Jacksonville, FL — Fifty years ago a young man in New York scraped up enough cash — about $2,000 — to buy a brand new 1971 Ford Pinto with the intention of becoming a professional race driver. His goal? To compete in the International Motor Sport Association’s (IMSA) new entry level class: Radial Sedan, or RS.
The man, the late Jerry Walsh, became a regular in the series, earning class wins at New York’s Bridgehampton Race Circuit and West Virginia’s Summit Point Raceway in 1971. He even started a parts business, Racer Walsh Co., that catered to the growing number of Pinto racers around the United States.
Next month Jerry Walsh’s son, Brian — who now operates the parts business his father founded — is organizing an IMSA RS 50th Anniversary Reunion to celebrate the once-popular sedan racing series. The Reunion races will be part of the Sept. 3-6 Historic Festival 39 at Lime Rock Park. Similar SCCA 2.5-Liter Trans Am and B/Sedan cars are also invited.
“The RS series allowed enthusiasts of average means a chance to go professional racing,” said Brian Walsh, 54, who races his father’s purple No. 93 Pinto in vintage events. “Modifications were very limited, so entrants didn’t need to be millionaires or have engineering degrees.”
The RS series showcased the performance capabilities of economy sedans that were popular among consumers during the 1970s. Besides Pintos, other cars in the series included Vegas, Datsuns, Opels, Mazdas, BMWs, Dodge Colts and AMC Gremlins and Pacers.
“Some cars had more powerful engines, but handled poorly, and others had great handling but less horsepower, so everyone had a chance to be competitive, depending on the particular track,” he said.
“I hope we attract 50 or 60 cars — the size of the fields during the series’ most popular years from 1973 to 1979. I’m hoping some of the original RS drivers whom we haven’t seen in a while will show up and help us celebrate.”
Walsh, who maintains the History of the IMSA RS Series website, is also entering a second car that helped publicize the RS series: the restored #00 Pinto, originally campaigned by Car and Driver magazine editors, Pat Bedard and Don Sherman.
Walsh is particularly looking forward to giving his father, Jerry, one more lap around the Lime Rock circuit, which was one of his favorite tracks. Jerry died of ALS in 2017. But his son has attached an aluminum canister on the roll cage of his father’s old Pinto, so Jerry’s ashes will accompany Brian in the purple race car.
— Thanks to The Barn Find Hunter’s Tom Cotter for this story.