Saratoga Automobile Museum’s founding board member and Vice Chairman Bob Bailey doesn’t just love racing, he’s lived it. In addition to helping open the auto museum to the public in 2002 and founding his own racing accessories empire, Racemark International, Bailey’s track record also includes 15 years as a professional race car driver. The bulk of that time was spent with the Porsche of America Racing Team, where he finished first in the Grand Touring (GT) class at a Daytona 24-hour race. Along the way, he crossed paths with some serious celebrity racers such as 1972 Indianapolis 500 winner Mark Donahue, who became his business partner; and screen legend and racing enthusiast Paul Newman, who co-founded the Double H Ranch in nearby Lake Luzerne, NY.
And Bailey’s lifelong love of racing began right here in the Capital Region.
“Those things—love of cars, love of racing—started way back in my childhood,” says Bailey, who grew up on an abandoned apple orchard in Burnt Hills. “My father would go to all the races as a spectator. He took the family to Sebring Raceway in Florida in 1955 when I was, maybe, 12 years old, and I got to meet Stirling Moss, the famous British racing driver.” Meeting Moss, Bailey says, is what really gave him the racing bug.
Bailey was so taken by the idea of becoming a race car driver that the Upstate New York native spent his teenage years racing junkyard cars in a sandpit behind the family’s old apple orchard. In ’61, after graduating from high school, he bought a brand-new Porsche Roadster and headed to Canada to kickstart his career. “In those days, you had to be 21 to race professionally in the US,” says Bailey. “In Canada, you only had to be 18.” Bailey competed for three years in Canada before returning to the US, where over the next dozen-plus years he notched some impressive wins, including a Daytona 24-hour race in 1971 where—co-driving with two Canadian racers, Jacques Duval and George Nicholas—Bailey finished first in the GT class and seventh overall. Just a week after that big race, Bailey, along with Duval and Nicholas, were honored during a celebration in Montréal where the three racers received keys to the city. “That,” says Bailey, “was an incredible moment.”
Even while a busy, successful race car driver, Bailey still found time to create and grow Racemark International, his own business of racing accessories that, appropriately enough, was founded on his family’s property in Burnt Hills. Bailey launched the company in 1964, with sports car champion Donahue partnering with him in 1972; the two had become friends during their time racing for Porsche of America. In fact, the “mark” in Racemark International is actually a nod to Donahue, who passed away in 1975 after an accident during a practice session for the Austrian Grand Prix.
After the loss of his friend and business partner, Bailey continued running the company. What started as a small mail-order business for Porsche accessories and custom floor mats has grown into an international auto accessories giant, supplying high-quality floor mats, roll bars and uniforms to brand-name clients that include Honda, Toyota, BMW, Tesla and of course, Porsche. The family-owned company, which is headquartered in Calhoun, GA and has several factories in Europe, currently supplies Goodyear Racing with all of its uniforms. Another big-name client who used Racemark International’s uniforms? None other than late Hollywood royalty and fellow racing fanatic Newman.
“Paul had an incredible passion for racing,” says Bailey, who got to know the Oscar-winning actor on the racing circuit, as well as at Newman’s Double H Ranch, which offers year-round programming for children and families dealing with life-threatening diseases. (Bailey served on the camp’s board of directors for many years.) “He used to come to the camp every summer for a visit,” says Bailey of Newman’s dedication to Double H. “Of course, we always talked about racing while he was here. Terrific guy, and he was a tremendous racing driver, too.”
Since retiring from the professional racing world, Bailey hasn’t slowed down, with accomplishments including a 15-year stint playing polo and helping found the Saratoga Polo Association. But he says that one of his proudest accomplishments is being a founding member of the Saratoga Automobile Museum. “We had a rare opportunity to do it,” says Bailey of the chance to renovate what was then a vacant water bottling plant into the museum. “At the time, Governor [George] Pataki was pushing to reuse old state facilities that were sitting there. So, the other founding members and I put together a program to do a historic renovation of the building and turn it into an automobile museum.”
The rest, as they say, is history. With its 20th anniversary approaching in 2022, it’s fair to say that the Saratoga Automobile Museum has been a roaring success. With former pro racers like Bob Bailey on the board, it’s no wonder it took off the way it did.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of Horsepower magazine, a publication produced by Saratoga Living Arts in partnership with the Saratoga Automobile Museum.