Written by Bruce Sweetman
Photographs by Bruce Sweetman and Chip Perry
“Sandra McNeil, #33, is racing a 1964 Porsche 904,” the announcer proclaimed over the Laguna Seca PA system at Rennsport Reunion VI. And the rest of the story is…
Sandra McNeil is a petite 78 year-old dynamo and she takes racing seriously. “I keep myself in shape. I study before I go out,” she says. “Whenever I have an opportunity to talk to a really great driver I try to grab him for a few minutes and say, ‘How do you do this corner?’ It helps me to keep a little edge—because I keep working at it.”
Photo by Chip Perry
Sandra has the full support of her husband Jim, whose passion for acquiring significant racecars is as great as Sandra’s passion for racing them. He owns cars as disparate as a Lotus 23B and a Ferrari 250 GTO. “I had been looking for a 904 ever since 1964,” he says. “I read all about them in Road & Track. This is the Road & Track cover car!”
The McNeils’ 904 is more than just the R&T cover car. It’s number 904 011, the first example sold to a privateer. It was delivered, along with 904 012, to Otto Zipper at Precision Motors in Beverly Hills, California in February 1964.
A month later, the new 904 suffered front suspension failure while leading its class at the 1964 Sebring 12-hour, but thereafter it scored a string of successes. Young hot-shoe Scooter Patrick competed in twenty races in 1964 and 1965, taking eleven class wins and placing 3rd overall behind two Werks 904s at the 1965 Sebring 12-hour. “It was a very successful car,” says Jim McNeil. “That’s why I bought it.”
Sandra McNeil began racing in 1976. “I was in business and worked every weekend,” she says. “I had to find an outlet so I went skiing in the middle of the week.” She made some like-minded friends on the slopes and they made a pact to go in together on a Formula Ford. “Nobody had any money. You put your money in to buy a new tire and we all paid for the engine rebuild. That’s how it started,” she says. “Then, when I met Jim years later I thought, wow, this is great. He loves cars and I love racing. It was like, Wow! This was made in heaven right?”
Jim acquires them; Sandra races them. In recent years Sandra has favored their 1963 289 Cobra Le Mans. “We got it in about ’95,” she says. “That car’s great on a straight. The sound of the engine just makes me smile and laugh—but then I get to the corners and it requires some muscle. That’s the reason I started going to the gym.”
Jim acquired 904 011 in 2012. It recently had emerged from a two-and-a-half year restoration by KTR Motorsports and Sandra had very little seat time in the racecar prior to Rennsport Reunion VI. “We had one session down at Moroso. I just drove around a little bit, but this is my first time to race this car,” she says. “I would rather do it without this big—all these people. But it’s all right. I love this track.”
Over the course of the event Sandra got five track sessions, including the feature race. She ran mid-pack in a 40-car field that included Porsche Specials, Spyders, and some very fast 356s. She improved her lap times every session but found that the gearing wasn’t quite right for the track. “When I got up towards redline and shifted to the next gear it would drop way down low,” she says.
After running reliably all weekend, the 904 lost oil pressure a few laps into Sunday’s Gmund Cup feature race and Sandra brought it in. While she answered questions from fans wandering the paddock Jim stood off to the side and smiled as the crew from KTR Motorsports diagnosed the problem. “They’ll fix it,” he said, confidently.
This iconic 904 Carrera GTS will be back out, fitted with a more suitable gear set next time. “This is such a fabulous car—you leave it sitting in a garage, it’s a sin!” says Sandra. “This way, it’s doing what it was meant to do. And people can see it and enjoy it.”
And Sandra McNeil will be back with her winning smile and positive attitude. “I’m still kicking and I’m having fun,” she says. “Until I get really stupid, you know, then I’ll stop. And hopefully before that!” she laughs.