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Vasek Polak A Most Remarkable Man
By Brian Redman

Vasek Polak - Vasko to his friends - a human dynamo, small in stature, a giant in mental strength and physical courage.

Expected to die when shot whilst removing detonators placed to blow-up a bridge in Prague, his much loved home in occupied Czechoslovakia, during the second World War. Somehow surviving. Speaking little English, he eventually made his way to America, equipped only with his skill as a trained vehicle mechanic and a fearsome will not to be beaten, to succeed come what may.

I first met Vasko whilst driving the factory Porsche 908 at Daytona in 1969, by which time he had built his independent Porsche & Volkswagen repair business into the first U.S. exclusive Porsche dealership. We would meet once or twice a year at races scattered around the USA. In 1973 the 'phone rang: "Brian, this is Vasko. You know I run Jody Scheckter in Can-Am, now, I have another 917/10 - for you to drive at Laguna Seca and Riverside, come to Willow Springs and test your car and also Jody's". So, one blustery - is it ever anything else at Willow? - day in September I arrived to see two identical looking 917/10's sitting in the pit lane. Meeting crew chief Alwin Springer (today, head of Porsche Motorsports in the U.S.) we went over the idiosyncrasies of the fearsome 1,100 h.p. turbo-charged monster. After I drive both cars Vasko says "What they like, what they like?" I reply that Jody's car felt quite different, had a more solid feel on the road to which he rejoined "they same, they same".

Following a rather miserable race at Laguna Seca, where we had motor problems, we went to Riverside for the final race of the year. Of course, Mark Donohue was in a class of his own in the beautifully developed and prepared Penske owned and Sunoco sponsored 917/30, around 3 seconds a lap faster than anyone else. "Anyone else" included Follmer, Scheckter, Gregg, Haywood etc. in 917/10's. Late Friday afternoon, travelling at 200 mph, I felt something was not right at the back of the car. Inspection in the pit lane showed a broken rear suspension support tube. Saturday afternoon, again, something not right - again a broken chassis tube - but not the same one! By now, I was extremely concerned, remember, that in those "good old days" racing was extremely dangerous, life expectancy not great. Following a sleepless Saturday night, I told Vasek on Sunday morning that I didn't think the car was safe, and didn't want to drive. "Brian, the guys work all night - the car is perfect, perfect" "O.K. Vasek, I'll drive". Finishing 2nd to Donohue in the first of the two heats, the car was loose, but drivable. In the second heat, again at 200 mph in the fast left handed Turn 8, something broke, the car went sideways, switched back the other way and continued in a series of vicious "fishtails".

Eventually coming to halt. Back in the pits, Vasek screamed "What's matter?"

Vasek Polak

"What's matter?" I shouted that something had broken at the back. The tail was lifted showing a broken bottom rear wishbone mounting bracket. Only then, on close inspection did I realize that the car didn't have the twin parallel links that 917/10's had and only then did Vasek admit that it wasn't a 917/10 at all, but the original 917 PA driven by Jo Siffert in the Can-Am with a 580 hp. motor. The bodywork had been copied from the Scheckter 917/10 and a "spare" 1,100 h.p. turbo motor fitted. Chassis modifications to take the immense power of the turbo motor had not been made! Today, this great car has been restored to it's original trim and is in the Collier Museum collection.

With Porsche, Audi, Volkswagen, BMW, Saab and Subaru auto dealerships Vasek lived the American dream. In 1997, driving at 125 mph in a new Porsche Turbo on the autobahn near Regensburg, Germany, Vasko lost control. Badly injured, he fought hard, as always, in a battle he would not win. Four weeks later, a legend passed on.

A unique person, with a great and unquenchable thirst for life and for motor racing. Vasko will be greatly missed.

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