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The Robertsons - Hourglass

Posted in Features on March 24, 2015
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It is quite an accomplishment for a driver to win a race, or even better, his class championship for the year in whatever series he might be running in.

It’s quite another achievement to win the overall series championship for the year.

But Doug and Don Robertson, in their Class 5 Baja Bugs, won the SCORE overall points championship in 1977, and the next year, 1978, the High Desert Racing Series championship.

But this is where the description gets a bit tricky.

Doug campaigned his Bilstein shock absorber-sponsored Class 5 Baja Bug in the SCORE races, and brother Don entered his similarly sponsored car in the HDRA series, including the rugged Mint 400 race.

Each car was separately prepped by each brother: Doug’s SCORE-entered Bug was painted blue and yellow, and Don’s HDRA entry was painted yellow and blue. Both sported huge Bilstein signage, and each brother codrove for the other in their respective series.

The brothers started out as teenagers on motorcycles in the desert and then got involved with some Jeep racers as codrivers. Their first event was the Ensenada 300 in 1973.

“This is easy; we can do this,” Doug remembers saying at the time. “It was after that when we started building our own cars, that we realized it wasn’t that easy.”

Doug Robertson, who won the SCORE overall points championship in 1977, sits with his brother (right) after Don won the 1978 HDRA championship, shown with his trophy at the HDRA banquet that year.

The year 1974 was a full schedule of racing for the duo.

It was about then that Doug, who was involved in an RV business, was told by a buddy about this new shock absorber company from Germany that needed someone of his skills. Doug became the Director of West Coast Sales for Bilstein at the same time that they were getting involved with off-road racing.

Bilstein quickly became the shock of choice for anything VW or Porsche desert cars. They were also placed on Corvettes as original equipment.

John Rettie, a noted journalist and editor of Hot VW at the time, was invited to be a codriver on the team at the Baja 1000 in 1978. He had been a rally navigator in his native England, and was Rod Hall’s navigator at the Safari rally in Africa. Not a newcomer to navigating, but when he and Don hit the Diablo dry lake at night: “It was all dust, we couldn’t see a thing. I knew we had to be traveling in circles, but Don knew exactly where he was going the whole time. It was incredible.”

Another experience for John during that race came as the car approached the famous Summit (separating the west side of Baja from the east desert side) on the Baja course. “We hit a low-lying branch and knocked a driving light on the roof aside, so without slowing down at all, Don told me to squeeze out the half-windshield and reorient the light. I did so, and we lost no time at all. I was surprised on how smoothly and calmly the team operated,” Rettie said.

“My favorite race has to be the ’76 ‘wild and muddy’ Baja 1000,” Doug said. “It had rained off and on, and most of the course was muddy. We took a Second overall to Ivan Stewart in that race.”

That was quite an achievement for a Baja Bug, and may be the best finish ever for that class in the history of off-road events.

It was not always a bowl of cherries for the team. “Gary Leupold was always a threat, and so was Jim Taber. We always had to look out for them,” Doug said.

As for brothers racing together, Doug reminisced that, “We would want to go our separate ways, but we would end up agreeing on what direction we should take.”

Epilogue:
Don Robertson is now a retired car dealer. Doug Robertson became the President of Bilstein USA and retired in 2010. While there, Bilstein became the standard in NASCAR racing, winning 10 straight championships. “We introduced the gas shock to the series, and now you aren’t competitive unless you run gas shocks,” he said.

Doug now spends his time working on his collection of cool ’50 and ’60s cars.

Vaya con Dios

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