Welcome to Vintage Views, a current and opinionated "observation post" where particular concerns about one of the fastest growing segments of motorsports, vintage sportscar racing, will be hashed an rehashed, hopefully for your information AND enjoyment.
As an introduction, my fascination began almost fifteen years ago after a serendiptitious trip to Road Atlanta for the Walter Mitty Challenge. At that time, old race cars were merely old race cars, often with little value to anyone other than a marque- or model-specific enthusiast. With the advent of collector car mania in the late '80's, as well as the "greying" of sports car enthusiasts from the fifties, sixties and seventies, many more people wanted to own these "old cars" than there were cars available, hence the price boom.
Many current amateur and professional racers think two things when they hear "vintage racers." First and foremost, the impression that vintage racing is a tame, orderly, "follow the leader" affair with limited passing and genteel drivers is flat wrong. The second impression is that if an old club racing car can be sold to a "vintage racer" that automatically it is worth four times as much as any reasonable person would pay for an old race car.
Thankfully, the boom in car values has eased substantially, though some poor souls would say they've lost their shirt, and no longer can someone who buys an old Caldwell D-9 Formula Ford justify spending $15,000 on a cosmetic restoration and expect to see any return on their "investment." For the most part, old cars are just that, old, worn out cars.
What IS exciting is that there is now much more of an emphasis on vintage RACING, as opposed to VINTAGE racing. Close, competitive racing can be seen in many venues, even given some sanctioning body's confusing and thoughtless classing and grouping of cars. Vintage sportscar racing is a wonderful place to see cars you've only read about, or to indulge your "Walter Mitty" fantasy in something as pedestrian as a Sprite. It can be as affordable or as extravagant as you want it to be, and until there is one unified sanctioning body, most of the more progressive organizations will find a place for you to run.
The first two columns will introduce you to the broad melange of groups, primarily those on the East Coast catering to those who wish to race old sports cars. The eligibility of cars plays a key role by showcasing the various groups' philosophies. Not surprisingly, some groups have become muddled in their attempt to attract racers to events in an increasingly crowded schedule, and that has caused rifts that constantly threaten the unification and standardization of vintage rules across the country.
Organized sports car racing was started in this country in the late 1940's by a group called the Sports Car Club of America, first in upstate New York, then settling into toney Westport, Conneticut. Fiercely amateur, the SCCA of the fifties and sixties is precisely what a majority of the current vintage sanctioning bodies are trying to emote today, some with more success than others. The "grand-daddy" of them all is the Vintage Sports Car Club of America (VSCCA), founded in the late 1950's to "preserve" older sports cars and encourage their use in "friendly" competition. Based in the New England area, the VSCCA adheres to a strict cut off date of December 31st, 1959 for eligibility of "limited production" sports cars and actively focuses towards developing a burgeoning pre- war group. Long the sanctioning body for private events at Lime Rock Park, Pocono, New Hampshire International Speedway and hillclimbs at Huneywell (Wellesley, Mass.) and Mt. Equinox, VSCCA also sanctions the Pittsburg Vintage Grand Prix (through Schenley Park) for charity and the huge Labor Day event (with more relaxed eligibility requirements) at Lime Rock. VSCCA has extraordinarily strict licensing requirements and, in fact, does not allow roll cages in production or sports racing cars. While their safety record is enviable, most other sanctioning bodies will not accept the VSCCA cars for the lack of fuel cells and other basic safety gear. Bolstering its elitist image further, all membership applications must be accompanied by two letter of recommendation from other members. Obviously, it is easy to labeled "overly aggressive" with any racing experience in this group. No event results are published, no trophies awarded, with the emphasis on "relay races" and handicap events primarily to encourage social interchange. Many folks think that VSCCA is the purist's idea of how vintage racing ought to be and many members of the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) and Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR) view the VSCCA with disdain. Many VSCCA members see little difference between current amateur racing and the more liberal sanctioning bodies, so the gulf remains. VSCCA recently decided not to issue log books to any more MGA model MGs because they felt with over fifty examples registered, this car was appearing in disproportionate numbers. The reason is more likely that the MGA is an inexpensive, relatively readily available entree into what has become a pretty toney show! While no Sprites are allowed, big Healeys are welcome and the grids feature Alfas, Abarths, the various siblings in the MG-T family, Deutch-Bonnets, Turners and other small bore production cars. The rules require tall tires, very narrow wheels, stock displacement and stock carburation. More than one Lotus 7 has a Comptune or Marcovicci A-series engine in it, though. Recently, the club has started a "Preservation Class" for cars in stock form driven to the track. A bracket time is established and those that "break out" get bumped up to the regular race group. So far, it's the quickest growing group in VSCCA!
Next time, SVRA and HSR...