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Thunderstruck

Image of Thunderstruck

One of Rock and Roll’s most enthusiastic lead singers on stage is the rock band AC/DC’s Brian Johnson. His enthusiasm intensifies, however, when he puts on his driver’s suit and climbs into his 1965 Lola T-70 like he will do tomorrow at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, where 550 historic automobiles are competing in 17 groups that run the gamut from Pre-1940 Sports Racing and Touring Cars to 1981-1989 FIA Mfg. Championship & IMSA GTPs.

“This is my first time here at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and my first time at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca,” said the 63-year-old Scotsman, who resides in Sarasota, Fla., “but I’m going to come here for the rest of my life, and that’s a promise. “

In today’s precursor to weekend racing action, Johnson, like all of the other entrants, determined his grid position (a very respectable 7th out of 42) on the famous 2.238 mile road racing track that includes among its signature turns “The Corkscrew,” with a 5 ½ story drop in only 450 feet of track length, and the “Andretti Hairpin,” which, by virtue of its name alone, needs no further description.

“When I heard the sound of the big V8s of my race group all take off at the drop of the green flag, I thought if Zeus were here and created thunder, this is what it would have sounded like,” said Johnson, bringing to mind lyrics from one of his most famous songs:  “Thunderstruck” (The Razor’s Edge, 1990).

“I’ve been racing for about 14 years on-and-off,” he said, “and unfortunately, because of my day job where I am traveling for a couple of years at a time, I have to keep coming back and re-learning the driving technique. It is such a privilege to be sitting in a car that really good drivers once drove. Keeping the car on the track and coming anywhere close to what the original drivers have done is an achievement. “

Johnson, who added that in January of 2012 he also will satisfy his life-long ambition of racing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, feels that driving in a race and getting on stage are very similar.

“You don’t give everything away at the first corner, just as you never give away everything at the start of a show,” he said. “You have to keep it steady and then you build and build, and you get faster and smoother while building to a crescendo and leaving the crowd wanting more. In both, you have a team of guys who make it all possible. In actuality, the car belongs to the crew; as a driver you are just borrowing it for a while. The main thing is to always stay calm; it is always a challenge when I get into a race car. Having driven this Lola, I really appreciate the guys who raced these cars in the 1960s. It’s no wonder they called them widow makers.”

Johnson also alluded to the fact that half the joy of competing in the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is in the journey to get there. Like many competing here, he has an impressive car collection, and one of his cars, a 1930s Bentley that he calls “Thunder Guts,” was his transportation to the track this morning. “That was fun,” said Johnson. “It was like flying a WWI bomber across the mountains with the goggles fogging up, and coming down the mountain was even more fun with these old drum brakes.“

A Collector, A Gentleman 

Tom Malloy (Corona, Calif.), who came to the track in his 1932 Ford hot rod, is one of the classic “gentleman drivers,” as they are known in the vintage automobile racing world. He will race three of his cars at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and display four of his cars at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. His status as such, however, was a long time coming, since his father, who owned a race track and raced cars himself, discouraged his son from doing the same.

“It wasn’t until 20 years after my father passed away that I felt, ‘well, I think Dad would be okay with it if I started racing now,’” said Malloy, adding that it was 1992 when he went to driving school and began collecting cars.  In November 1996 he participated in his first vintage race and hasn’t looked back since.

Malloy described his 1957 Lister Jaguar as previously owned by Sid Silverman and one of the original classic Lister knobblys. His Porsche 962 with the Leyton House livery was raced mostly in Japan in the late 1980s, but it also raced one year at Le Mans. “This is really a sweet car and so much fun to drive,” said Malloy before getting on the course today. “It’s hard for me to believe I am really going to be in that car in a half hour or so; sometimes I have to pinch myself to be sure it is for real.” His McLaren M8E has about 800 horsepower and it is scary quick, he says. “Of the three cars I will be racing, it is the most intimidating.”

 

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