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The price of perfection
Sam Moses
February 12, 1979
Peter Gregg has become the best sports car driver in the U.S. by finding fault, a road to the top that was certain to take him on a wide detour around popularity
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February 12, 1979

The Price Of Perfection

Peter Gregg has become the best sports car driver in the U.S. by finding fault, a road to the top that was certain to take him on a wide detour around popularity

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Peter Gregg, America's best sports car driver, has several dilemmas. Most of them stem from his approach to life, which is to look for faults, bring them to attention, ruthlessly eliminate them and, voil�, perfection. "Peter Perfect," he is called by his racing rivals.

Having spent many of his 38 years doggedly pursuing perfection and having exorcised most of his own weaknesses—he is tempted only by cashew nuts today—Gregg now finds himself facing the results of such determined effort, which is not the same as reaping the rewards. Having won the International Motor Sports Association GT championship five times, including last year when he won nine of the 10 races he finished, the only person who can challenge him in that series is himself. He holds a degree in English from Harvard and finds few in motor racing who stimulate him intellectually. It shows. People are generally put off by what they perceive to be his air of condescension. He lives in Jacksonville, where he owns an extremely profitable automobile dealership handling three of the best (nothing but) marques in the world: Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and BMW. But in Jacksonville he has few chances to see the foreign films he so loves, or to otherwise pursue culture. He feels racing can be fun "for about 20 minutes." After that he is uninspired, because, being in the lead, "the only thing left to do is not lose."

There are still more dilemmas, but one gets the picture. Peter Perfect has improved himself right out of the ball park. It isn't easy for a man to be satisfied when he feels the best he can do is not lose.

Gregg's accentuate-the-negative approach may be successful when measured by its temporal rewards, but it is a bumpy road to travel spiritually since those around him are generally less obsessed with mistakes and weaknesses. As a result, when Gregg attempts to point out the flaws in others—let alone ruthlessly eliminate them—things often get tense. He is not overwhelmingly popular. His defenders, staunch though they may be, are those few who are close to him. And his standards for others being uncompromising, few even get close to him for very long. A lot of people simply write him off as being rude and obnoxious, only to suddenly find that he can be charming and gracious: humorous, warm, even self-effacing. Much of what he says is for effect, either to manipulate, to shock—or simply to amuse himself.

All of which makes Peter Gregg probably no more difficult than the average intelligent, egocentric, complicated, calculating, clever, successful businessman-race driver. If it weren't for the fact that Peter Gregg and A. J. Foyt would never get along, Peter Gregg and A. J. Foyt would get along famously.

Given his ego, Gregg is moderately frustrated by the fact that he is not revered like Foyt or Mario Andretti. But his game is sports cars, which receive less attention than open-wheeled racers. Gregg tries to console himself by being philosophical about it; he likes to think of sports car racing as a purer pursuit, a higher-class endeavor. He likens himself to a stage actor as opposed to a movie star; still, he wouldn't mind seeing his name in lights. He is reconciled to relative anonymity, however, because he has rejected open-wheeled racing as unsafe. "I could be a star like Andretti if I had less concern for my life," Gregg says.

Successful race drivers occasionally have delusions of grandeur, but they rarely kid themselves about their ability. Gregg's ego is not misplaced; he doesn't think he is better than he actually is. In an event last October run in identically prepared Camaros, Gregg won the pole and the race, defeating seven Formula I drivers, including Andretti.

The overwhelming majority of Gregg's racing miles and victories have been in Porsches, although he has never won the most prestigious sports car race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. "I wouldn't be anywhere today without Porsche," Gregg says sincerely. "It's a paternalistic relationship," he adds with a smile. "I'm always trying to win their approval. When I do something good they say, 'Here, Peter,' and throw me another bone." The bone is usually in the form of the newest and fastest equipment from Porsche.

Sometimes Gregg hires himself to the factory as just a driver, bringing along little more than his driving gear. Other times he contracts his entire effort—meaning cars, mechanics and tools. His dealership, Brumos, has its own team, and Gregg prefers to race under the red, white and blue Brumos colors because that way he has more control—he is team manager as well as No. 1 driver—and stands to make more money.

Last weekend's Daytona 24-hour endurance race was one of those events in which Gregg brought only his helmet. No factory Porsches were entered, but Gregg's was the closest thing, one of two "factory-supported" cars entered by Georg Loos, a wealthy German department store owner. Gregg was the heavy favorite, having won the race four times and being teamed with Jacky Ickx of Belgium, whom even Gregg considers the best endurance driver in the world, and Bob Wollek of France, an accomplished sports car driver. Despite the fact that the Loos team's organization fell way short of Gregg's standards, he was relaxed and enjoying the race week.

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