Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Do the right thing...

I truly am a bit of a nut about vintage racing. And when I say vintage racing, I mean any and all kinds of vintage racing. It's the natural progression I think; to become obsessed with beautiful vintage high-performance racing machines, research them through books and magazines, pursue seeing them in person at either concourse events or in museums, and then finally- it's time to see them move and hear them run...  hopefully in anger. 

After all, it is what they were made for. This is their natural environment. I mean, who wants to see a D-type Jag with mirrors underneath it? That gives me the same awful feeling as seeing a polar bear in a zoo laying on a fiberglass rock in 90 degree summer heat. Gives me a strong sense that someone somewhere needs to be reprimanded in a big way for going against nature. 

I'm not sure how we can help the polar bear but, fortunately for us, a whole lot of folks who feel like I do ( and I have a feeling a lot of you out there as well ) are doing plenty to help the wild English cat population- among other cantankerous species. I'm of course talking about vintage racing! 

In my opinion, this is the single greatest movement that has happened in the old car world since the AACA decided to start preserving antique cars way back in 1935. In fact, I believe the first vintage racing organizations in both the U.S. and the U.K. were started around this same time, although the VSCCA is on record as being our first official organizing body which dates back to the 1950s. At any rate, it's a great thing that the cars on both sides of this fence began to be preserved so early in their lives. 

Now when I say I'm a fan of all vintage racing, I'm quite serious about that. I don't know if it has something to do with my age (39) and the fact that I missed a lot of "golden eras", or simply the fact that I'm such a rabid enthusiast in general, but I just am. I have no less interest in going to Milwaukee to see the great Harry A. Miller meet than I do in traveling to Watkins Glen for the fall vintage festival or Limerock Park for the same, or Goodwood for the Festival of Speed or Motor Circuit Revival ( OK, those actually top the lot ), or Michigan for the wonderful Pure Stock Muscle Car drag race series, or to El Mirage or Bonneville, or to Jungle Park Indiana to see the old dirt trackers come together once again, or to Bakersfield for the vintage drag races at the NHRA Hot Rod Reunion. It all makes my heart pound.

 You can look at these cars in books all day long, or even view old footage of them running back in the day... but to hear an old Offy fire up and run hard, or an early small displacement Ferrari 12cyl howl, or the wonderfully primitive rasp of a period hopped-up flat-head V8, or heaven forbid an early top-fuel Hemi running at full song on nitro, again...  the heart pounds. 

This is exactly what our vintage machinery should be up to when their owners have the chance. As I said early on, I'm 39 and was born right on the edge of when a lot of this stuff was being put away as no-longer-competitive. I can't imagine what a 16 year old kid must think of some of this stuff when they finally get to see and hear it. And isn't that the point? The celebration of it all, the education of the uninitiated, and the nostalgic trip back in time for the lucky ones who were there, back in the day, when it was simply the norm. Oh to have that stuff stored away deep in my memory! "I guess I just wasn't made for these times...  "  is how Brian Wilson put it. 

But again, here we are, lucky enough to be living in a new kind of golden age. It almost seems too good to believe that we can go and see nearly anything from the past run as it did back in the day. Sure the community that supports it is coming from a different place psychologically than it was when it was "win at all cost", but a lot of the spirit is the same, a lot of the comradery is the same, and thanks to many, the lifestyle of it can still be seen in action. How lucky we are. Imagine;  if you want to see Sterling Moss drive his old Mille Miglia winning 300 SLR, you actually can! Does anyone else find this amazing? You can go to the NHRA Hot Rod reunion and stand next to Big Daddy Don Garlits in the pits like it's 1965 and watch him hold the starter up to the front of his blown-nitro-burning-Hemi top-fuel sling-shot-dragster and experience the sensation of one of these firing up, then see him climb into it in his old racing suit, pull up to the line, and blast off in a cloud of rubber smoke... using the tires as a clutch, just like the old days. Again, amazing! 

I have a funny feeling that we're going to look back on the 1990s and early 2000s as a golden era for these reasons. No one can say where the vintage racing world is headed. It does seem to split off into group after group after group. And maybe that's a good thing. Because as soon as something gets a little too competitive or historically inaccurate for some tastes, a correction is made and a new and safer playground is built for those folks. The same happens when there isn't enough competition for other folks. I think this is good for everyone involved. The more the merrier. You never know when you might want to go watch a pack of 300hp bug-eye Sprites on extra wide slicks battle it out after you've done a weekend with the VSCCA... and I'm not being sarcastic. 

I have faith that some kind of balance will always be maintained in my favorite part of the motorsports world. It may not always be as comfy as it is right now, and most importantly, we won't have as many members of the original first season cast to help us with the reliving of the old days. But either way, it'll always be a great ride no matter what. The important thing is to get that old race car out of retirement 'cause time's a wastin'...   do it now...  do the right thing! 



Anonymous said...

David, it goes beyond motorsports really, and extends to the entire world of old cars. They need to be driven and should be seen and experienced my everyone.

Get out and drive!

Paul W said...

David, my friend Chuck Goolsbee turned me onto your website. I too, am a guitarist and an old car nut, having been raised in the 'bidness' of cars! Great site, and I echo the comments you make about what cars are for: DRIVING!

I'll bug ya a bit, here and there!