140 preserved and restored racing and sports cars manufactured from 1947 to 1972 put in a busy two day race weekend on a return visit by the Vintage Auto Racing Association, V.A.R.A, to the Willow Springs 9 turn road course on October 8 and 9th, 1988. Bill Huth's track, 20 miles from Lancaster California was built in 1953 and now contains 500 acres and has become a full multi-use motor sports facility without losing its friendly relaxed atmosphere.
There may not be much evidence of willows or springs but the sights, sounds and smells of racing brought the desert to life. The 2.6 mile road course with a track record average of 16 mph is bordered by loose, dusty granular stuff, ready to provide a light tan to any car slipping off the tarmac. This was another big event in the in the vintage race boom that creates hotter activity in the market for race eligible buys.
Sorting the entries into five age brackets gives an indication of what qualifies for "vintage".
1947-1949 contained four cars; a 1947 Bentley Tourer and from 1949 a Crosley Skorpion, a Jaguar XK120 and an Austin-Healey Silverstone.
1950 to 1954 noted eight entrants, including a 1951 Kurtis, driven appropriately by Bill Stroppe of Long Beach CA an MGTD, a Crosley, a Morgan, a Tr-2, 2 Allards, and a one off Siata racer. Until 1958, we should remember, Crosley was the only American production sports car and the Hotshot race versions had overhead cam engines.
From 1955 to 1960 were the years of origin of 37 cars. In addition to the above named makes, were the Mercedes 300 SL's, Corvettes, Peerless, Porsche including a 4 cam RS Spyder, Fiat Abarth Bialbero, Lotus, Austin-Healey Sprite, Turner, Alfa Romeo and Arnolt Bristol of which there were three present!, a Fairthorpe, Elva and as Formula III was waning in this era, Formula Junior had been introduced by Count Johnny Lurani in Italy with the Stanguellini, followed by Cooper, DKW and Gemini. A Phoenix-SAAB was also present.
1961 to 1966 was represented by half the 70 cars present with a repeat of most of those already named, plus three powered by the Ford 260 or 289 cubic inch engine, the Cobra, the Sunbeam Tiger, and the Shelby GT 350 Mustang. Also added was the E Jaguar and the racing names of Brabham, Crossle, Lola, Ginetta and specials, a San Diego built Dolpin and a Miller.
22 cars originated in the span from 1966 to 1972, including ex Can-Am racers as well as the additional names of Abarth (a 2000) and the Formula Fords of Elden, Winkleman and Merlin.
These people came here to race. Their entries were divided into five race groups. based on performance and engine displacement. Each race group was scheduled for about 20 laps in two races and two 25 minute practice sessions, sharing the track only with their own group. This is safety fast, immaculate prepared and preserved race cars in action, not a vintage or track parade. The required safety modifications are shoulder harnesses, roll bars, onboard extinguishers, protected fuel lines, race suits, new tires each race weekend, careful tech inspection, novice instruction practice and a helpful attitude. Dents from nerfing are not badges of honor.
Driving standards are maintained by the organizers that are courteous enough to let the faster car through but not so polite that there were not several instances of three cars abreast going into turn one after the pit straight. Safe and fast meant that a Lola T-70 may hit 180 mph on the back straight and the GT-350's would inside pass on the corners, going in deeper, braking hard and pulling out with power. The owners are aware that their cars have changed from consumables to renowned historical artifacts and this is where they can tell their story, unpadded aluminum bodies echoing unmuffled engines. This may not be a pioneering development but it is relishing participation in maintaining a lively historical perspective. Truly a "have you hugged your race car lately" crowd.
Some of the notable names racing were Bill Stroppe, Vic Edelbrock Jr., Rick Cole (the auctioneer) and Nick Brajevich (Braje).
The outstanding sounds of the day were worthy of being recorded, high revving Alfa's, throaty rap of the Shelbys, the stuttering idle of Marty Yacoobian's race Corvette or the rising hammering crescendo of a '58 Vette going up through the gears.
A walk through the garage/pit area was overwhelming with stories. Nick Brajevich speaking of the "back then we just went ahead and did it" era with his neighbor, Ed Iskendarian. The nicest looking of the Arnolt Bristols that wouldn't fire right. The sight of the ex fire pump Coventry Climax engines fitting in the Lotus sports cars, a testimony to their enduring popularity. The phenomenal variety on expenditures on getting it to the track transporters, from cleaning the windshield and driving since most of the streetable sportscars were currently road licensed to multi-car streamlined transporter/workshop rigs, pickups with trailers and a very experienced urban assault vehicle, a Caprice Classic wagon, truck tires, 3 added sunroofs, a hundred stickers, whip antennas, tools and dents.
Practice lap times, provided by the MG club and some race results were posted with the practice times drawing much attention. 90% of the cars finish, despite a few raising dust clouds. There were no damaging accidents.
Some of the winners on Sunday were Jimmy Huston, West Hollywood in a 1956 Lotus Elan with Vic Viets, Pleasant Hill close behind in a 1961 Austin-Healey Mk II Sprite, Mike Sperry, Torrance in a 1967 Lola T-70 MK3A, Chevy powered with Guy Ober of Nipomo in a 1966 Hamill SR3.
The Vintage Auto Racing Association program would fill any sports car fans imagination but we also benefitted from sharing the faciltity with two professional race series, a flyby of 8 WWII fighter planes with their piston engine music and a stunt flying bi-plane performing every conceivable air acrobat as dusk fell on the desert.
Written by Joe Nix, then of 2444 Bethel Drive, Anaheim California Factual support from John Retsek of the Car Show, running 10 years in the Los Angeles area, as well as the most recent issue of the V.A.R.A. publication, "The Vintage Voice", its editors, Joe Puckett and Bob Ewing as well as "The World's Racing Cars" by M.L. Twite, Assistant editor of Motor Sport.
Roster of cars with numbers and drivers names.
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