Cal Poly students fix up an old race car to race again

Christian Rheinisch was told, “If you can make it turn right, you can have it.” The 1979 Buick LeSabre had been sitting helplessly, unused and abandoned, for five years. An inglorious ending to a car that had a racing pedigree at the Santa Maria Speedway. The car belonged to Grant Tucker, who Rheinisch knew through Kal Off Road Racing, a local racing team and fabrication business.

Rheinisch saw potential. In his own words, “The car is 90% there.” The frame was in good shape, and it already had a rollcage and racing driver’s seat installed. Setting up behind the Farm Shop building on the Cal Poly campus, Rheinisch began the mechanical work to bring “The Beast” back to life.

“If you can make it turn right, you can have it.”

 -Grant Tucker, Kal Off Road Racing

Rheinisch is the founder and President of the Cal Poly Industrial Technology Racing Division, an organization he set up within the Industrial Technology Department. Rheinisch initially tried to set up his team as a school club, but he says those plans fell apart because of bureaucratic red tape. He found it easier to set up his team within the department as an official school activity. As such, the racing team is funded through the school, though Rheinisch will happily accept donations.

Right now, Rheinisch is one of only a handful of people who have worked on the car; he has no real “racing team” yet. But he hopes to get a dozen dedicated volunteers to race in events throughout California representing Cal Poly. He needs four or five drivers and several mechanics, of course, but he also says he is willing to take on anybody who is interested. “We need a cook.” He says, “Having a good cook with you when you go out to a race is a big deal. And this car does need to have a theme… if you’re an art major, and you think that painting a ’79 Buick LeSabre would be a cool senior project, let me know. We can make it an art car.”

Rheinisch poses with his helpers and the car, which they have nicknamed “The Beast”.

Rheinisch has attracted interest from some groups on campus. The Industrial Technology Society, a club for Industrial Technology majors, and the Cal Poly Motor Car Association, a club for driving enthusiasts, are both in discussions to partner with Rheinisch and help his project. Russell Gruener, the President of the ITS, regularly helps out Rheinisch with his car on an informal basis.

“Having a good cook with you when you go out to a race is a big deal.”

-Christian Rheinisch, Founder and President, Cal Poly Industrial Technology Racing Division

Rheinisch’s first goal is to enter his car in the 24 Hours of LeMons race series. A pun on the famous LeMans endurance race in France, the LeMons is a series of races across the United States where beat-up old cars that have been fixed up are run for a whole day to see which cars survive. The event is known for being playful and sarcastic. Rheinisch says one team covered their Lincoln Continental in birch bark and raced in beaver suits. The series’ website says the event is “a breeding ground for morons” and asks its visitors if they want more spam e-mails.

There are three upcoming events in California.

  • August 6: At the Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, near Chico.
  • October 22: At the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma.
  • December 3: At the Buttonwillow Raceway near Bakersfield.

Rheinisch hopes to enter his car in all three races, though he is doubtful it will be ready in time for the August race. He says he hopes to enter his car and racing team in several events during the school year as time and money allows.

“[Even] if you really don’t think you have anything you can bring to the table, we’ll figure something out for you,”


Rheinisch’s goals don’t end with his LeSabre. He says that he wants to build a new race car from scratch, a “franken-car” as he called it. He and other Cal Poly students would gather the numerous parts from whatever sources they could find and assemble the car themselves. The finished “franken-car” would then be tested and, Rheinisch hopes, entered into several races during the school year.

For now, though, Rheinisch is just looking for students to drop by behind the Farm Shop building and help out. He says the best way to volunteer is to get in touch with him. “[Even] if you really don’t think you have anything you can bring to the table, we’ll figure something out for you,” he says.

Naturally, Rheinisch and his friends are not above having some fun and being silly.