Veterans Day Historics at Road Atlanta
For the 17 years it has been in existence, the Vintage Drivers Club of America has had a schedule of race weekends that attracted an ever increasing number of members and participants. It includes such premier venues as Virginia International Raceway and Sebring. It also included some less spectacular but none-the-less challenging and desirable tracks like the underrated Roebling Road Raceway near Savannah. Within its generally southeast US sphere of activity, the Holy Grail eluded it – the 2.54 miles long challenging track and superb facilities at Road Atlanta. Until, that is, about 10 years ago when Ray Morgan, local resident and businessman, Club member, and now Director was able to convince the track to grant VDCA a date. The only problem was that only a date in February was available. Winters in Atlanta are usually pretty mild and the five years with the February date provided three with very reasonable weather and two with typical southern winter chill (40 degrees, not really race prohibitive). For some reason RA needed that date and offered a July date in its place. That would sound great for any other place, but Atlanta in July is more often too hot and humid than February is cold and nasty. But Ray, ever optimistic and opportunistic, accepted that date. True to form, the three years on that date were hot and humid. Ray and the membership, figuring their foot was in the door, held on and this year accepted a change to November, which is usually fairly mild since winter doesn’t usually set in until after Christmas. This being the first time on this date, the unusual happened - temperatures in the low 40s overnight and daytime temps reaching only the high 50s. The good news was that there was no precipitation, just brisk winds. There were few complaints heard from the mostly southern membership and even some relief expressed by those who came from north of the Mason-Dixon Line (almost 20% of the entrants).
So, the weather and the racing were wholly acceptable. VDCA usually creates four on-track race groups from its eight Classification groups, each of which contains multiple classes, all based on engine displacement and speed potential. For this two day event each Race Group had half hour track sessions identified as one practice session, one qualifying session, two race sessions, a one-hour endurance race and a half hour Gimmick race. That was for the vintage cars. VDCA also usually shares their weekends with other non-vintage groups, such as a local BMWCCA or PCA chapter. This time there were eight half hour non-VDCA test sessions.
GROUP 1 (small displacement production cars and Formula Vee)
Nine FV and 27 small-bore cars comprised Group 1, the largest Group at the event. Not surprisingly, the larger displacement, higher revving cars dominated. Casey Haddock almost always runs away from the field in his well driven, high revving, super light LeGrand Mk 18. Only 750cc but working hard, the DSR car and Casey’s driving skills dominated as usual, challenged only by David Conrad’s beautiful MGA. Andy Russell’s ’72 MG Midget is always fast and he, Rob Stewart, and Mark Craig had a good race, until Stewart’s 1967 Spitfire had a problem on lap nine and Craig had a blown oil cooler and both dropped out. Finishing order was Haddock, Conrad, Russell. Some good racing took place mid-pack amongst the Bugeyes of Brian MacEachern, Buzz Merchlewitz, Sam McLean, Andy McLean, Jim Hofer, Todd Crews, and Scott Fraser. Michael Ennis (’69 Lynx) finished first of the Vees, followed by Neil Sullivan (’69 Lynx) and Oliver Tolksdorf (’69 Zink).
GROUPS 2, 5, 7 (open wheel and Sports Racers)
In this rather eclectic Group of 24 cars were Sports Racer types including three WSMs and 9 S2000s, Formula Fords, including 5 FFs and 6 Club Fords, and two Formula Bs. Racing in each group was close and exciting – also fast! The starting order was the same as the finishing order except for when Henry Payne V (1989 Lola T90) got by Henry Payne IV (1989 Lola T90) on the third lap and Wade Leathers (1988 Lola T8890) and John Kramer ((2001 Carbir) both moved up a position. Finishing order was Joey Selmants (1987 Swift DB2), Paul LaHaye (1989 Lola T9090), Payne V, Kramer, Eric Langein in a Chevron B15 FB, Payne IV, and Sam Payne (1989 Lola T90).
Of the smaller formula cars, we had four Formula Fords and four Club Fords, the difference being that the CF cars are an older design with less advanced chassis and suspensions. Generally, the difference in sophistication and speed potential can be overturned by driver skill, on-track contretemps, and traffic. Be that as it may, Doug Meis finished first in his 1974 Lola T340 and Doug Voss second in his 1971 Merlyn Mk 20 after trading places many, many times over the 13 laps. Duke Waldrop (’82 Van Dieman RF82) and Scott Nettleship (’81 Crossle 45F) did the same right behind them for 3rd and 4th.
GROUP 3 (medium displacement production cars and sports racers)
This Group had an interesting selection of cars. Ray Morgan drove his veteran 1964 Merlyn Mk 6 to a flag-to-flag finish, challenged by Richard Schnabel (1975 Fiat 124 Spyder) who came from 5th on the grid in an inspired drive. Another odd matchup was Fred Burke in his 1962 Cooper Monaco and Bill Vanderford in his 1990 newly vintage Mazda Miata. If looks had anything to do with it, Fred certainly earned his third place finish, but good driving and cubic inches did also. The ever strong and consistent Stirling Heath brought his 1971 MGB GT home in fifth and Jack Poteet (1962 Morgan 4/4) went from a second place start all the way back to last place then all the way up to 6th in a great effort.
GROUP 6, 8 (large displacement production cars)
Some superb driving along with great noise resulted in a flag to flag run by Mark Brummond in his high revving 1985 Alfa Romeo GTV6. Tim Smith (’67 Shelby Mustang) and Doug Hagopian (’68 Porsche 911) unfortunately dropped out early, allowing Gary Hagopian (1963 Jaguar XKE) and Lee Bruckner (1968 Mustang) to advance and fight for position most of the race and finish second. Gordon Slingerland (1968 Firebird) and John Sybrandt 1966 Sunbeam Tiger) snuck in between them near the end. After 12 laps the order was Brummond, Bruckner, Slingerland, Sybrandt, and Gary Hagopian.
GIMMICK RACE (Mid-field Madness)
Most of the racers look forward to the Gimmick Race to provide a fun and exciting time – if you don’t take it too seriously, that is. Tech Director Doug Meis does, however, as he makes the rules and determines the winner. The idea is to finish not first, not last, but right in the middle of the field. Complicating the results are the retirements, lapping, communication, pit stops and the fact that the length of the race is not determined beforehand or announced to the drivers. You can communicate with your pit crew but can’t stop or slow on the track. All position adjustments must be made in the hot pits. That’s exactly what Nathan Scigliano did in his Carbir S2000. Although he had some top lap times, he took a pit stop late in the race, waited for what he thought was the right amount of time, calculating things just right (or was just plain lucky). He won the only award given out by VDCA, some silly token provided by Doug after a stop at a K-mart on his way to the track. It also, as usual, included some type of equally silly liquid refreshment. It’s worth a few laughs as well as a few more laps of the track.
The BIG RACE – one hour, one pit stop, 35 laps, driver change/refueling optional, and 34 cars from all classes/groups, . This race is difficult to follow from trackside but it sure is entertaining because of all the races-within-races occurring over its entire duration. Thanks go to Neil Harmon (Timing & Scoring) for the lap charts which contributed some after the fact explanations of what went on. The half dozen or so guys who started at the front ran away from the lesser cars and drivers and finished appropriately. But some of the best racing, although maybe not the fastest, went on mid pack and beyond and caught most of the attention. The Payne family – Henry IV, V, and Sam - are at the top of the food chain in most of their races and this one was par for the course. V started on pole in his 1989 Lola T90 and took an early pit stop, resumed his drive in next to last and blasted back to finish 5th. IV started 4th in his Lola T90, pitted early but worked his way back to 1st by lap 25 until Sam and LaHaye passed near the end and finished 3rd. Sam, also in a Lola T90 started 6th, also pitted early, also worked his way to first, and finally finished in 4th. Paul LaHaye in a 1989 Lola T9090, took the green flag second but took over 1st when Payne V pitted, ran there until he himself pitted, and then over the course of the last 10 laps worked his way back to 1st for the win. Doug Voss was the first non-S2000, in his 1971 Merlyn Mk 20 Formula Ford, finishing 6th OA. Much racing and passing occurred back in the pack amongst the mid and small displacement machines and provided much enjoyment to the spectators, this one at least.
VDCA, in addition to having a reputation for great races, prides itself on its Saturday night festivities, most of which are sponsored by individual members or race teams. Zapata Racing, as it has done so many times, put on a shindig this time with barbecued ribs, chicken, and pork, and a selection of delicious southern cakes for desert. The venue was the shop, showroom, museum, business office, and man cave of member Jerry Peters, right across the highway from the track. Jerry was racing at Daytona this weekend, but allowed his VDCA friends to use his place in his absence. A crew of responsible and hard working members set up and then cleaned up the building and grounds in recognition of his magnanimousness and generosity. Thank again, Jerry!
Road Atlanta is a fabulous facility for both racers and spectators. Many improvements were evident as a result of the recent Petit LeMans and Walter Mitty Challenge. By all indications, VDCA’s new November race date should provide a popular and well attended event in the future.