Meet The Tiny Mini Cooper That Dominates Circuit Racing
Photography by Erik Olson
An original Mini Cooper makes for a natural fit for a hobbyist. They’re simple to repair, relatively inexpensive, and don’t require much space. One could easily perform a complete restoration in a single-car garage, with room to spare.
Maybe—this isn’t even a stretch—put the engine in your bedroom closet while you finish the bodywork. It really is a great little package for those that like to tinker, and the result is an amazingly fun, surprisingly capable little car. Minis are of that great, adaptable heritage that enabled them to be successful in multiple disciplines, but robust enough to make the drive to and from the track. When set up properly they’re quite reliable and remarkably tough.
Simply put, it’s a wonderfully small car you can justify owning for multiple reasons.
For some, that might be enough and off they would go enjoying a weekend race here and there, with perhaps a short getaway thrown in as well. Unless, of course, your name happens to be Greg Wold. If that’s the case, then the single garage disappeared a long time ago, as did the idea of having just one Mini to do it all. Still, even for a guy with multiple little cars, there still might be one that’s held dear—it shines a little more than the others despite several battle wounds.
It’s the car in the shop that gets the soft-spoken, humble Wold to show a little hint of excitement. Once the cover is lifted, it all makes sense: it’s his 1965 Mini Cooper S (a real S, mind you) race car that has been in use as a race car since as early as 1968, though possibly sooner. It has pedigree, FIA homologation papers, and a history of success with any driver who has ever put it on a track.
The car was first purchased in 1990 by Greg’s brother Kermit. (That’s right, Kermit.) Both brothers knew about the car growing up having watched it compete in ice races and other events around the Twin Cities area. Unfortunately, it was in rough shape after having been used hard but repairs were neglected. After striking a deal, Kermit set to making the car right again. He fixed the mechanicals and body, built a robust cage, and put it all back together in an unheated garage one winter with the intent of getting it back on a racetrack.
The car performed well once it was done, and Greg actually raced alongside Kermit in another Mini with a similar paint job, though both brothers admit it wasn’t as nice of a car. Still, they were quick when on the track together and often found themselves far enough in front that they would swap leads for fun.
Ultimately, Greg ended up buying the car from his brother and continued to find success. He’s finished first in his class at the Can Am Mini Challenge in 2009 and 2014, an event featuring some of the fastest Minis in vintage racing. He’s put it through its paces at Laguna Seca, Road Atlanta, and everywhere in between. He sits in a cockpit surrounded by the same roll cage built by his brother back in 1990, a cage that has stories of its own having survived a crash into a wall at Mid-Ohio, and subsequent impact of the car that was following.
Once moved out into daylight, it’s inspiring to see a car so purpose-built. It’s stripped to the bare minimum, the gaps aren’t perfect, and the paint is full of chips, but every imperfection carries a story. Even sitting peacefully in a parking lot, the Mini looks ready to go, itching to barrel through a turn and hunker down for another battle.
Wold has cut back to about five or six events a year, and he’s become a bit more selective on where he races. Those are the types of decisions that come from many years on the track, now that he knows which are going to be worth trip from those that aren’t. Shorter tracks tend to win out, ones with lots of tight turns—it’s where the Mini shines best.
Wold is busy with other projects, including a Lola race car that’s patiently waiting in yet another corner of the shop. It’s another car with pedigree, another one with stories to tell, and if Greg and Kermit and the rest of their family operation have anything to say about it, it’ll be just as dominant as its pint-sized cousin.