Plenty to Take in, Both on and off the Track
Day Three of the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion
Moving into its first weekend day, the four-day Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion generated tens of thousands of spectators at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where 600 historic automobiles are racing just as they did “back in the day.” The action started this morning with the balance of 19 different competition groups completing their qualifying and segued into lunchtime parade laps, a picnic for the public with famed driver Dan Gurney, and a flyover by four Nanchang CJ-6A aircraft before the Star Spangled Banner signaled the official start of competition for today’s 10 scheduled groups, which featured Trans-Am.
When names like Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Mark Donohue, George Follmer, and Peter Revson are used in the same sentence with Trans-Am, it generally means a story is underway about some of the greatest American drivers in one of the premier racing series of its day. Though the days of factories entering ground-shaking fields of pony cars are over, 44 original Trans Am cars from 1966-1972 returned to the grid today and roared past the stands, bringing race fans to their feet
Two of the drivers in the field were father and daughter Vic Edelbrock, Jr., and Christi Edelbrock. To anyone who knows a thing or two about motorsports, the name Edelbrock is synonymous with automotive aftermarket performance parts. (In 1938, Vic Edelbrock, Sr., a racer who was one of the founders of the American hot rod movement, established the Edelbrock Corporation, of which the junior Edelbrock is now CEO.)
“It’s really fun to race against your daughter,” said Edelbrock. “When my other daughter Camee dropped out of racing for a while, Christi stepped right into our 1968 Trans-Am Camaro built by Smokey Yunick as an FIA speed record car, which was radically modified for significant aerodynamic advantage. (Christi raced this car today, finishing 15th, while her father raced his 1969 Boss 302 Mustang, finishing 14th.)
“Vintage racing is such a great thing, where you meet such great people,” said Edelbrock. “We’re not out there to collect points or make money; we’re just doing it for the fun.”
Christi picked up on his thoughts, saying, “A good friend of mine told me he thinks vintage racing is almost better than the real thing, because where else can you go to see Can-Am, Trans-Am, Formula 1 and various sports cars all in one day? So keeping it going and keeping the image of these cars alive is what is important for me and especially for the young kids.” Christi explained that her family is very involved in programs and charity events built around educating and helping troubled young people get on course with their lives. Teaching them about automotive repair and maintenance is at the forefront of their mission.
An impressive Edelbrock display, where Vic and Christi have signed autographs each day, featured dozens of hot rods in every color of the rainbow, but one stood out in black: Vic Edelbrock Sr.’s original 1932 Ford Roadster that started it all. According to family history, the car was Edelbrock’s everyday transport as well as his means for racing. “On Monday through Friday he’d drive it to work, and on weekends the fenders came off and it was ‘on the flats’ breaking records.”
Action Over the Bridge
All one had to do to escape the constant roar of engines on the track and in the open paddock areas was to cross over the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s Bridgestone Bridge to the Yamaha Marketplace, where race goers could find the best from Carmel’s Ocean Drive boutiques and, of course, anything auto–from scale cars to women’s purses made from seatbelts. Seen in the crowds was comedian and car enthusiast Jay Leno, a return visitor to Mazda Raceway. He put his arm around a woman whose husband was at the ready to snap their photo. “Who’s that, your brother?” asked Leno, to which the husband quickly responded, “No, I’m the one who pays the bills.” Reading his audience (a quickly growing group of admirers), Leno clipped, “If you want the nice stuff you gotta pay for it,” and walked off to laughter.
Leno most likely moved on to see Dan Gurney interviewed at the Dan Gurney Picnic along with Gurney’s good friend Bobby Unser, another famous driver who raced many of Gurney’s cars. (Gurney is being feted here for his contribution to motorsports as a driver, innovator and constructor.) “His new concepts and designs were far, far ahead of the others,” said Unser, while several hundred people looked on. “The lower and wider design-that concept changed everything, the world over; from ‘72 onward, everyone had to change the way they were thinking.”
Versatile Player: Actor/Driver Patrick Dempsey
Patrick Dempsey, the famous television and movie actor, took time off from his day job to race today at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Climbing into his 1992 RX7-92 Mazda GTP, he was asked if he thought he would benefit from having raced here last year. “The car has improved a lot,” he said. “The gear box and the brakes are much better, but last year I was doing a lot more racing. This is the first time I have been in a car this powerful in a long time, so I have to be careful not to over-drive the car. It’s a thrill to drive this car, it’s a time capsule and a work of art sculpturally; it’s absolutely beautiful. This car is an end of an era and to be entrusted to drive it around this historic circuit with so many other beautiful cars is a thrill.”