VDCA’S Hurricane in Savannah
Roebling Road Raceway, 7-9 September 2018
By Bob Spruck
This VDCA mid-season event earned its name in 2008 when hurricane Hannah was aimed directly at the Savannah area and prompted the cancellation of the event three days prior to landfall to allow the local workers and support people to prepare their families and property for the storm. The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season was the most disastrous Atlantic hurricane season since 2005, causing over 1,000 deaths and nearly $50 billion in damages. As the entrants for this year’s race loaded up to travel to Bloomingdale, GA, a little tropical cyclone named Florence was churning out in the mid-Atlantic, but wouldn’t make landfall in the Carolina’s until Sept. 14th.
Roebling Road Raceway is located on Roebling Road in Bloomingdale, Georgia, about fifteen miles west of downtown Savannah. Named after the Roebling family who once owned plantation property in the area and was famous for their wire cable manufacturing technological advancements and a little bridge they built in Brooklyn, it has been owned and operated by the Buccaneer Region of the SCCA for twenty years. It is 2.02 miles long, has nine turns (or 12 with the chicane on the front straight). Track Manager Jack Abbott has coordinated numerous improvements recently, including 12 covered paddock spaces, paving of more of the paddock roads, new corner stations, improved berms, and automated fuel service. He is planning a complete repaving within the next few years to replace the 20-year-old surface that has become quite abrasive due to its outdated composition and frequent use.
This year, VDCA’s ordinarily two-day event was reconfigured into a three-dayer to include the Formula Vee 55th Birthday celebration. Every five years, a number of race organizations around the country commemorate the origin of the class when the Nardi, the very first Formula Vee was created in 1963. Since VDCA enjoys a large number of avid FV racers, the event was reconfigured to accommodate the milestone anniversary with its large number of participants. The usual vintage classes were distilled down into 1 Small Bore Group and 1 Big Bore Group for production cars, Formula Fords and Sports Racers allowing time on the schedule to host 1 group for vintage FVs and 1 for current or SCCA FVs. The four race groups each were allotted half hour sessions for practice, qualifying, and racing on Friday. Then they each ran qualifying and two Races on Saturday. Sunday’s warm-ups were followed by the one-hour Enduro, and sprint races on Sunday afternoon. That calculates out to FIVE HOURS on track for each Race Group!
Friday’s practice and qualifying went well, under blue skies and a few swiftly moving white puffy clouds. It was an absolutely beautiful day although somewhat humid as would be expected in Savannah in Sept. The clouds were apparently moving swiftly due to strong upper level winds that by mid-afternoon quickly brought in dark clouds, increased wind, and dropping temperatures, followed by rain, heavy, then thunder and lightning, also severe. Officials black flagged the track, in deference to the corner workers and staff standing out in the middle of the lightning. Good move, Mr. Chief Steward.
Each of the four Race Groups had its challenges. Because there were only two Groups of production cars instead of the usual seven, there were a number of drivers and cars who had never raced together before. The Vintage Vee Group was comprised of many of the usual VDCA people who are used to racing with each other while the Current Vee Group was SCCA Vee racers, most from CVAR in Texas, who knew what to expect from their fellow racers and a large contingent from some other far-flung addresses throughout the States. For the most part, this didn’t make any difference in that the racing was gentlemanly and incident free. The qualifying sessions and the two race sessions for each of the four Groups went cleanly for a very full Saturday followed by dinner at the track, a traditional Southern Low Country Boil.
Because of the unique Group structure for this special weekend, the usually well subscribed and very popular Vintage Gimmick Race was not held. However, the traditional one-hour endurance race on Sunday morning was scheduled. Even though this session is open to all car classes, the racers always seem to play nice and have few issues with the small bore and big bore production racers as well as the slower and faster open wheel cars all running together.
The VDCA Endurance Race is an interesting and successful concept. All entrants can sign up and there is no extra cost. Drivers run for one hour and are required to make one 5-minute pit stop during which they can refuel, change drivers, or just rest. Because of the disparity in speed of cars from many classes there is always a group way out front and others that may try hard, but just don’t have the displacement (speed) to run with the big dogs. So, we end up with many small clusters of cars with similar speed having races within the race. That makes for not only great fun on the track but some very interesting spectating, if you are paying attention. As expected from his performance so far on the weekend, Paul Netterstrom put his Lotus Super 7 on pole with the always fast Ben Sinnott in the Lola T90/91Sports 2000 starting second. Henry Costanza placed his super fast Datsun 240Z next, followed by Robert Hibdon in his Swift S2000. Sinnott and Netterstrom swapped places early on and kept those positions until Lap 15 when the Swift started smoking and retired and the Lotus took its mandatory pit stop. Meanwhile Hibdon and Costanza flew in tight formation and took over first and second until Netterstrom caught up with them and just motored past. Finishing order was Netterstrom, Hibdon, and Costanza. Tim Slater and Mark Craig, both in Spitfires, kept pestering each other mid-pack with passes and re-passes all race long and posted lap times within tenths. If you were able to pay attention and remember running positions of multiple cars for an hour and over 40 laps, you saw one of the most exciting races of the weekend.
Even though each of the four Groups had three “races” on Friday and Saturday, they also had a final bout on Sunday. The Brundage Cup for current Formula Vees and the Birthday Bash for vintage Vees went off in prime time. The Production Car Groups were equally exciting. The Big Bore cars in Group 4 were pretty much thinned out by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around but there was some good racing none the less. David Bryant took 1st overall in his 1984 Swift DB1 Formula Ford after a good showing in the three Saturday races. Blake May brought his 1975 BMW 2002 home in 2nd after a good run on Saturday and George Wright came in 3rd in his 1972 Datsun 240Z. In the Small Bore contest, Richard Jemison had his best finish in all the races by coming in 1st in his Alfa Romeo Duetto. He was followed by Joe Mills in his vintage Mazda Miata and John Jones in his always fast Austin Healey Sprite. Newcomer to vintage racing Scott Fraser put his quick Bugeye in 4th.
As the weekend finished up, a lot of tired, hot, and happy racers headed for home. Another fantastic weekend of racing, fun, and fellowship until the next one!