by Stewart Gross
Bob Holbert and Al Holbert were US road racing legends.
The state of Pennsylvania is recognizing the site of their former garage, where they engineered their famous Porsches and serviced and provided parts for foreign cars, with a historical marker at its former location at 1409 Easton Road in Warrington.
Bob, a racecar driver and Porsche dealer pioneer, made the Holbert Racing Garage a household name beginning in 1951.
Born Robert McCormick Holbert in Warrington in 1923, Holbert opened up his first racing garage in the 40’s and moved it to its historic location at 1409 Easton Road in 1951.
In addition to engineering his famous racing cars there, Holbert started a repair and parts business specializing in foreign and sports cars.
The garage was located at the sight where one can now find the shopping plaza owned by Steven Petrillo of Jem’s Jewelers.
Both Bob and his son, Al, won numerous road-racing victories.
Bob won six class victories racing at the Twelve Hours of Sebring and was voted the New York Times “Best Sports Car Driver” three times.
He won four Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) championships and was a podium finisher at the most prestigious endurance race, the 24 Hours of LeMans.
Bob started racing in 1953 in an MG, then switched to Porsches in 1957 after seeing driver Jack McAfee driving a Porsche 550 Spider pass cars with much bigger engines and win a race at Cumberland Raceway.
Holbert was a Porsche driver from that point on and even sold Roger Penske his first race car in 1958.
Al Holbert later raced with Penske’s team.
According to Dave Sharp of the Warrington Historical Society, Bob was a natural at driving those small Porsche Spyders.
“He was an artist at curvy tracks. He navigated turns like an ice skater. He proved you didn’t have to use a powerful engine; you could win races with a light, speedy car.
Al Holbert, born Alva Robert Holbert in 1946, won five International Motor Sports Association championships.
The IMSA is the American version of the LeMans circuit.
He helped his father run the Porsche dealership and took his father’s car mechanics know-how a step further when he earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Lehigh University.
Al took this expertise back to the Holbert garage and also to the Penske Racing team where he won his championships.
The younger Holbert also dabbled in circle track racing, competing in 19 NASCAR races, where he finished in the Top 10 four times.
He even tried Indy car racing and earned a fourth place finish at the Indianapolis 500 in 1984.
He was a pioneer in the 1980’s in getting Porsche to turbo charge their cars. Sadly, Al was killed in a tragic plane crash in 1988.
Sharpe recounts, “The garages were closed in 1969. The Porsche dealership was purchased by KIA for a time and then was moved down the hill on Easton Road to its current location and is now owned by the Sloane Auto Group.”
Sharpe says that two of the three garage/race shop buildings still exist on the property.
“One is a daycare. The other one is owned by Larry Holbert, Al’s brother, and he keeps it for car, poster, and trophy memorabilia. It is a private shop off the road and it is not open to the public by Larry, who prefers to maintain his privacy.”
Larry was gracious in providing Sharp with the information needed to complete the application to the PA Historical Museum Society for the marker.
He is a neighbor of Sharpe’s.
According to Sharpe, the historical marker will be placed in the front middle of the strip center parking lot. Steven Petrillo’s contractor is working with Sharpe to make the Marker a minor destination.
“They have a contractor designing a garden and water fountain for the marker, and plan to have two parking spots next to it which are demarked by the famous numbers 140 and 14 to give visitors the feel of a pit stop.”
The construction for the foundation for the historical marker sign along with the landscaping and building permits required will cost approximately $8,000 total and the historical society is working on doing fundraising for the project.
They have already raised the $2,500 for the state contractor to cast the navy blue marker sign with gold embossed lettering.
Originally, Sharpe, the Warrington Historical Society and Petrillo had hoped to do the dedication on the morning of Warrington Day.
That would have been September 29th this year.
With the uncertainty of the COVID-19 situation, they hope to do it next spring.
PHOTO CAPS: 1. Bob Holbert
2. Al Holbert