VINTAGE CAR RACING
by Larry Roberts
July 4, 1997
Maybe you were too young or too busy to be involved in auto racing back in the good old days - whenever they may have been. But if you remember Phil Hill driving a '38 Alfa at Pebble Beach in 1950, or Richard Petty circling the high-banks of Daytona in his 1970 Superbird or maybe just a neighbor driving his MGB in an SCCA club race at Watkins Glen in '65, then you were part of the good old days of racing.
But for those too young to remember, be of good cheer: it may not be too late for you to experience those glorious days. Vintage auto racing is the fastest growing form of amateur auto competition in this country as well as in Europe and the British Isles. Cars that were authentic racers back then are showing up at tracks all over the country and even ersatz repros are appearing to fill grids on oval tracks as well as road circuits. At a vintage car race a few years ago at Laguna Seca, I spotted a 1952 Hudson two-door sedan that appeared to be one of the cars driven by Fonty Flock in early NASCAR events. I was told that all the equipment was "right" but that the car was one that the current owner bought second hand and replicated from photos of an original racer.
Open sports cars of all vintage are in the greatest demand since parts are generally available and there are lots of them around. Morgans, Triumphs, Elvas, ACs and a dozen other now extinct brands are raced in semi-stock to highly modified form as well as purpose-built sports racers from Maserati, Jaguar, Ferrari and the rest.
Open wheelers are also very popular as they represent "pure" racing. At a recent vintage sports car event, I came across two very beautifully restored classic Ford V8-60 powered "midgets" that were on display only. They were undoubtedly in better condition than when they were during their racing careers that started in the late '40s. The owners confessed that they were reluctant to engage in aggressive, close competition but were still willing to run in "exhibition" events on local ovals.
Formula cars are also hot items and they range from stock-engined Formula Juniors from the '60s to authentic and historical Formula One cars that may have pedigrees that reach back to their days as world champions. A friend has the Cooper F1 car that Jack Brabham used to win the world championship in '61 and he races it as if he were going for the crown for himself.
Vintage car races are held all over the country during the racing season. Victory Lane is the "publication of record" for the vintage racing world and it listed a bit over 20 events for racing veterans around the country in June alone. Victory Lane is done in the style that was popular 20 or 30 years ago: race reports from around the country that are full of folksy information and personal observations rather than slick journalistic reports. And that best describes vintage car racing itself since the drivers are also adoring owners who don't want to bend their aging mounts. The sport is so popular that the premiere U.S. event, the world famous Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca requires a second event the weekend before (commonly referred to as the pre-historics) to accommodate the list of entries.
Victory Lane also lists more than 60 different sanctioning bodies that put on events for old-timers and the competitions include hill climbs and rallies as well as wheel-to-wheel events on closed circuits. The categories of racers run the gamut and in some cases overlap with cars that compete in "modern" events. The Bug-Eye Sprite of the late '50s is raced in SCCA Class H contemporary amateur races but is also eligible for vintage events.
And therein lies the dichotomy of vintage car racing. In the ranks of profession racing, last year's championship machines are now uncompetitive and thereby qualify as veterans.
So if you missed being part of your favorite type of racing the first time around, search the classified ads of Victory Lane, AutoWeek, On Track and the other racing publications. You might be able to buy and race the very car you admired back then.