Fated for Ferrari - Published in the 2018 Summer issue of Autostrada Forum Magazine
After six major road trips, countless hours on the track and 55,000 total kilometers, this Scuderia—the very first in Canada—is not your typical prancing horse. And the owner, Bob Witmeyer, is not your typical Ferrari driver.
It's around 7 pm and we're meeting at Paddock Motor Club in Burlington. Baggy jeans and a faded white shirt hang loose and casual on the owner of the first Ferrari 430 Scuderia in Canada. Bob Witmeyer is all smiles as he walks in and settles in front of me. Imagine a child who’s just finished playing with his friends, gasping for breath while excitedly telling you about his new favourite toy. Except this is a 64-year-old kid and his toy is a rare Italian race car. The club was starting to wind down, but Bob was fully revved up.
"It all started with slot car racing," he says. Growing up in Los Angeles, Bob was an avid IndyCar racing and F1 racing fan. He would spend all his free time at the local track, Rebel Speedway, where he made friends with people who shared the same need for speed as he did. He followed all the Can-Am series and watched the likes of Bruce McLaren, Dennis Wholm, and Dan Gurney closely. He marveled as they took corners on all the different tracks, and would emulate them to win his own trophies in the slot car circuit.
From an early age, Bob demonstrated his natural reflexes behind the wheel. At sixteen, he purchased his first car: a light purple 1957 Chevy. But soon after he was in an accident. Thanks to his quick instincts, however, what could have been a dramatic crash, ended on the side of the road and not in a hospital.
While Bob made moves in his professional life, his definition of “home” expanding to include Calgary and Vancouver as well as Los Angeles to Canada, he purchased his first brand new car: a 1982 Toyota Supra, custom ordered in terracotta. Family and entrepreneurial life led the way for a while until 2005, when he took his company public and decided that it was finally time to enjoy the finer things.
To satisfy his taste for speed and power, Bob decided on the 2006 Maserati Grand Sport Spider. The car was fun, sporty and had that loud Ferrari engine that he could not resist. Through the Remo Ferri dealership, he was invited to events and was introduced to a new circle of car enthusiasts just like him. It was at these events that he would see the Ferraris and start yearning for one himself. Perhaps it was the unattainable factor, and that one had to be "chosen" to purchase a Ferrari, that had Bob so enamoured with the brand and culture. In 2007, on a trip around Italy with his late wife, Patti, Bob was not only falling in love with the country but also with the Scuderia. The car was on the cover of car magazines everywhere, boasting Schumacher's design insights and more torque than ever. It was anticipated to be like an F1 race car for a fifth of the cost of an Enzo. As Bob relives the memories, he pulls out his wrinkled old magazines, all torn up on the edges, and shows me his favourite articles about the car from the year they were printed.
The day Bob and Patti were returning from Italy, they were invited to a SickKids rally organized by Remo Ferri. Their flight was canceled and they had to catch a later flight home, but to honour his contribution, Bob asked a friend to attend the rally in hopes to still make it for the dinner and live auction that night. The live auction grand prize was the rights to purchase the first 430 Scuderia in Canada. Bob was not meant to miss this auction. He and Patti made it just in time as the bidding started. At first, many participated in the bidding, but after $15,000, the Witmeyer family was out and only a select few kept the bidding going. The auction stopped between Alex Schneider and Jimmy Degasperis at $75,000. The dealership decided to accept both contributions to SickKids and place two orders for the car. The announcement was applauded by everyone and congratulations were shared all around. As the room was slowly settling down, Patti stood up and said, "What about me? I'll pay $75,000 to order the car!"
At this point in the story, Bob raises his hand and stands up to demonstrate this for me. I can see in his eyes the joy this brought him then, just as it does now. “The crowd is going nuts!" he says. He would never have done anything like that himself, but it was happening and he just went along with it. The dealership accepted the offer to place another order in honour of the charity and cause. Bob and Patti hadn't planned it or talked about it, but they had dreamed about it.
In March, 2008, Bob specked out his dream car. It was delivered in June of that year, the first of the three Canadian models. Before that summer, most people in Oakville, Ontario, had only seen the Scuderia in the pages of car magazines.
That first year, Bob just cruised around town in the red stallion. "I didn't want to be that guy that crashed his car the first year because he didn't know how to drive it," he says. So, when a friend suggested racing school, it seemed like an obvious decision. It’s impossible to drive the Scud within the city speed limits, but once on the track, Bob was his 14-year-old self once again.
Being on the track seemed natural and he was soon spending as much time possible putting in laps. Once he retired, he was even more open to joining new driving clubs, meeting new car guys and fully enjoying his new toy. Ferrari's fiercest also brought about more invitations to private events, charities and opportunities to raise awareness and funds for children who seemed to enjoy the car as much as he did.
In 2011, when Patti passed away, Bob turned to the Ferrari community more than ever. The annual Ferrari meets were a big part of that, and with more time on his hands, he became more involved with the group, eventually helping to organize drives. The long road trips and roaring engine offered a comfort of their own. It was also during these trips through the Palm Desert and the Pine Holmes Highway that Bob made new lifelong friends, and spent quality time with his brother and daughters.
Although the Maserati may be a more comfortable ride for a road trip, it's the Scud that makes Bob feel like a kid again. Taking the corners in his Ferrari on the Road America and Laguna Seca track gave him a nostalgic feeling of watching his favourite race car drivers on the same tracks. When I asked him if he lets anyone else drive the car, he chuckles and says no. “My daughters want to now,” he says, “but they haven't. It's a lot of car.”
The car is still completely stock, with no alterations. It's the last of the single clutch gearbox and loud V8 engines Ferrari ever built. "The car screams,” he says. “The power to weight ratio is unbelievable.”
When I ask him what intends to do with the car now, he pauses. “I don't know. The car doesn't owe me a nickel,” he says, a serious look on his face. "I drive it. I experience it.” Although Bob has some great memories from his days driving on the Area 27 track or the picturesque Mont Tremblant track, or making the 30-degree bank turns on the Daytona Speedway, his favourite is still his hometown Mosport. That's where his fondest memories are with his closest friends and where he met his now-girlfriend, Ingrid.
I can see the awe and appreciation on Bob’s face as he concludes the story of his life and love affair with the Ferrari. “If it wasn't for Patti getting up that night and if I didn't get the car when I did, I don't know what I would have been doing,” he says. “The car got me involved in something that is now a big part of my life.” There were only to be 15 Scuderias in all of Canada and Bob never thought he would purchase one himself.
Some care for their cars like they’re trophies. Others let fate lead the way and enjoy the ride in their Ferraris.
All photos can be seen on Lucas' website at Scarfonephoto.com