Bob Sharp Interview

This interview was conducted just a couple of months ago by Jeff Murray from Vintage Car Research and is shared with the permission the author.

Bob Sharp circa 1970—Photographer unknown

From the mid-1960s until the mid-1970s my sports car racing heroes did not get much bigger or better than Mark Donohue, Roger Penske, Peter Brock, Bob Tullius and of course, Bob Sharp. I paid particular attention to Bob Sharp because I thought of him as a local man. As long as you consider Connecticut was local to my home state, New Hampshire.

More than a few times my stepfather would drive me to Bryar Motorsport Park in south-central New Hampshire and watch all five men race. They had a lot in common. They were fearsome competitors, highly talented race car drivers, and supremely successful marketers with beautifully turned-out haulers. They would do most anything to win, and as they all would agree, racing sells cars. Their determination to win caused many a racing series to rewrite their rule books a little more carefully.

Between 1967 and 1975, Connecticut’s own Bob Sharp won the Sports Car Club of America national championships six times (in B-Sedan, F-Production and C-Production) and the IMSA GTU title, racing for Datsun, whose cars he also sold. One of his main motivations for campaigning Datsuns was, he said, “Winning sells cars” His success with racing drove his humble Connecticut Gulf gas station dealership to go from selling 200 Datsuns per year to selling 2000.

With the help of Bob Sharp’s longtime friend, Scottie Cole, Jeff recently had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Sharp. Here is his story.

VCR:  What made you become a race car driver? What inspired you?
BS: From about age three onward, I became enamored with all sorts of vehicles from three-wheelers to bicycles then on to cars. If it had wheels, then count me in.

VCR:  You are a very accomplished person on and off the track. Which was better for you, achieving your dream or working towards it?
BS: Definitely working toward it. I have been blessed by having extraordinarily skilled people working with me. People like crew chief Gene Crowe who came from Indiana. Everyone loves him. People like Peter Slater, my public relations person who helped secure sponsorship from Canon. I was very, very fortunate to be able to put the right people together.

VCR:  What has been your most successful form of marketing in support of your racing career? How did you get people (car companies, banks, investors, friends, etc.) to believe in you?
BS: I always loved the car business and I always loved selling things. You have to be one hundred percent honest. Being honest is contagious. Your clients have to know they can count on you. Your attitude has to be “How can I help you”? “ How can I be of service?”

VCR:  How and when did you get started in business? In racing?
BS: As a child I used my American Flyer wagon to pick up discarded newspapers in my neighborhood. My Mom and I would load them into her 1934 Ford and take them to a pulp factory in Norwalk, Connecticut. I was paid $3.00 for 300 pounds. I also worked for the Cheerful Card Company selling greeting cards and wrapping paper. I remember well selling those paper products, fulfilling orders, and counting and recounting money, making sure my sums were correct. Finally, I mowed lawns at $3.00 per yard! I loved that! I’d saved $670 dollars by age 16. A lot of money, then.

My father wanted me to be an engineer, but I thought I was too people-oriented for that. I was too personable to work alone all day at a desk. I went into the Army right after high school. It was a six-month program. When I got out, I enrolled in Mitchell College in New London, Connecticut and took up marketing.

Limited edition print of Bob’ 1970 Datsun 240Z

VCR:  How or why did you end up with the number 33?
BS: I started working at a Gulf gas station on Route 33 in Connecticut. I also live at 33 Mulberry Road. I thought 33 was a lucky number for me so that is why the number 33 is on all my race cars. Along the way, I started selling cars at the Gulf station. Marty McDonough sold cars at the Chrysler dealership across the street from the Gulf station and became friends. Later he went on to be the Datsun dealer in Norwalk, Connecticut. Under his mentorship I went from selling twenty cars a year at the Gulf station to 2000 Datsuns per year! I had my own Datsun dealership in Ridgeway, Connecticut. Selling was always important to me.

VCR:  What was your first racecar?
BS: My first racer was a Bug Eye Sprite followed by a Lotus Seven and later a VW with bolted-on sway bars and Koni shocks.

VCR: As an entrepreneur, you created very successful Datsun/Nissan dealerships. Can you name an entrepreneur you admire?
BS: Without a doubt, Roger Penske. Mark Donohue took me to the Penske shop. The place was immaculate. Roger’s accomplishments in business and life are extraordinary.

VCR:  Who was your one opponent who made you race your best and hardest? Who made you “sit up on the wheel,” so to speak? Your rival?
BS: Bob Tullius! Without a doubt. My team’s first 240 Z was a preproduction green show car. Somehow on the show circuit, a model had dented the car’s roof! I asked Datsun for that car, they gave it to me, and Gene Crowe engineered it into an incredibly fast racer. We were determined to be faster than Bob Tullius. That was the goal. We were so fast that Bob’s car became more and more unreliable as he tried to keep up with us.

VCR: If you could do any race over again, which race would you choose?
BS: Road Atlanta, the very same place I  flatted at 164 miles per hour and went off the track, crashing hard, really hard. The car was junk.

VCR: Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
BS: Helping Paul Newman get into racing. I didn’t go to the movies very often and had no idea who he was. Jim Hayes was the owner of Lime Rock Park at the time and gave me free use of the track. I would often give rides to his friends and acquaintances. Jim asked me to give Paul and his son a few laps in my car. I had no idea who Paul was. To me, he was Paul “something or other”. Only later did I find out who he was.

VCR: How was Newman as a driver”
BS: In the beginning, he wasn’t inherently fast but he could seriously concentrate, and above all, he had that essential “fire in the belly”. He wanted to win very badly and through determination and practice became an outstanding driver.

VCR: You have driven many, many fantastic cars. Care to choose one race car that stands out from all the rest? A personal favorite?
BS: The IMSA GTU car. Ten starts, ten finishes won the GTU championship. Now that was a successful race car!

VCR:  We all have cars we wish we could have back.What car that got away from you personally was your favorite? The car you would buy back in a heartbeat?
BS: 2014 Nissan GTR. Very fast, six-speed street car.

VCR:  The Readers Digest magazine always had a monthly article called “The Most Unforgettable Character.” Can you name your most unforgettable character?
BS: That has to be Paul Newman. He badly wanted to be a professional race car driver and may not have been naturally fast, but was receptive to instruction, had the aforementioned “fire in the belly,” and man, he could concentrate. As Paul progressed, he just got better and better and better. He loved his racing and was humble about it.

VCR: I cannot interview Bob Sharp and not ask a question about Paul Newman. What is your best memory/anecdote of Paul Newman?
BS: Paul and his teammate Jim Fitzgerald were both practical jokesters. Fierce competitors on the track, they were constantly at each other playing various jokes in the pits.
Not everyone knows this, but Paul Newman could drive seriously fast in reverse!

About Jeff Murray

Jeff is an attorney and member of the New Hampshire Bar Association. His father was a Buick dealer for forty four years and, growing up, there were always interesting cars at home— Jaguars, Buick Gran Sports, Buick Rivieras, early MGBs, Porsche Super 90s, many Corvettes…even Citroens. He started collecting vintage car literature in 1959 and his extensive library now holds well over 4000 books, periodicals, and magazines. By his own admission, when he started collecting he had no grand purpose in mind but did have a passion for the subject matter— vintage cars.

Jeff’s research training includes legal research courses taken as part of his law degree,  a nearly two year stint at Paul Russell and Company researching rare parts, and seminar courses at the Revs Institute in Naples, Florida,  and Continuing Legal Education credits in research.

Through his company, Vintage Car Research, Jeff overs valuable advice and consulting service to vintage car buyers, drawing both on his research skills as well  as his personal knowledge of car restoration and ownership.. You can learn more about Jeff’s company at:

Books and Media about Bob Sharp

  • Brian Long; Yutaka Katayama (April 2006). Datsun Fairlady Roadster to 280zx: The Z-car Story. Veloce Publishing Ltd. pp. 130–134. ISBN 978-1-904788-07-2.
  • Parkhurst, Terry (Spring 2002). “Bob Sharp and His “Beautiful Car””. Sport Z Magazine. Robert Bell: 20.
  • Parkhurst, Terry (October 2012). “Bob Sharp – Fast with Class”. Nissan Sport: 23.
  • Matt Stone. Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman. pp. 24– ISBN 978-0-7603-3706-6.
  • Rich Taylor. Lime Rock Park – 35 Years of Racing. Sharon Mountain Press. p. 117.
    ISBN 0-9633994-0-3.

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