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Vintage Corvettes Still Winners At 44

by Larry Roberts

May 29, 2001

For most spectators at the recent vintage car road races at Sears Point International Raceway in the wine country of Northern California, it was an opportunity to spend a day in the sun and peruse race cars that were popular during bygone eras. Held in a relaxed atmosphere, the meet lacked the drama, high stakes and intensity of professional events put on by NASCAR, CART, IRL and ALMS, the professional sports car endurance racing body. And it was even lower-pressure than the similar annual event held each spring at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey. There, big-buck promotions by international corporations have tended to negate the "folksiness" of the vintage car genre.

But to many of us who trekked there, it was an experience was like stepping out of a time machine and into our own pasts. We had often watched or driven these same cars in amateur sports car races starting in the mid-'40s. It was like going home.

After the perfunctory practice sessions for cars that were to compete in the nine different races, the first event was for cars that dated back to pre-World War II days. I enjoyed watching Bentleys, Bugattis, Vauxhalls and Chryslers reenact battles they fought at Le Mans in the '20s, even though they had retired from combat before I was born.

Another interesting event pitted an eclectic field of loosely- defined "sports" cars that ranged from tiny one-off Crosley specials with their less-than-a-liter engines, through sleek and stately Jaguar XK120s and on up to the homely, homemade 6.0-liter Cannon coupe that is as ugly today as it was when I took its picture at a local race nearly 50 years ago.

My favorite in this contest was the dead-last 1951 "Twin H Power" Hudson Hornet that had been meticulously resurrected into a replica of the NASCAR-winning car driven by Marshall Teague, an early-day champion at Daytona Beach.

There were short 10-lap races for race cars as diverse as a 1916 stark National that was little more than a stripped chassis with a huge engine and a seat for the driver to international Formula One cars, the newest of which was a 1983 Williams FW08C.

But the race that held the most interest for me was the one that contained "production" sports cars that had been produced from 1959 to 1963, the narrow time-span that encompassed the cars that I modified and raced back then. My sentimental favorites were the three Sunbeam Alpines like the ones that I was involved with in the early to mid-'60s. But in a repeat of what were the usual results of these contests four decades ago, it was a pair of Chevrolet Corvettes that took the top two finishing positions.

Younger spectators viewing those vintage car races no doubt enjoyed a day of seeing a slice of things the way they were for their fathers and, in many cases, their grandfathers. But for many of us "graybeards," it was a chance to relive an era in which we were young and so were the now-vintage cars we raced.