Datsun carved out a compelling reputation in grass-roots racing. It can thank Dick Roberts.
Earliest Nissan involvement: 1968
Role: Head of Datsun Competition Department
Key influence: Created Datsun's racer-friendly cachet
Roberts was trained as a mechanical engineer, but the racing bug bit him in 1963. After three years driving Porsches, his attention turned to the Datsun Roadster's economy and performance.
Roberts bought a light blue Datsun 1600, painted it yellow and fitted it with every performance-boosting gizmo Nissan had. In 1967, his first season with the Datsun, Roberts towed his race car 70,000 miles to 34 events and won $3,075, almost 30 percent of the prize money awarded by Datsun to independent racers.
That caught Lee Wiley's eye just as the Roadster had caught Roberts'. Wiley, then Nissan's national service manager, appointed Roberts to supervise the company's nascent competition department. In the coming years, Roberts would make Nissan's American products synonymous with racing success.
In Roberts' view, that meant not just supporting the official Datsun Racing Team but also making it easy for anyone to race a Datsun. Over the years, he and his five employees helped hundreds of independent drivers with technical information, competition parts and sponsorship.
Roberts wanted parts available off the shelf at any dealership or at most a phone call away — which was also all it took to get top-rate technical advice, often from Roberts himself. At its peak, the department was taking more than 100 calls a day.
“We want a Datsun to win,” Roberts said. “Any Datsun, just as long as it comes in first.”
Roberts, who died in 2001, etched the Datsun name into a generation of racing enthusiasts. And his service philosophy generated parts customers and auto sales.
You can reach Jeff Mortimer at (Unknown address).