Revved Up and Ready to Go
Day One of the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion
When it’s Classic Car Week in Monterey, automobile enthusiasts from around the world make California their destination. And while a plethora of swanky events-including Concours gatherings, rallies, auctions, and parties–vie for audience attention, it is only the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion that delivers the thrill of full-on racing, organizing 600 of the world’s most significant cars into 19 competition groups that recreate a timeline of historic automobile racing reaching back to the early 1900s. Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca held mostly practice runs today and is ready to host hard-core competition on Friday through Sunday, when organizers expect close to 60,000 fans to have passed through the famed race circuit’s gates.
Among the official highlights throughout the coming long weekend is a celebration of legendary American driver Dan Gurney as well as a comprehensive display of the Gurney racing cars he built and drove. And four race groups–Formula 1, Bugatti, Trans-Am, and Stock Cars-are due for such relevantly spectacular outings that they have been given feature status. The sum of these parts, however, do not make the whole.
The Spirit of Vintage Racing
It is an understatement to call the cars at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion spectacular. Those invited are hand-picked and represent the most significant machines of their respective periods. The proud owners and drivers hail from 13 countries, come from diverse backgrounds, and share such enthusiasm and dedication to the sport of historic automobile racing that it makes its own excitement.
Hal Monheim (Newhall, Calif.) has brought his freshly restored 1962 TVR Grantura to race for the first time since its restoration. “This car was an old Sports Car Club of America race car and of the same lineage as the three TVR team cars that raced at Sebring in 1962,” said Monheim. “At one point well into that race, TVRs ran first, second and third, with Mark Donohue leading in class. Mechanical failure put out two of the cars and Donohue’s co-driver spun near the end of the race, but the car still finished in the top ten.”
For the very first time, George Wingard (Eugene, Ore.) will race his magnificent 1914 Mercer 450. “This actual car set the road racing speed record in 1914 at Corona, Calif., when Eddie Pullen won that 300-mile race with an average speed of 86.5 mph,” said Wingard. Although the Mercer was a complete car when Wingard bought it over two years ago, he ordered a total restoration, making it the extraordinary example it is today. “This car has rear wheel brakes only, so you have to be very careful around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, because you run out of brakes very easily around the challenging corners,” said Wingard, who also knows he’ll have to negotiate the Mazda Raceway’s famous “Corkscrew” turn, which demands expert control through its five-story drop.
Greg Johnson’s (Irvine, Calif.) 1937 AC Two Seat Sport Competition 16/80, one of only 14 cars of this model built between 1937 and 1939, promises to be a show-stopper. “Because of World War II, this car did not see much racing until the 1950s and 60s,” said Johnson. “Although it was a bit long in the tooth, it was still competitive.” With a chuckle, he added, “I’ve only had this car for about a year, and this is our first race together; we’re still kind of just dating.”
Ray Langston’s (Miami, Fla.) Cisitalia 202, which was built after World War II for the1947 Mille Miglia, falls into the category of wonderfully unique. “This 1100 cc, 60 horsepower car was driven by famed Italian driver Tazio Nuvolari and led the race until 150 miles from the finish when a brief thunderstorm caused electrical problems,” said Langston. “By the time they got it fixed, an Alfa had passed it for the lead, and this car finished second overall and first in class.” Langston added that a sister car to his is part of a permanent display at The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Bugatti Grand Prix
Few automobile marques create the magic of Bugatti. Remarkably, 90 Bugattis from over a dozen countries have converged at Mazda Raceway and 35 will race at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Mike Cleary (Carpinteria, Calif.), co-chairman of the Bugatti Grand Prix, will race his 1936 Bugatti Type 57 here. “I think it’s amazing that we can generate a grid of 35 pre-war race cars of this vintage, all of them the same make and from all over the world,” said Cleary. “I don’t know any other marque that can do that.”
Another Bugatti racer, Luc Slijpen (Maastricht, Holland), has brought his totally original (unrestored) 1925 Type 35 Bugatti across the Atlantic to race. This remarkable machine shows all its battle scars of 85 years of racing, and its patina is its badge of honor. “We are researching this car’s racing history, but right now we know it raced the San Sebastian Grand Prix in 1926,” said Slijpen. “I race this car in Europe, but I don’t race it often because I am a little bit afraid of the body work. As you can see it is very fragile after all these years, and it is all original, so that means it takes a lot of work to keep it that way.”