A friend invited Herb Korthoff out to the races a few times 20-some years ago, and it’s been a whirlwind romance ever since.
That romance started off with Korthoff buying himself a $100,000 racing car, which he drove in the amateur circuit down in Daytona and Sebring, Florida, for about 15 years.
But Korthoff wanted in the big leagues, so he did something unthinkable to most.
He bought a $600,000 car to start his own professional racing car team. And in only its second season last year, that Mercedes AMG GT3 AVO 6.2-liter aspirated V-8 that pulls 700 horsepower put Wyoming on the professional auto racing map.
The team won Grand Touring Daytona class of the prestigious IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup. And it started off right where it finished fifth in the Rolex 24 last weekend, the first leg of the 2024 Endurance Cup challenge.
The Endurance Cup is professional international motor car endurance track racing in the style of the famous 24-hour Le Mans race. It consists of five events that total 58 hours of on-track racing.
Every year it starts with the Rolex 24 at Daytona, followed by the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the Shale’s Six Hours of The Glen, the six-hour TireRack.com Battle on the Bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the season-ending 10-hour Motel Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road in Atlanta.
Points are given at regular intervals throughout each race, which means it’s possible to win the Endurance Cup without winning each individual race. In fact, that is what happened last year, when Korthoff’s team took the cup.
They didn’t win any of the individual races, but their drivers were in the lead so often that they accumulated the most points. With last weekend’s Rolex 24 showing, Team Korthoff is already out front this year for the cup, Korthoff said.
That’s a feature of the race that makes it particularly interesting for drivers and fans. There’s not just skill, but strategy involved in winning the Endurance Cup, and bringing it home to Wyoming is a particular point of pride with Korthoff.
Wyoming’s Only Pro Racing Team Is Independently Owned
Korthoff’s racing team has 25 people, including himself, and a rotation of two regular drivers. But for longer races, like the Rolex 24, they use more. Last weekend, there were four drivers switching off in 90-minute intervals with each pit stop.
Those pit stops are regulated and have to take a minimum of 40 seconds, Korthoff said.
It is Wyoming’s only professional-level racing team. In fact, Korthoff told Cowboy State Daily it’s the only professional-level racing team in the country owned by a single person. The team is as independent as the state it represents.
“We’re not affiliated with a car company or with an auto parts company,” Korthoff said. “You’ve heard of the WeatherTech mats, floor mats, and all that? They’re another team. They have two cars in this race.”
Korthoff hopes his team will eventually attract sponsors, but for now he’s footing the bill. The most recent bill, just for tires, was in the $70,000 range. Racing is neither cheap nor easy, Korthoff told Cowboy State Daily.
“It’s a lot more expensive than golf,” he said with a laugh.
Grand Touring Daytona Class
Korthoff’s team is in the Grand Touring Daytona Class of the International Motor Sports Association. When he’s at the races, Korthoff sits in what he calls the “Control Box” room, watching all the action from there.
“We have about four screens on each side of the two sides of the Control Box,” Korthoff said. “There are these big, 48-inch screens, one of which is monitoring the racetrack.”
Another keeps tabs on the driver, while another is tracking instrument data from the car.
The last screen, Korthoff joked, is monitoring all the pretty girls.
“Not really,” he said, laughing and then joking, “that last was off the record.”
Other members of the 25-man crew who sit in the Control Box with Korthoff include the team’s manager and engineer, as well as a strategist and the data engineer. The latter two are reviewing a steady flow of data that streams into the Control Box in real time, making data-informed decisions about when to switch out drivers, when to put on new tires, and things like that.
“They’re looking at engine temperatures,” Korthoff said. “They’re looking at gearbox temperature and transmission, the pressure of this and that. Me, I just get confused.”
The Lean Mean Green Racing Machine
All of the data that’s coming into the Control Box is collected by sensors that are hooked up to a green racing machine that has been hand crafted for racing only.
Its official name is a Mercedes, MB AMG GT3 EVO, but everyone on the team just calls it Dirty Harry.
“What happened was after one of the practices, a lot of the rubber from these tires, it gets very, very soft as it heats up and it tends to literally melt off,” Korthoff said. “It flies onto the car behind it.”
As a result, the car came in from a practice run covered in flecks of burnt rubber.
“It looked all pitted, so someone just decided to call it Dirty Harry,” Korthoff said.
The car Korthoff owned before Dirty Harry, meanwhile, was called Wilson.
“We brought it in to some German mechanics, who were very, very good, and they had this little trick where they put a sock over the air breather system to filter out any fine particles,” Korthoff said. “And the sock happened to be a Wilson sock.”
What These Cars Can Do
While the nicknames may sound funny, the cars themselves are no joke.
Dirty Hairy has an 8-cylinder engine that’s capable of producing more than 700 horsepower.
But the International Motor Sports Association rules require Korthoff’s team to keep quite a few of those horses in the barn.
The rules are an attempt to equalize 11 brands of cars, which range from the AMG and Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin to McLaren, BMW, Lexus, Mustangs and Corvettes, by setting a maximum of 515 horsepower.
“Limits are also set on the car’s weight and fuel capacity, based on a complex set of computations,” Korthoff said. “The attempt is to make all cars equal in performance. In reality, the outcome is questionable and subject to continual change in vehicle specifications.”
The car’s top speed is limited by those regulations to 185 mph, but it’s capable of exceeding 210 mph.
Korthoff wouldn’t say how fast the car can make 0 to 60.
“Zero to 60 is meaningless in our Le Mans-type racing,” he said. “The starts are ‘flying starts,’ where cars are already at speeds of 80 mph approaching the green flag.”
Cars leaving pit area at speeds over 60 mph, meanwhile, would earn the team an unwelcome penalty.
“At no time does a standing start enter into real racing,” Korthoff added.
Teams have to function as a single unit, from laps around the track to precisely performed pitstops.
“Races are won by a matter of seconds,” Korthoff said, “And those seconds are often determined by time spent during pit stops. It’s a matter of practice, over and over.”
A Winning Team
Korthoff’s team is relatively new to the racing scene, but it has already made a mark.
Last season, only its second in the Grand Touring Daytona class, Korthoff’s team beat out 25 other teams to win the IMSA Michelin Cup Endurance Championship with drivers Mike Skeen, Mikael Grenier and Kenton Koch.
This year, Korthoff is hoping they will not only take the Endurance Cup again, but win some of the races along the way. They had a good showing at the opener, held at Daytona International Speedway in Florida last weekend.
“We were close to winning (in the last race), but unfortunately a late race accident in front of us dropped us from second to fifth,” Korthoff said. “The car that came in first was an identical car to ours, another Mercedes, so it wasn’t a total loss.”
The accident happened with just 30 minutes left in the race — not quite enough time to recover and move ahead, Korthoff said.
“But we had accumulated so many leadership points, in other words, being in first place so often during the race, that we’re still in first place for the Endurance Championship,” Korthoff said.
There will be five endurance races in all, with the next in early March. That one is the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, which also is in Florida.
The team finished in second place there last year, and will look to move that up to first this year.
Korthoff loves the concentration of being a race car driver, which he did for about 15 years, but he likes the new challenge of managing a racing team even more. Better still is the fact he’s representing the Cowboy State, which has been his home since 1974, starting out near the Wind River Range and then transitioning later on to Jackson Hole.
“You start from nothing,” he said. “You build a core, a team manager and head engineer and data engineer and strategist and your pit crew. Pretty soon, you wind up with two dozen people.”
Those two dozen people have to mesh well together, Korthoff said. It takes entirely different skills than racing the car itself did, but they are both challenges he really enjoys.
“The challenge here is to put together this group of people and see if they can beat the folks who have been in it for so long, who are supposedly the best in racing,” Korthoff said. “And I’m just so proud we can associate this team with Wyoming. We’re hoping to bring not just the Endurance Cup, which is I think one of the best awards we can bring, but also, the all-around championship to Wyoming this year.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.