Kas Kastner 1928-2021
Robert W. ‘Kas’ Kastner, the person who turned Nissan into some of the highly effective and profitable gamers in North American racing through the Nineteen Eighties and Nineties, died on Saturday on the age of 92.
Properly previous to his submit at Nissan, Kastner earned respect as a mechanic and fabricator who constructed and raced his personal sports activities vehicles. The New Yorker migrated to California after serving within the Military, and it was there within the Nineteen Fifties the place his achievements with tuning and driving small British vehicles in SCCA occasions established Kastner as a person whose automotive abilities had been destined for larger alternatives.
Employed by Triumph to run its racing division within the early Sixties, Kastner’s innate abilities and creative nature yielded nice outcomes for the model, and by 1970, he moved on to kind his personal racing workforce which included an enlargement into open-wheel racing and the eventual creation of an aftermarket turbocharging firm through the formative days of compelled induction.
It was throughout this wealthy interval in Kastner’s profession the place he met Don Devendorf, the racer and co-founder of Electramotive Engineering, who would play a central position in bringing Kastner into the Nissan household as Electramotive’s IMSA workforce endured a punishing introduction to the GTP class.
“My first contact with Kas was again within the mid-70s,” mentioned Wes Moss, the previous VP of Electramotive. “I had a small race and international automobile restore store in Charlotte with a few companions, and a buyer requested us to place a turbocharger equipment on a Mini Cooper, so I obtained in contact with Kas to purchase the equipment and obtained it performed.
“Quick-forward to 1986, and I used to be working with Don Devendorf and John Knepp at Electramotive in a continuous thrash on the Lola-Nissan GTP automobile. We had nearly run out of Band-Aids for the GTP automobile, Kas and Devendorf had a relationship again within the SCCA Triumph days, and we would have liked monetary and organizational assist. The motorsports division at Nissan additionally wanted assist; as I recollect it, Don instructed Kas to move the Nissan motorsports effort, Kas accepted the job, and got here on board with a deal with getting the GTP program aggressive.”
Mark Raffauf began with IMSA within the Nineteen Seventies, and stays there as we speak, having seen many groups and personalities come and go. He bore witness to Kastner’s management model because the floundering Nissan GTP effort went from an afterthought to an unbeatable power as Geoff Brabham and Electramotive – later often known as Nissan Efficiency Know-how Inc. – captured 4 straight GTP championships from 1988-1991 whereas setting the file for consecutive wins.
“Kas Kastner was already a West Coast sports activities automobile legend earlier than he even got here to IMSA, and when he did arrive to take over the company helm of the Nissan GTP program, it was within the beginnings of the developmental technique of the automobile, made initially from a Lola T810 chassis,” he mentioned. “The entire program got here along with the very first all-California designed and constructed GTP-ZX Turbo automobile.
“Beneath Kas’s relentless strain, the unique Electramotive workforce went by means of quite a few teething and developmental points; they might be quick, they might qualify properly, they might lead, however victory was elusive over two seasons of making an attempt. Kas pushed laborious for them to construct their very own vehicles, and when one thing broke, they went dwelling and glued it, and got here again; one thing else broke, they fastened that, and got here again. Someday all of it got here collectively, and the entire issues went away and the remaining was historical past within the Camel GT for 4 years.”
Trevor Harris was tasked with designing the 1988 Electramotive chassis that Brabham used to destroy the GTP opposition, and went on to pen its substitute, together with IMSA GTOs and Race Vans for Nissan on behalf of NPTI.
“I’ve had two bosses I’ve thought to be my favorites. One was Dan Gurney, and the opposite was Kas Kastner. I actually cherished Kas,” mentioned Harris, who drove out to Las Vegas on Friday to say farewell to his previous pal. “We had some nice occasions in France once we ran at Le Mans, and so many race tracks over time, and away from the monitor consuming and telling tales. When he employed me in 1987 to design a brand new GTP chassis for Nissan, it solely took an hour, Kas and me speaking, and I obtained the job. He needed recommendation on what to do, had a restricted funds, and I began in July of 1987. We didn’t have a lot time to get one thing performed for 1988, however the remaining was historical past. It’s an enormous loss for me.”
Primarily based on the quantity of people that needed to pay tribute to Kastner, it’s clear he made a large affect on many who had been lucky to orbit his world.
“Kas was an actual racer and we hit it off proper from the start after I joined Nissan,” Brabham mentioned. “We had a siege mentality. It was us in opposition to everybody else. He did so much for me, for which I can be eternally grateful.”
Lengthy earlier than he turned common supervisor of Portland Worldwide Raceway, E. C. Mueller served as the general public relations man for Electramotive Engineering.
“After I consider Kas, I consider somebody who was assured, decided, strategic, and at all times had the top recreation in thoughts,” Mueller mentioned. “Proper after Kas was employed by Nissan, we went to Firebird Raceway in 1986. The primary 12 months of the GTP program in 1985 was, let’s say, very difficult. Electramotive had at all times been profitable, and rapidly, previous to that with championships in SCCA, IMSA RS, IMSA GTU, and IMSA GTO. Everybody was a bit rattled going into 1986, and no-one knew what to anticipate from Kas.
“So because the PR man for the workforce, I made a decision to focus a while chatting up Kas and attending to know him. At one level I mentioned one thing like, ‘Properly, it positive can be good to be aggressive.’ He regarded me within the eye, these steely blue eyes blazing, had his finger pointed at me and mentioned, ‘Aggressive, hell! Championships are the place we’re headed, that’s what issues. The expertise and know-how right here must get organized. And, that’s why I’m right here!’
“That fireside and dedication turned the hallmark over his tenure at Nissan and the championships are the legacy. He was a significant mentor in my life and I’ll miss him tremendously. I used to be capable of go to him final month and I treasure the a number of hours we spent reminiscing and laughing hysterically all through a beautiful afternoon.”
It was on one other go to to the Arizona highway course the place future Corvette and Cadillac Racing legend Johnny O’Connell was launched to NPTI within the early Nineties by means of Kastner’s eye for recognizing younger expertise.
“Kas was answerable for what was in all probability my largest break,” mentioned O’Connell, whose IndyCar aspirations had been fading. “I’d simply moved to Phoenix to work on the Bondurant Driving College. NPTI was testing there at Firebird with Geoff Brabham and Bob Earl. I went over to say hey to a number of the crew guys I knew when one of many engineers requested me if I’d prefer to get some laps within the subsequent day as Geoff needed to depart early, and that Kas had been wanting to provide me a glance.
“At the moment, he was to sports activities automobile racing what Roger Penske was and is to IndyCar. Such a optimistic and virtually fatherly kind determine to me that I didn’t need to let down. All the time each sort and inspiring to me all through my profession. Kas was one in every of racing’s greats.”
The Leitzinger household felt Kastner’s affect in IMSA’s GTU class the place its varied Nissan fashions delivered main victories and championships for the model.
“In 1988, Kas Kastner and Frank Honsowetz requested for a quote to run a GTU effort for the 1989 IMSA season,” Bob Leitzinger mentioned. “Many hours of labor later, Kas requested for my funds quantity. Kas checked out it, and mentioned ‘No! That isn’t sufficient, we are going to go along with my quantity!’ He was one nice man to work for, and an actual pal.”
With heavyweight Nissan manufacturing unit applications working in three of IMSA’s 4 prime lessons, Raffauf was in awe of Kastner’s capabilities.
“Kas was a quiet however agency chief, a pleasure to work with in his dealings with IMSA, artful and sensible, and somebody who would by no means surrender,” he mentioned. “One of the pushed people, decided to succeed, (that) IMSA’s paddock has ever seen over time.
“Because the workforce grew from a smaller Devendorf Electramotive group into, at the moment, the titanic NPTI group, with over 250 workers designing, constructing and creating Nissan race vehicles for each for IMSA and abroad, Kas managed the expansion and success with ease and a peaceful strategy that introduced your complete group to a brand new stage as an entire. There was by no means any drama with Kas, only a dedication to get the job performed and succeed. He quietly motivated the Nissan model, group and workforce to get it performed after which inform the world about it. And that they did.”
For Moss, Kastner was the embodiment of every little thing that made Electramotive, NPTI, and Nissan a powerhouse presence within the sport.
“Kas introduced elevated funds, full-time professional drivers, the most recent expertise, moved Don out of the cockpit to direct workforce administration and technical growth, obtained Trevor Harris on board full-time,” he mentioned. “Later, with an help from Trevor Harris, he obtained Geoff Brabham on board and paid him properly sufficient to remain. Later he enabled us so as to add Chip Robinson to the workforce. In brief, Kas saved our collective asses and made us winners once more.
“Kas had many sides. He related properly with the hands-on store and crew guys, had a humorousness, was hard-assed when needed, revered by all, cherished by many. He had already had a considerable profession going again to the U.S. Triumph racing program; the Nissan GTP program was, for my part, the capstone on his lengthy motorsports profession.”