the Jaguar. I decided to enter the 1959 Times Grand Prix at Riverside, but wanted a driver more talented than myself. Impressed with Andy at the wheel of his Corvette, I asked if he was interested and he was. It was Andy’s first professional ride. Unfortunately, the car failed to finish due to my inept preparation. (Nevertheless, my distaff driver, Ginny Sims, managed to set a ladies’ speed record of 163.3 mph down the back straight during the Ladies’ Race). Andy and Ginny raced it again a few times during 1960.

Andrew Tracy Porterfield was born on June 1, 1931. He lettered in track at Mark Keppel High School in Los Angeles and was awarded a degree in business administration from Chico State College. In addition to racing, he played racquetball and water skied, always keeping himself in good condition.

Until the mid-eighties, Andy was a partner in a company that built all sorts of parts for nuclear power plants. When those he called “the tree-huggers” got politically powerful, he could, he said, see the writing on the wall and managed to sell his share of the company before the bottom fell out.

During his time racing Corvettes, Andy had learned that stopping is as important as going. Initially, Corvettes were sadly lacking in the stopping department, so he fitted Ferodo brake linings. One day at Riverside Raceway in 1985, he was approached by a representative of the British Ferodo company who asked if Andy would consider taking on a U.S. distributorship for their brake products. He accepted and continued in the brake business ever since.

Today, Porterfield Enterprises manufactures its own brake pads and rotors as well as distributes for other companies. The Porterfield pads are molded in Las Vegas and Ohio with the finishing work done at Andy’s plant in Costa Mesa, California. His pads and other brake parts are vital to the racing community. In addition, he makes high-performance street pads and supplies brakes for U.S. military aircraft.

After initial successes in the 1957 Corvette, Andy obtained sponsorship from a Los Angeles dealer, Harry Mann Chevrolet. The ’57 was followed by a ’58 and then a ’59. During those years, Andy was the California Sports Car Club Champion in his category. In the early sixties, he went to a Camaro for awhile, but then, in 1968, he bought a new Corvette and raced it for quite a few years. In 1978 and again in 1979, he won the SCCA National Championship. He also raced a sprint car and a stock car a few times.

Andy Porterfield in his Corvette starting down the hill at Laguna Seca in 1957.

Andy Porterfield in his Corvette starting down the hill at Laguna Seca in 1957. (Photo: Andy Porterfield Collection)

Andy Porterfield won the SCCA National Championship in both 1978 and 1979.

Andy Porterfield won the SCCA National Championship in both 1978 and 1979. (Photo: Andy Porterfield Collection)

Andy Porterfield in the Harry Mann Corvette at Sears Point in 1978.

Andy in the Harry Mann Corvette at Sears Point in 1978. (Photo: Andy Porterfield Collection)

At the professional level, Andy competed in some 40 TransAm events and more than 20 IMSA races, where, in 1993, he won several GTO events. In the TransAm, he finished in the top ten 13 times and twice was third overall.

In 1981, he went back to a Camaro and raced one ever since. He had raced every year—including the current one—since 1956. After 1985 he stopped competing in the SCCA Runoffs because the way they are presently constituted requires competitors to travel. “To be competitive at the Nationals,” Andy told me, “You have to be there for three weeks. That’s a lot of time and I don’t want to do that anymore.”

Competing in the western half of the U.S. in SCCA Nationals and Regionals, Porterfield won the Southern Pacific Division Championship an unprecedented 22 times. In 1978, he was voted the SCCA “Driver of the Year.” Andy drove my Devin SS in memory of his first pro drive for me at the Vintage Grand Prix in Palm Springs in 1985. Then, for a number of years, he drove a Devin SS at the Monterey Historics. The car was owned and entered by Dr. Mark Brinker of Houston, Texas.

Andy Porterfield, Chevrolet Camaro GT1

After racing Corvettes for many years, Andy switched to Camaros. (Photo: Andy Porterfield Collection)

During the seventies, Porterfield started to get active in club governance, serving on the California Sports Car Club Region Board for 16 years. He was the Regional Executive (president) for five years. In 1985, he was elected to the SCCA National Board where he served for 12 years. (The elected SCCA Board governs the organization; the president and other officers are hired help).

In 1985, SCCA started an ancillary spec-racer business called SCCA Enterprises. After considerable start-up problems, Andy was named Chairman of the Board. Initially, Enterprises sold Sports Renaults, but then Chrysler wanted out of racing and discontinued making the car, so Enterprises continued the project on its own. Later, the engines were changed to Fords and the name was changed to Spec Racer Ford. In addition, Enterprises imports Van Diemans from England and installs Mazda engines. These are known as Formula Enterprise cars. The Formula SCCA series runs Spec Racer Fords. The success of Enterprises is largely due to Porterfield’s stewardship which continued until his death.

When the Long Beach Grand Prix was established, course workers were supplied by the Cal Club. After some initial problems, Chris Pook asked Andy to take charge of the workers and he did so from then on. He was also in charge of workers at the California Speedway for certain events. Amazingly, Andy performed all of his club-related activities—including SCCA Enterprises as well as management of course workers—on a volunteer basis. His income was derived from investments and his brake business.

At its annual convention in 2008 the SCCA presented Andy with the McGill Award for making the most significant contribution to the Club Racing Program. The following year, he received the Woolf Barnato Award for the most outstanding long-term contribution to the organization. This is the highest honor the club has to bestow.

Andy Porterfield made some truly significant contributions to motorsports. His brakes furnish products unavailable elsewhere, making safer those who use them. He has probably volunteered more time and effort than any other SCCA member without any expectation of material reward. SCCA Enterprises was on its way to failure until Andy took over. The Long Beach Grand Prix and the California Speedway also have benefited from his long-time expertise and leadership. To top it off, Andy raced in and won more SCCA events than any other member.

[Source: Art Evans]

Comments

  1. Michael Jacobsen says

    I remembered Andy’s great drives from the ’50s, and when I found he was still at it 40 years later when I came back after a long absence, it was a delight. So sorry one more weekend hero of the Fab 50s is gone. Bet he’s still got his foot down.

  2. Valerie Davis says

    I worked with Andy at the LB Grand Prix and looked forward to seeing him every year….what a stellar guy…he will be missed greatly.

  3. Mike Savin says

    Hi Art!

    Thanks for your biography of Andy. I found, from your article, that he and I had attended the same high school!
    (not the same class, however – I was class of 1960).

    About 2 years ago, I was on a contract engineering job in Newport Beach – and found I was within 2 blocks of Andy’s place – so I dropped in a couple of times to get acquainted. I enjoyed knowing him – even though my own relationship was certainly not as deep as yours nor as lengthy.

    Thanks for all the wonderful books you’ve written – and for your services to the Fab50s – so we can all rub elbows.

    Best regards,

    Mike Savin

  4. Anonymous says

    hi Art,
    Thanks to share your feelings about this fab period. It is often mentioned in motor trend that andy porterfield drove a kellison j4 grey at santa barbara or Riverside in 1959 with a photo on the grid by al pallacy. Can you confirm this and do you have more pictures of this car?
    Thanks a lot
    marc coschieri, a french enthusiast and a regular user of porterfield drum brake pads that are very reliable!
    best regards

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