Sports Fan: In remembrance of a lifelong friend
One of my lifelong friends, Loren St. Lawrence of Salem, died Thursday, July 10, early in the morning. I received a call from one of his nieces that afternoon telling me that he had passed peacefully, with his wife Barb by his side.
That he died peacefully was good news since he had suffered a stroke and heart attack a number of years ago and had battled through several bouts with cancer over a period of eight years. Later, I learned that his death was tied to complications from aplastic anemia, a rare blood disease.
I first met Loren as a 19-year-old sophomore at Oregon College of Education when both of us were pitchers on the Wolves’ baseball team. I remember how Loren didn’t really enjoy the wind sprints required by the late Robert Livingston, the head coach, but he was perseverant and decided to grin and bear it as he did during his long battle with cancer.
One of the commonalties that kept our relationship alive for over 50 years was our love for cars; in particular, sports car racing. In fact, Loren invited me to an autocross event in Salem when I was in my mid-20s, and when I was too aggressive and hit too many cones in my Sunbeam Alpine, incurring a penalty of one second per cone. He suggested I try racing where the major penalties came from off-course excursions.
He and I decided that a good entry-level car just might be a Datsun 510, a two-door sedan with a four-cylinder engine and a four-speed gearbox, so we visited the local dealership, Elsner Datsun, on Market Street. As I recall, Loren helped me negotiate a price with Jack Elsner, the owner. The cheapest car happened to be one clad with green paint, and the price we agreed on was $1,700.
Jack even offered me a $100-per-race sponsorship if I would attach the magnetic logo of his dealership during race weekends. Sure, I said. Back in 1970, that would pay my entry fee, and since I was living on a teacher’s salary, every little bit helped.
After Loren installed a roll bar (full cages were not required then), we tested the 510 on the back roads leading to Turner. I liked the way the boxy little sedan handled, and later, we picked up another set of wheels and some semi-racing tires, which he mounted for me.
Soon, I was on the track, racing at Portland International Raceway and later, on a short five or six turn course just outside Victoria, B.C. That same summer, I was coaching an American Legion baseball at North Salem and completing my master’s degree. So I took a few races off after winning a couple of events and about mid-summer, Loren called and said I was leading the B-Sedan class and needed to make a few more races to assure myself of a class championship.
The next race was in Victoria, so I drove the Datsun north onto the ferry and arrived in Victoria on a Friday afternoon. The next day, we practiced and qualified for Sunday’s race. With 10 minutes remaining in the half hour event the next day, I noticed the temperature gauge was climbing rapidly, then smoke started pouring out of the engine compartment.
Being a stubborn 27-year-old, and since I was leading my class, I kept my foot on the gas pedal and one wary eye on the temperature gauge. Nursing the car across the line, with the smoke still pouring out from under the hood, I pulled into the pits knowing I might have sacrificed a perfectly good engine for a class win.
I soon as I parked the car, there was Loren, pulling up the hood. “What’s the verdict?” I asked him.”
It’s your fan belt,” Loren responded. “It came loose during the race.”
Still, I was sure I had at least blown a head gasket because of all the heat, but I re-started the Datsun expecting to hear a death rattle. Instead, the engine purred like a kitten. No damage, no harm. I had my trophy, checkered flag and more importantly, transportation back to Stayton, where I was living at the time.
Thanks to Loren and his help with the car that season, I captured my first championship, and over the years, we connected every so often when we were both racing. Loren even transitioned to the professional ranks, competing in a number of the SCCA’s Trans-Am events in a BMW 2002, Datsun 260Z and later, a Mercedes 450.
Later, he was motor sports director for Anheuser-Busch’s Indy Car team, where he worked with Mario Andretti and Bobby Rahal. In 1987, Molly and I visited Loren and Barb in St. Louis, spending a week watching Cardinals’ baseball games and enjoying the big city.
After ending his five-year stay with Anheuser-Busch, he returned to teaching in the St. Louis area, then returned to Salem in retirement where we once again connected. While we were still in Gold Beach, Loren and Barb visited our home for a few days, and we hit the local golf courses a couple of times. By that time, Loren had retired from racing and was devoting his leisure time to golf.
After we moved to Salem in 2008, we joined the Salem Sports and Breakfast Club, where Loren had been a longtime member. We also got together with Loren and Barb periodically to enjoy a meal and reminisce about the past, and Loren still attended some sports car races at PIR. By this time, he had been showing his restored classics, a Datsun 510 (Loren had raced 510s way back in the ‘70s) and a 240Z along with a 1937 Ford, at car shows around the region.
Even though he had stopped racing several decades before, he was still a “car guy,” and through his various illnesses, he retained a positive attitude, in part thanks to Barb, who kept Loren on the go, traveling to time shares both here and in Hawaii and, I believe, Mexico.
I’m going to miss the big guy. Although he was only two years older, he was a mentor when it came to cars and race cars.
As Barb said in Loren’s obituary, which appeared in the Statesman-Journal on Sunday, July 13, “As a life-long race driver and auto enthusiast, Loren knew how to finish life’s race, ‘braking late’ for the last turn and giving life as much throttle as it could take.”
Rest in peace, Loren, and thanks for the lifelong friendship.
As an aside, Loren restored the Datsun 510 for me after I had retired the car from racing and moved on to a Porsche 914. He lowered the car, installed new floor mats, removed the roll bar, mounted new wider wheels and tires and painted the car a bright red. I drove the 510 for another four years before selling it to a cousin, Jerry Walker, for just about what I had paid for it.
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