After a long winter layoff, it's a joy to head south through the heart of the "Old Dominion" State. The hills and the scenic countryside of Virginia are just beginning to burst with the colors of early spring. The destination is Virginia International Raceway located just to east of the city of Danville. To many, Danville is known for its industrial history in the production of textiles or tobacco. Others may recall the significance as a railroad hub during the Civil War. Students of NASCAR will remember Danville as the home of NASCAR Hall of Famer, Wendell Scott, a gentle, but determined man who became the first man of color to win a NASCAR sanctioned event in a segregated south. But for the last decade or so, it has become known as the home to the world class racing road course and resort known as VIR. This is the place that the late Paul Newman was quoted as saying, “If there’s a heaven on earth, it’s VIR....”
The VDCA vintage racing event known as the "Wild Hare Run" has become one of my favorite events of the year. VIR is an ideal location for the spring event, and it brings together racers from the North and the South. The vintage racing "snowbirds" are returning home from the warm southern states and the vintage racers from the snowbound Northeast (looking to "jump-start" spring) come together at VIR for this wonderful event. The 15th Annual Wild Hare Run that took place this year during the weekend of April 7-9, also served as a kick-off for the VRG Royale Racing Formula Ford Challenge Series. Add in the BMW Car Club of America Racing event/school and you have a packed racing weekend!
Springtime events in Virginia always run the risk of some unpredictable weather. On Friday, the qualifying and practice sessions were held under cold and blustery conditions. Just prior to lunchtime on Friday at the drivers meeting, Race Director Mike Jackson welcomed the chilled entrants to the event, instructing everyone to enjoy the weekend and have fun despite the weather. He reminded them to race safely and that in the history of the event, there has never been a need to transport a driver from the track for medical reasons. Qualifying resumed in the afternoon. The "main event" would be last event of the day. It's the "infamous" Australian style pursuit race known as the "The Wild Hare Run!"
The "Wild Hare Run" is essentially a handicap race that allows each car to compete for the overall win regardless of the class. Registration closes for the event earlier in the day to allow the mathematical wizards (Mike Jackson and Doug Meis) ample time to "crunch the numbers" (qualifying times) and come up with "the complex algorithm" that will determine the starting order and most importantly, the duration of the "Wild Hare Run!" The racing cars are released at specified intervals based on qualifying times, starting with the slowest car first and the fastest car last. After the final car is released, the race directors/official scorers head to the scoring tower to keep track of this unusual race, featuring cars from all nine race groups. Theoretically, this should result in all the cars finishing at the same time! That is, if every driver ran his/her qualifying time and lost no time passing cars. Historically speaking, it is rare that the first car to be released is still leading at the finish. Equally rare is to have a huge group of cars cross the finish line at the same time. This year's winner was Robin Buckner in the 1970 Chevrolet Camaro. At the Saturday night VDCA dinner, Robin was awarded the traditional Wild Hare Run trophy, an oversize stuffed Easter Bunny! In addition, (at least for the last 12 years), Bob Clarke has been creating and donating a special "Bunny's Butt" trophy for the second place finisher, and that went to Rick Frazee in his 1959 Morgan 4/4. Congrats to Robin and Rick!
The end of the Wild Hare Run may have marked the end of Friday's on-track activity, but over at the VIR Motorsports Technology Park, the off-track party was just getting started. In what has become a Wild Hare weekend tradition, Dave and Robyn Handy throw open the doors to SASCO racing with an open house and welcome party. Visitors to the shop were treated to plenty of great food and beverages. It was also a chance get up close and personal with a bunch of cool racing cars in various stages of restoration and maintenance. The shop also has an impressive display of historic posters and photos that captured the attention of the guests as well.
FF Race #1: Conditions began improving on Saturday morning, with blue skies and pleasant temperatures prevailing for the rest of the weekend, and after some more qualifying sessions on Saturday morning, it was finally time to go racing. The first vintage race of the weekend would also be the first race of the year for the Royale Formula Ford Challenge Series. Scott Fairchild and Doug Meis are always fast at VIR and the timing scoring sheets from Friday’s session supported that. Scott set the fast time in the Friday afternoon session with a 2:08.567 and started from the pole in race #1. Scott led all the way in his 1978 Zink Z-10 and the race was for the second spot as Joe Griffin in his 1981 Crossle 45F and Bob Bruce in the 1980 Crossle 40F battled and traded the runner up spot numerous times during the race, using the draft to pass on that long VIR front stretch. After a rather conservative start (allowing his new Hoosier tires to work in), the 1974 Lola T340 of Doug Meis caught the leaders, and it became a three-way battle for second. For a bit, it appeared that the trio might be able to draft together and close in on Fairchild. On the final lap the second place Meis spun at Oak Tree while trying to hold off the charge of Bob Bruce. Meis gathered it back up and continued in 4th place. At the checker, it was Scott Fairchild taking the first FF win of the weekend (and the RFFCS season) Bob Bruce held on for 2nd place over Joe Griffin in 3rd.
Group 6 and 8: Big Bore SCCA Trans Am -Med Bore Historic Production and Sedans
For those that love seeing big cars tossed around on a road course, Group 6 and 8 did not disappoint. The thunder of big American Iron mixing it up with the big imports is always a favorite. Jeff McKain in the 1966 Ford Mustang set the fast time for this group in the Saturday morning session with a 2.06.655 and followed it up with a feature win on Saturday. Battling for the win was the 1962 Lotus Super 7 of Craig Chima. The two traded the lead several times, with Chima actually turning the fast lap of the race with a 2:05.712, but in the end the big bore Mustang of McKain took the win. Dennis Moser finished third, in one of the most unique road racing cars, a 1964 Pontiac GTO. This group was loaded with interesting cars, and I regret that I can't include them all here. The field included a great looking 1972 BMW 3.0 CSL of Bill and Billy Glavin. The Jaguar XKE model was well represented with Randy Williams 1962 Jaguar XKE and a 1972 version piloted by Edmond Notebear. The 1965 Ginetta G4R of Sharon Adelman caught my eye and I can't mention the Ginettas without mentioning our good friend, Dr. Lee Talbot who (at 85 years young) is still looking good in his 1964 Ginetta G4!
The Feature race in Group 3 was a very competitive on and featured three well prepared cars driven by equally talented drivers. After setting the fast time in the morning practice session with a 2:15.152, Joey Bojalad in his 1960 Elva Mk VI started from the pole position and had a spirited battle with his good friend Hervey Parke in his 1965 Ginetta G4. Both of these cars were supported during the weekend by Michael's Vintage Racing, and I'm sure that added to the excitement back in the paddock. Joining in this well contested race was the 1962 Lotus Super Seven of Buddy Norton. The winner, Joey Bojalad commented on what a pleasure it was to race with both of these racers on the newly surfaced VIR and added,"I can't wait to see them both again on the track at Summit Point," referring to the VRG hosted Jefferson 500, in May at Summit Point WV.
Group 1: The 1960 MGA of Dave Nicholas took the Group 1 feature win with a margin of 24 seconds! Dave set the fast time in qualifying with a 2:24.545. Nicholas, piloted the "HoneyBee" MGA formerly owned by Bob Schoeplein. Bob just happened to be in attendance this weekend and was able to witness the fine drive by Nicholas and another "Honeybee" victory! The second place finisher was Robert Stewart in the 1967 Triumph. Completing the podium was the Spitfire1972 MG Midget of Andy Russell. Watch his exciting video here.
Drawing a considerable amount of attention during the weekend Group 1 entry of Robyn and Dave Handy. Dave purchased the 1967 Morris Mini Van for Robyn as a surprise for Valentine's Day. A "unique" gift like a "Morris Min-Van" would sound special enough, but this one was just a little "extra" special. The Morris Mini Van was originally owned by Robyn's Dad, Robert Pass who had it built as a promotion for his business "Passport Transport," and he began racing it back in the late 80's. Robyn started racing it in 1991, but eventually it was sold to Ken Suhre. Dave bought the "Mini-Van" back in December and the former owner is thrilled that "Vanna" is back with the family! Dave was the driver this weekend, but unfortunately, it didn't make the feature event. Dave experienced one of those moments that I couldn't possibly describe. It seems that during Saturday's race, he started to notice some braking problems in South Bend. By the time he got around to Oak Tree, he discovered he had "zero" brakes. He decided to "bail/spin-out" intentionally! According to Dave, he learned quickly that spinning out a front wheel drive mini is "different than any other race car” he has driven! Luckily, both Dave and the car survived in one piece. The experience wasn't in vain, however, as he was presented with the "Depends Undergarments Award" at the VDCA dinner party Saturday night. Well done, Dave!
FF Race #2: The winner of RFFCS race# 1, Scott Fairchild took the early lead in his familiar Zink Z-10, but his "nemesis" Doug Meis in the Lola T340 grabbed the lead away this time and led lap #1. Fairchild drafted back into the lead on lap #2. The Crossles of Bob Bruce and Joe Griffin would also be a factor in race #2 and this group of cars would battle all race long. The only double yellow of the weekend for the Fords would factor into the finish of this race. On lap #4 the field was slowed for an incident in T1. When the race resumed, it was a mad dash into T1 and Doug Meis grabbed the lead. Fairchild almost gave the race away in NASCAR when he challenged Meis but settled into the second spot following closely up the hill into "the Esses," Doug maintained his advantage around Oak Tree until Scott drafted by on the long back stretch. Scott maintained his advantage down the "rollercoaster" and around "Hogpen" and took the checkered flag. Bob Bruce and Joe Griffin contested the third spot for most of the race, with Bruce taking the third spot in his Crossle 40F.
After some Sunday morning practice, it was time for the VDCA Enduro. A wide variety of vintage races took part in this event but, the S2000 of Ben Sinnott took the win in his 1991 Lola T90/91 and the Payne family, all driving S2000 Lola T90's, took the next three spots. Henry Payne was runner-up, Samuel Payne was 3rd and Henry Payne IV took the 4th spot. Finishing 5th was the great looking 1972 BMW 3.0 SL of father and son Bill and Billy Glavin who shared the driving duties during the weekend.
The Royale FF Challenge Series Feature event took place after lunch hour on Sunday. Twenty open -wheel Fords took the green flag. Bob Bruce grabbed the early lead over Joe Griffin and Dave Fairchild (Scott's Dad) in pursuit. Missing from the action upfront was the familiar silver Zink-10 of Scott Fairchild, after a broken throttle linkage ended his chances for capturing the Royale FF Challenge Series Feature. The feature event would prove to be the most exciting event of the weekend for the fans of the Royale FF Challenge Series. Bob Bruce led the field early, but at the end of lap 1 it was time for Joe Griffin to lead his first laps of the weekend. Doug Meis grabbed the lead around lap 4 and it looked like he might me in contention for another win at VIR. The trio of Bruce, Griffin and Meis used the long VIR front straight to draft by each other and swapped the lead throughout the race. Bruce took the lead again for laps 5 and 6, with Joe Griffin taking the point one more time on lap 7. Bruce was leading on the white flag lap. Joe Griffin, in his 1981 Crossle 45F made a gallant effort to get by Bruce on the final approach to the flag stand, but was denied by less than one car-length. Bob Bruce, with a superb drive in his 1980 Crossle 40F took his first win of the weekend by less than 6/10th of second to claim the Royale FF Challenge Series Feature win. Finishing third was Doug Meis in the Lola, but he dropped drop off the scoring sheet at lap 5, so the 3rd place scoring went to Scott Nettleship in his 1981 Crossle 45F who came back from some mechanical issues on Friday. The second race of the Royale FF Challenge series will be held at the Jefferson 500 at Summit Point WV held on May 18-21, 2017.
In the S2000 Feature race, the always quick Ben Sinnott set the fast time of 1:58.467 in the Saturday morning qualifying session in his familiar black 1991 Lola T90/91. Sinnott took the checker followed by Henry Payne IV in his 1989 Lola T90, followed by his father, Henry Payne in another 1989 Lola T90. The "teacher" Peter Krause finished 4th in his great looking 1984 Tiga SC84.
The VDCA Wild Hare Run was a great way to kick off 2017. Good, safe racing and good times with a bunch of great people. Vintage racing is so much more than the cars. It's all about the people and the resulting relationships. Without the people, it would be just a parking lot full of cars. Preserving the racing cars of the past, while maintaining the relationships of the present and building bridges to the racing enthusiasts of tomorrow , VDCA and the VRG appear to have found that right balance. A big thanks to the clubs, the participants, volunteers, and staff at VIR for putting on this great event. See you next year!-Bill Stoler VRG photographer