The son of a noted professional Sports Car driver, Al Holbert (November 11, 1946 – September 30, 1988) of Abington, Pennsylvania, was quite a proficient Sports Car racer himself. During a stellar racing career he was able to combine the demands of that high-profile occupation with the requirements of being a successful businessman and devoted family man.
Al’s interest in racing came honestly as his father Bob Holbert helped to make Carroll Shelby’s famed Ford-powered Cobras winners in the early 1960s when they first came on the scene in major national competition.
A graduate of Lehigh University with a degree in mechanical engineering, Al worked for fellow EMPA Hall of Fame member Roger Penske while he was a college student. And after that he went to work at the family business – the Holbert Porsche-Audi-Volkswagen dealership in Warrington, Pennsylvania – as a salesman.
Racing as an amateur in Sports Car Club of America events, Al won his first race in a Porsche in 1971 and then turned professional in 1974.
In 1976 & 1977, Al won his first two International Motor Sports Association Grand Touring titles while driving a Chevrolet Monza. And when he allowed the Porsche engineers to have a look at his turbo-charged championship-winning car that fostered the development of Porsche’s turbo-charged offerings and he joined the famed German auto maker’s camp in 1978.
However, Sports Car racing was not all that Al was doing as from 1976-1979 he made 19 starts in NASCAR’s Cup Series – mostly in James Hylton’s No. 48 Chevrolet – where he had four Top-10 finishes, including starting 25th and finishing seventh in the Rebel 500 at Darlington (S.C) Raceway on April 9, 1978.
However, it was with the Sports Car contingent that he was at the head of the class and he won the 1983 IMSA GTP title in a Porsche-powered March 83G. He also drove a variety of factory-backed Porsches – including the stripy blue & white No. 1 Rothmans 962 and his own 1985-1986 IMSA GT Championship-winning powder blue & white No. 14 Löwenbräu 962 – to major victories in: the 1976 & 1981 12 Hours of Sebring on the road course at the old World War II air base in Florida; the 1983 & 1986-1987 24 Hours of Le Mans in France; and, the 1986-1987 24 Hours of Daytona on the combined oval-road course at the high-banked Florida track.
Al also drove the No. 21 Alex Morales March 84C to a fourth-place finish in the 1984 Indianapolis 500 – his only start in the classic race. From 1987-1988 he was head of Porsche’s Indy Car efforts as the Director of Motorsports for Porsche/North America and the driver of its green and white No. 8 Quaker State-sponsored entry.
The all-time IMSA GT career-victory leader with 49 wins, he also won 10 SCCA Can-Am races in a variety of cars and he had one SCCA Trans-Am victory to his credit.
Al Holbert – who was a strong supporter of the Motorsports Ministries, which provided race weekend chapel services – worked hard at being a good race driver and good family man, and it was this last aspect of his life which ultimately brought it to an end.
In Columbus, Ohio, to compete in the IMSA Columbus Ford Dealers 500 on Sunday October 2, 1988, he planned to fly home to Pennsylvania on the preceding Friday evening for a family activity. Unfortunately, he was killed when his private twin-engine Piper PA-60 airplane – which he diverted from a group of houses that it was heading toward – crashed shortly after takeoff.
The International Motor Sports Association retired his number – 14 – in recognition of his outstanding racing career. And the Eastern Motorsport Press Association annually selects the nation’s best driver to receive the Al Holbert Memorial Driver of the Year Award.