A need for speed
May 19, 2017 10:02AM
● By J. Chambless
All systems go for Todd Reid in his Lotus Super Seven.
(This story will appear in the Summer 2017 issue of Chester County Life, distributed on June 7)
As a child, Todd Reid wanted to be Evel Knievel when he grew up.
When he wasn’t attempting death-defying stunts on the family farm, Todd was riding horses. Throughout his childhood, he competed in events and races involving horsepower of the four-legged kind. As an adult, Todd prefers his horsepower to be under the hood of a high-performance vehicle.
Reid is the CEO and president of ReidSpeed Enterprises. An Ivy League-educated mechanical engineer, Reid runs his own successful IT support business. On weekends, he indulges his inner daredevil in motorsport racing, as well as race coaching, driving instruction and race crewing.
“I had always liked cars, so I thought maybe I’d race,” he said. So he started doing autocross, which is a short course of cones set up in an empty parking lot. The focus is speed and accuracy. “I did that for a few years, and by the third year I was consistently winning,” he said. “I rode horses every day of my life until I was 18,” Reid said. But that stopped when he went off to the University of Pennsylvania and his parents sold the farm. He did some bike racing during college, but it was not until he graduated and was working that he became aware something was missing from his life – competition.
At one of the events, someone said, “You’re pretty fast. Have you ever considered trying this on a real race track?” He learned that Porsche offered driver education programs on race tracks across the country, and that one Porsche group was allowing other cars to enter their events. He found a program at Summit Point race track, bought a helmet, and drove his Mazda Miata to West Virginia.
During a driver education course, a professional instructor takes a driver out onto the racetrack to teach him high-speed safety techniques. “I went out with an instructor and I was a natural,” Reid said. Normally, a driver starts out as a beginner and then progress through different levels to advanced driver. “After my first session, they immediately moved me up to intermediate,” Reid said.
Over time, he was recognized for his superior driving skills, and became a certified coach. “I’m a driving instructor for the Porsche, BMW, Ferrari, and Lotus car clubs -- all the big ones,” he explained. “In the past, sports cars were fast, but now they are ridiculously fast. People are driving around in cars that can go 200 miles per hour. Just to have me in the car is big leg up over a standard instructor. They are not at the same level as I am. Most don’t race cars.”
Reid also coaches other race drivers to help them sharpen their skills. “With them, the only goal is to win,” he said.
Enthused by his experience at Summit Point, Reid sold his Miata and bought a faster car. He quickly moved up to the advanced driver level.
“I spent two more years getting good, then in 1997 I built my first race car and started racing,” he said. He remembers his first race as the most exciting thing imaginable.
“You show up and the purpose is to win. You also want to have fun, but it is really important to do well,” he said. Racing, however, puts a lot of wear and tear on the car and there is a lot more risk. “I tell people, if it’s a really close race, it’s almost like combat – there’s a life and death thing going on. Sometimes only one car can fit on a certain part of the track, and if you're side by side, someone has to give in. There is a lot of skill and preparation involved.”
Reid likes to drive clean, meaning he doesn’t like to bump other cars to gain the lead. “You can rattle their cage just by showing them you're there, by moving around all over the place. Eventually they will make a mistake -- drive off the track, or spin out. Then I go around them. It’s not quite physical combat, but it’s close.”
Sometimes the lead driver will get so far out front there is no competition. Reid doesn’t like to win that way. “I feel bad for the other drivers, so I’ll cut back,” he said. “At least they’ll have a chance, and will have some fun.”
In his early racing days, Reid routinely finished in the middle of the pack. After a few years of putting in time on the track, he started winning. “The only way to learn is through experience,” he said. He was driving a Ford Probe GT. “No one raced them; they all thought they were terrible,” he said. But Reid figured out a way to make his Probe fast.
“One year I won ten out of 11 races. No one was even close,” he said. The next year, the officials added 100 pounds to his car. “That was to slow me down, but I still won all the races.”
Stewards try to even out the field, so they handicap a car that is consistently faster than the rest by adding weight. The following year they added an additional 50 pounds. With the added weight, Reid had to really fight to finish in the top three.
“The Probe was the only car I ever talked to,” he said. “I would ask it, ‘Are you going to show up, are you going to be there?’ and I could always tell if it would.”
Reid had been running the Ford Probe since 2003 and winning, even with the extra weight. But it was showing its age, and Todd retired the car. A friend and fellow driver, Xavier, had been trying, unsuccessfully, to best Todd in a race. He persistently asked Todd to bring the Probe out of retirement for one last race. Xavier wanted one more chance to beat him. Finally, Todd relented and showed up at the Summit Point track for a race during HyperFest.
From the moment the green flag dropped, the race became a contest between Todd and Xavier. The rest of the field was left in their dust.
“My plan was to hold him off, but that’s not how it went,” Reid explained. “We would pass each other back and forth on almost every lap. By now we’ve gone all the way around the track and were passing cars finishing a previous lap.” They headed down into the chute, which is a long downhill section, and came up on a slower lap car in front. It is common courtesy for a back-marker (someone getting lapped) to move out of the way of the lead cars.
“When you are a back-marker and you see the leaders, you get over, especially if they are fighting,” he explained. Reid headed down the chute at 110 miles per hour with the back marker on his left and Xavier’s Honda CRX on his tail.
“The lap car looked like he was going to stay on the left, which is what he probably should have done; but he panicked and went to the right,” Reid said. Todd slammed on his brakes to avoid a collision, giving Xavier an opening to pull in front. With only three turns left before the straight-away to the finish, Reid was sure he’d lost the race. Then Xavier tried to shift into fourth gear, but missed the gear.
“I zoomed to the inside to pass him. He didn’t want me to pass, so he tried to cover up,” Reid said. “That only works if you are completely in front. I was next to him, but he didn’t realize I was there.”
Traveling at 100 miles per hour through the turn, the Honda’s door hit the Probe’s wheel. “Xavier immediately went sideways and rolled eight times. The last thing he sees as he rolls is my car going into the woods,” Reid said.
Reid’s car slammed, passenger side first, into a big tree. “The tree cut all the way through my car, right through the roll cage. It got my finger, which was on the steering wheel. You could hear my engine screaming. I never let off the accelerator; it was still floored while I was in the tree,” Reid said. The car fell out of the tree, then the tee fell down on top of the Probe. Reid was trapped in the only intact part of the car; the rest had been torn away. He was extricated from the cockpit and airlifted to a medical center. He remained hospitalized for a few days recuperating from a severe concussion, torn ligaments in his ankle, and a partial amputation of his finger. A few weeks after the crash, he went to the wrecking yard and saw what was left of the Probe.
“I looked in the cockpit and realized I was really lucky to be alive,” he said.
Amazingly, when he looked up the race results online, Reid discovered that he had won the race.
“I was told there is an obscure rule. When there is a red flag on the last lap and they can’t finish the race, they revert to the previous laps’ finishing position. That was me by three feet,” Reid said. “He didn’t beat me, and the car went out like a gladiator. It went out on a victory.”
Reid was scheduled to drive in a race just four weeks after the crash. “They asked if I’d be able to drive, and I said I could do it, I’d just need help getting in and out of the car,” he said.
The race team was concerned Todd might experience some PTSD. “I told them if I have a problem, I’ll come in. I did one slow lap, then I dropped the hammer and I won the race. I had no anxiety. So, I either had brain damage for real, or it’s just the way I’m wired,” he said with a laugh.
“Most of the racing I do now is vintage racing,” Reid said. “I have an antique car, a 1967 Lotus Super Seven.”
Vintage sports car racing has a camaraderie that is not often found in other motorsports. “It’s much friendlier,” Reid said. “People hang out and share stories.”
Competition is so fierce in modern racing that competitors won’t lift their hoods around other drivers. “But in vintage racing, we share advice and sometimes even parts. Everyone is a friend,” he said.
Reid also enjoys seeing the variety of antique cars that show up to race. “Today, all cars look the same. Back then, cars were different, flashier.”
It is, however, serious racing, and because a lot of the cars are irreplaceable, there are strict ‘no contact’ rules. “My Lotus is old, so it’s not as safe. I don’t want to be in an accident in that car,” Reid said.
In modern racing, you have to be a good driver, but there is a lot of electronic assistance, such as anti-lock brakes, and stability control. With vintage, the driver is totally in control of the car, and there are few helpful features. This era of racing was more dependent on driver skills.
“Vintage is my favorite out of all the racing I do. It’s the most fun,” Reid said.
Last September, Reid won the inaugural Coatesville, Pa., Invitational Vintage Grand Prix. The downtown roads were closed off, and about 60 antique sports cars competed on a course that zig-zagged throughout the city. Winners posted the fastest course time. Reid enjoyed the community event, and especially liked talking with young race fans about cars. He even encouraged them to sit in his Lotus. “There were a lot selfies taken,” he said with a smile.
Reid plans to race his Lotus in the Coatesville Vintage Grand Prix again this September. He continues to race-coach and instruct drivers at auto club events. He is also involved with a project to develop electric race cars. Currently, his IT business keeps him busy. However, he hopes in the future he will be able to dedicate more time to his primary passion, motorsports.
After his wreck, Reid's daughter asked if was going to give up racing. “I thought about it, and realized that this is the thing I am best at," he said. “If I was mediocre, maybe I’d give it up, but I can’t give up what I do best.”