The Changing Face of Vintage Racing

What's new in vintage racing? Nearly everything: the cars, the people, the venues and the attitudes.

Story by Steven Cole Smith • Photography by Patrick Tremblay, Dirk De Jager, Cadillac, Chuck Andersen, Bentley, April Silverstone, and Stuart Adams Fotographik

 

No way will there ever be vintage racing at Daytona, because, France said, ‘I don’t want blood on my hands!’”

Ford Heacock III and his family are from Sebring, Florida, and helped get Sebring International Raceway up and growing. So it’s no surprise that Heacock, chairman of Heacock Insurance, a division of which insures vintage cars, wondered if there was much interest in Central Florida for a vintage racing organization.

He sent out some queries and was shocked to immediately get back more than 300 responses. This was in the 1970s. And that planted the seed for what became the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association, now usually just shortened to SVRA. Today it’s the largest group of its type in the country.

The club was having a lot of success in fielding vintage races at Sebring, including the Kendall Vintage Grand Prix, so Heacock took the next logical step: He went to visit “Big” Bill France, who founded NASCAR and built Daytona International Speedway.

It was intimidating. Big Bill stood nearly 6½ feet tall. He even sat on high, at a raised desk in front of lowered chairs for visitors. Even so, with success on his side, Heacock was confident. He spelled it all out, expecting France to respond, “Yes, of course we want your vintage racing here at Daytona.”

That did not happen. “He pounded his fist on his desk and jumped to his feet,” Heacock recalls. No way will there ever be vintage racing at Daytona, because, France said, “I don’t want blood on my hands!”

That particular blood, France explained, might belong to prominent doctors or dentists or lawyers, the sort of people he envisioned racing, and crashing, in vintage series. That would be bad for business. Presumably he was okay with the blood of conventional racers.

Big Bill died in 1992, and that philosophy has changed, of course. Vintage racing does happen at Daytona nowadays.

And vintage racing is still changing–that, no one can argue.

 

 

The Pros Know

Pro driver Butch Leitzinger competes in historic events as well, driving a Le Mans-spec 2007 Pescarolo 01

Pro driver Butch Leitzinger competes in historic events as well, driving a Le Mans-spec 2007 Pescarolo 01

New rules in professional racing have served to separate racers from the creation of their cars. For example, it’s now impossible to build your own IMSA race car from a street car. If you want to run at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, you need to purchase a homologated race car from the manufacturer or an authorized agent.

The same has been true in the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup for a couple of seasons: You buy a completed car through Mazda, or you don’t race.

So what are racers who like to work on their own vehicles to do? And what’s to become of those cars that no longer have a place in pro racing?

Plenty of the hands-on racers among us are gravitating toward historic racing–and we are, by the way, using the terms historic and vintage interchangeably. As a result, the sport is becoming less and less courteous lead-and-follow, no-please-you-go-first and more full-on competitive. We’re seeing a little less wine and cheese, a little more beer and Velveeta. And there appears to be room for both ends of the spectrum. That includes not only amateurs, but (very) experienced professionals.

Butch Leitzinger, 49, has won 49 IMSA races, tying him for fifth with Al Holbert on the all-time victories list. But that isn’t enough for Leitzinger–he’s still logging wins with Historic Sportscar Racing. “The thing that I like the most about vintage racing is that I’m able to get back to enjoying the driving itself,” he says.

“In professional racing,” he continues, “there is so much that’s riding on the lap time and the results. Everyone on the team gets a paycheck that their family depends on, and if you have a bad weekend, perhaps you’ve put the team at risk of losing sponsorship, and also put their paycheck in jeopardy. So as a driver, all of your focus has to be on extracting every last tenth out of every lap. And that doesn’t leave much room to look around and enjoy what you’re doing–although there are times when everything just flows so naturally that it’s very fun.

“But the idea behind vintage racing is just to take pleasure in seeing older cars doing what they were meant to do, and there isn’t much emphasis on who wins the race or who sets the fastest lap. And that allows for more time to be in the moment, to enjoy the thing that made you want to do this in the first place. And afterwards everyone is happy to have a beer together.”

Vintage racing, Leitzinger says, “offers sporting women and men a chance to drive interesting and powerful cars on some of the best circuits of the world. And for those who wish to rise to a professional series, it gives good experience in a lower-pressure and less expensive environment.”

Andy Pilgrim, 62, made his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in 1996, and the former Chevrolet Corvette and Cadillac factory driver continues to race in IMSA and World Challenge. He also competed in the HSR race at Daytona in December.

“I very much enjoyed running our 2011 Ferrari 458 GT3 there,” Pilgrim says. “This car was a championship- and race-winning Blancpain GT car out of Europe, 2011 through 2014. Amazingly, I was able to run consistent 1-minute, 39-second laps during my three night stints, which was faster than we could run in our Black Swan Porsche GT3 back in 2016!

“I found the side-by-side racing clean and challenging, with some excellent drivers in our GT and Prototype class. We had by far the largest field in our race, which just added to the fun. The organization was excellent. The whole 24-hour race was executed like clockwork. I didn’t need my alarm clock; on the hour of every hour, a new race would start.”

And yes, there was some serious racing, but it was all done professionally. “Although there were a number of pro drivers,” Pilgrim adds, “the aggression level was tempered just enough to allow some excellent battles.”

 

Is It Growing or Not?

Andy Pilgrim, another pro, also enjoys vintage racing. At HSR's Daytona event, he drove a GT3-spec Ferrari 458

Andy Pilgrim, another pro, also enjoys vintage racing. At HSR's Daytona event, he drove a GT3-spec Ferrari 458

By all accounts, vintage racing in the U.S. is, at worst, “holding its own,” says Jeanette Bourke, general manager for the Vintage Auto Racing Association, the largest West Coast vintage racing group. And at best, it’s growing steadily.

Historic racing overseas seems to be a bellwether for U.S. competition, and the news is good. On weekdays, Mark Gillies runs Volkswagen’s American public relations office, but on many weekends, the native Brit is racing in vintage meets around the world, typically in 1930s-era open-wheel cars.

“I would say that in Europe, it’s growing even more than here,” he says. “In the U.S., the cars are generally more recent, but you don’t see the massive grids of sedans, Formula Juniors, and even Jaguars and Healeys you see in Europe and particularly in the U.K. In places like South Africa and Australia, the growth has been constrained because so many cars have gone elsewhere in the past 30 years.”

Everywhere, the older the car–which generally means the more valuable and irreplaceable it is–the lower the aggression level. But that can vary, too. “In the U.S., racing in pre-1960 cars is pretty tame compared to Europe, but in later cars there isn’t much to compare between the two places,” Gillies explains. “I was in South Africa recently and was pretty impressed by the driving all around there.”

In the U.S., racers and series backers report seeing more younger participants. Gillies says that with exceptions, that isn’t the case overseas: “The cars have become pretty pricey. Generally, younger drivers are the offspring of existing owners or are hired guns, brought in to win races. At Goodwood last year, the front three in the Goodwood Trophy, the Glover Trophy and the Fordwater Trophy were all non-owners. As for spectators, I think they’re getting older unless you’re at a meeting that is more of an event, like Goodwood.”

One last peek at the barometer: Aside from the older SVRA, the Historic Sportscar Racing group is responsible for the largest events. HSR’s chairman is David Hinton, a competitor who can usually be found working in the shop for his restoration business.

“Historic racing is very strong right now,” Hinton says, “and we are convinced the future is bright for all of us in the sport.”

 

Hired gun Mark Gillies often drives prewar ERA.

Hired gun Mark Gillies often drives prewar ERA.

"Historic racing is very strong right now," says HSR's David Hinton

"Historic racing is very strong right now," says HSR's David Hinton

 

BEASTS FROM THE EAST: JAPANESE CARS JOIN THE SCENE

None

Vintage racing has traditionally been dominated by European and American brands, but Japanese cars are now gaining a well-earned foothold in the hobby. In fact, they’re running at the highest levels: Nissan was the featured marque at last year’s Classic Motorsports Mitty as well as the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Plus, Mazda has supported both events on a corporate level for several years.

It wasn’t always like that. “I will never forget the year that they allowed the No.46 BRE Datsun to be a part of Monterey,” says Rob Fuller, owner of Datsun prep house Z Car Garage (last year they took the above Nissan Skyline to both Monterey and the Mitty). The year was 2001, and he was but a lad.

“That was when Steve Earle still ran the event, and it was unheard of for a Japanese car to be there,” Fuller continues. “The car was on Trans Am row, and the crowd of fans was nonstop all weekend long. This was long overdue, and it allows new blood to go to an event that might not have been on their radar before. It’s inspiring to see your hero cars out on track with cars forever out of my price range as a Datsun guy.”

Any downside to this recent influx of older Japanese cars on track? Hopefully it doesn’t jack up the prices, Fuller says: “My life would have been very different if my Datsun 510 was out of my price range as a young enthusiast.

 

VINTAGE RACING GROUPS

None

No single organization governs vintage racing. Dozens of them hold events in jurisdictions that blanket the country. Some groups sanction events from coast to coast, while others are more regional. And with each turf comes a unique vibe, mission statement and rule book.

Here are most of the major players in today’s vintage racing scene. As you’ll notice, there’s no consensus on just what qualifies as a vintage race car. Some groups demand period-correctness down to the signage and tires, for example, while others have more relaxed policies. Age requirements vary, too. Is your car just on the eligibility cusp? Check the rules, as some groups allow continuation models. For example, the regs may specify a 1973 cutoff for all sedans yet still welcome your later BMW 2002. As always, contact each group for its specifics.

 

Sanctioning Bodies

Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR)

hsrrace.com

This organization, based in Clear-water, Florida, has gone through several ownership changes since its founding more than 40 years ago. Billed as “a time machine of sights and sounds,” it generally groups cars according to age and engine size to make for safe, competitive racing. Classes welcome cars from the ’50s up through modern times.

The 2019 HSR calendar features eight events, starting with the Sebring Spring Fling March 28–31 and ending with the Sebring Classic 12 Hours Pistons & Props, which adds vintage aircraft to the mix. Other race venues include Daytona International Speedway, Road Atlanta and Barber Raceway Park.

 

Sports Car Club of America (SCCA)

scca.com

No one at the Sports Car Club of America would assert that the group is a leader in historic racing. But if you check the results of the 2018 SCCA Runoffs, you’ll find plenty of evidence of that, especially in the E, F and H Production classes. A 1976 Mazda RX-3 was third in EP, a 1962 Volvo P1800 was second, and a 1962 Lotus Super 7 was fourth in FP; two 1962 models, an Austin-Healey Sprite and a Triumph Spitfire, finished midpack in HP.

This is tough, serious racing, and there has long been some griping that it’s time for the SCCA to cast out the old and embrace the new; in HP, the 1970 and ’72 MG Midgets that finished second and third were behind the winning 2018 Toyota Yaris. But we like seeing the old cars run, especially when the rules allow them to remain that competitive. Of the 16 cars in that class, half hailed from 1972 or before. In SCCA club racing, Improved Touring classes technically allow cars from 1964 and up, so that can be another place to run vintage machines in mildly modified trim.

 

Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA)

svra.com

The SVRA, headquartered in Southlake, Texas, was founded by Ford Heacock III and is now owned by Tony Parella, who also controls the Trans Am series and is pairing those races with some vintage meets.

“Motorsports enthusiasts are looking for alternatives that deliver affordable, authentic racing, a variety of cars, and meaningful access,” Parella says. “I want to further exercise the tremendous synergies we have already seen with our other major Parella Motorsports Holdings company, the SVRA. Stay tuned for a bright future.”

The season starts with the Sebring Vintage Classic February 28-March 3 and concludes a dozen events later with the Savannah Speed Classic in Georgia October 24–27.

Classes welcome cars from the ’50s through those that are just 5 years old, and the SVRA’s online classified page reflects that fact: cars range from the oldest (a 1953 Atlas Ford V-8 Special, $49,500) to the newest (a 2012 Grand-Am-winning Chevrolet Corvette GT car, $160,000), with dozens in between, including a $675,000 McLaren.

 

Vintage Auto Racing Association (VARA)

vara.org

Founded in 1973, VARA is the largest vintage car racing member organization on the West Coast. Fields are made up of production and sports cars built through 1979, with a focus on fun, competitive, contact-free racing.

 

Vintage Sports Car Club of America (VSCCA)

vscca.org

The VSCCA, born in 1958, is the oldest automotive preservation club in America and offers a complete wheel-to-wheel program in addition to rally and other car conservation events. The emphasis is on rare or unusual sports and racing cars, including prewar and certain postwar cars made through December 31, 1965.

Multiple driving schools, rallies, tech sessions and races are listed on its website. Most all are in the Northeast, as the group’s home base is in New Britain, Pennsylvania.

 

Vintage Sports Car Racing (VSCR)

vscr.org

Located in Minneapolis/St. Paul, VSCR holds events and races at Upper Midwest tracks, including the historic Brainerd International Raceway. VSCR was founded in 1975 and maintains its mission to “foster and advance the restoration and use of racing sports cars with an emphasis on sportsmanship.”

 

Classic Sports Racing Group (CSRG)

csrgracing.org

Region: Northern California

Cars: Usually through 1967 and 1972, but some formula cars through 1979.

 

Corinthian Vintage Auto Racing (CVAR)

corinthianvintagerace.com

Region: Texas and Oklahoma

Cars: Most classes cut off at the 1973 model year. CVAR also hosts a Spec Sprite class for 1962–’74 Spridgets.

 

Heartland Vintage Racing

heartlandvintageracing.com

Region: Kansas

Cars: Generally speaking, production cars through 1972 and formula cars up to 1980.

 

Historic Motor Sports Association (HMSA)

hmsausa.com

Region: California, Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, and Le Circuit Mont Tremblant in Québec

Cars: Production cars through 1966 plus purpose-built machines through 1984.

 

Midwestern Council of Sports Car Club

mcscc.org

Region: Midwest

Cars: All race cars welcome, while their Vintage group imposes a 1975 cutoff.

 

Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Association (PVGPA)

pvgp.org

Region: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Cars: Prewar cars and select pre-1975 sports cars.

 

Put-in-Bay Road Race Heritage Society

pibroadrace.com

Region: Put-in-Bay, Ohio

Cars: Small-bore and formula cars built through 1972.

 

Rocky Mountain Vintage Racing Ltd. (RMVR)

rmvr.com

Region: Rocky Mountains

Cars: The cutoff dates are generally 1972 and 1981.

 

Society of Vintage Racing Enthusiasts (SOVREN)

sovren.org

Region: Pacific Northwest

Cars: Usually through 1985, although some built through 1989 may run for exhibition.

 

Southwest Motorsport (SWMS)

swms.org

Region: New Mexico

Cars: The 1972 SCCA rules are used for pre-1973 cars; later cars are run past an eligibility committee.

 

Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada (VARAC)

varac.ca

Region: Eastern Canada

Cars: In some cases those built as recently as 1997.

 

Vintage Drivers Club of America (VDCA)

vintagedrive.com

Region: Southeastern U.S.

Cars: Mostly pre-1973 production-based cars plus some later sports racers and open-wheelers. SCCA Improved Touring through 1989.

 

Vintage Racers Group

vrgonline.org

Region: East Coast and Mid-Atlantic

Cars: Production cars through 1989 and formula cars up to 1972.

 

Vintage Racing Club of British Columbia (VRCBC)

vrcbc.ca

Region: British Columbia

Cars: Generally a rolling 25-year cutoff is used.

 

Vintage Sports Car Drivers Association (VSCDA)

vscda.org

Region: Great Lakes

Cars: Production-based machines, formula cars and sports racers generally built through 1972. There’s also a class for modern machines.

 

Vintage Sports Car Club of America

vscca.org

Region: Northeast

Cars: Prewar cars plus select “rare and unusual” machines built through 1965.

 

Other Bodies

Monoposto Racing

monoposto.com

When it comes to single-seat cars, many clubs simply follow the rules and regulations penned by Monoposto Racing. This group works to preserve the formula cars of yesteryear and offers rules for practically all single-seaters, from pre-1966 Formula 1 cars to ’70s-era club racing machines.

 

The Vintage Motorsports Council (VMC)

the-vmc.com

The Vintage Motorsports Council acts as a coordinating body for the various North American clubs. The VMC also issues a license that most clubs honor.

 

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Comments
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Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
5/23/19 9:48 p.m.

Totally my opinion of course but I think vintage racing is in a good place. I run with VARA and I think they have good philosophy as probably do most clubs. What I like about vintage is there is a bit of extra respect that one doesn't always get at modern races.

The big name events should be the cream of the crop but at club level I like the rolling dates. I also think it was wise that they started including things like early Miatas.

The increase in Japanese cars resonates with me and  not just because I race a Datsun. Nissan was building cars before Porsche & Ferarri and excluding Nissan/Datsun seems snobbish to me. Many iconic Japanese cars are 40-50 years old and so how do you not include them.

jonk67
jonk67 New Reader
5/23/19 10:02 p.m.

The link for Historic Sportscar Racing is https://hsrrace.com/ not hsr.org - That leads to Health Services Research website. 

Once i get my '67 Mustang Coupe back on the road i hope i can find one of these organizations close to me in order to run some track days and maybe get my license to run in groups. I think it's great that this is available to the weekend racer and as mentioned spaced out vs. one venue every weekend across the country. 

dougie
dougie Reader
5/29/19 9:11 p.m.

I race with SOVREN here in the PNW and they've take note from other clubs and have change the rules to allow a wider range of "vintage" cars. I don't they excluded anyone with a safe car, ex-NASCAR's included, there's a "catch-all" grid for the exotic odd-balls. Fifteen new members were at the Spring Sprints last month which saw plenty of track time and that's keeps everyone happy. The repaving of over half the track at Pacific Raceways in Seattle helps too. A good time was had by all.

https://youtu.be/MgavoXjISuk

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
5/31/19 8:29 p.m.

What a great track, sort of mini Nurburgring. The motor in your car so sweet, to bad you had that pesky C-sedan in your group.........can't trust those guys (Note I race C-sedan).

dougie
dougie Reader
5/31/19 10:30 p.m.

In reply to Tom1200 :

Yup, those C-sedan guys are all outlaws, can't trust any of them....hah.

LanEvo
LanEvo Dork
6/16/19 6:41 p.m.

Now that most vintage racing geoups are allowing cars form the '70s-'80s (and even the '90s) the fields are starting to swell. I've raced my '87 Mercedes 190E 2.3-16 with VARAC at Mosport and SVRA at Pitt Race:

Huge fields in the "modern vintage" classes. Tons of E30 M3s, air-cooled Porsches, Fox bodies, Hondas, Mazdas, etc.

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
6/16/19 7:59 p.m.

I for one think it's great as well as wise that 90s cars are on the grids at vintage races. These cars are 20-30 years old, with the advent of track days and the likes of Lemons, clubs have to be flexible if they want to remain healthy. Plus the cars are really cool.

Dougie see the link below this is my most recent race. When the video starts I'm two cars ahead of the camera car (Alfa GTV), the Volvo 544 just ahead is my friend who passes me at the 1 minute mark after that I'm the meat in the sandwich. I'm in the Red 1200 #27. Note this was the glorious battle for 16th-18th, I started on the last row due to a problem in the qualifying race and started 23rd and finished 17th.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wExUqiK5OU8

dougie
dougie Reader
6/16/19 11:37 p.m.

Tom -

Nice run, I haven't made it to Buttonwillow yet. It looks at lot like my home track of PIR, except we're a lot greener up north. Both tracks flat with a technical corners and no banking. When I make it down to Cali, it's been Laguna Seca, Sears Point, or Thunderhill. Willow Springs and Buttonwillow are still on the hit list. That Volvo looks like the one that ran with us in 2014 at the Portland Historics. Here's one of the races from my pals TR4, I'm about 4 cars up. 

https://youtu.be/l823MXsN36k

 

 

pizzaman1
pizzaman1 New Reader
6/17/19 4:27 a.m.

I’m working on restoring a tube frame Ford Pinto bodied ex GT3 car , it’ll have a proper 2 LT Pinto motor , can any one tell where I would be able to race and have some fun ? I have contact a few vintage sanctioning body and i wasn’t given much encouragement, I appreciate any help , thanks 

LanEvo
LanEvo Dork
6/17/19 6:46 a.m.
pizzaman1 said:

I’m working on restoring a tube frame Ford Pinto bodied ex GT3 car , it’ll have a proper 2 LT Pinto motor , can any one tell where I would be able to race and have some fun ?

Some vintage race groups might specifically disallow tube-framed cars. Can't remember which ones off the top of my head, but I've seen that kind of language used in some of the rulebooks. Other groups (like VARAC in Canada) don't seem to care much at all: if it's old and cool, you can run it.

pizzaman1 said:

I have contact a few vintage sanctioning body and i wasn’t given much encouragement, I appreciate any help , thanks 

Where are you located?

dougie
dougie Reader
6/17/19 9:23 a.m.

In reply to pizzaman1 :

We've got an exhibition class in SOVERN where you could probably run. http://sovrenracing.org/

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
6/17/19 9:40 a.m.

Dougie, yep it's the same car.

@pizzman1 it appears SVRA has a class for your car. You may end up in a catch all class in with cars that will outgun yours but as witnessed by the videos above that doesn't mean you won't have a lot of fun. VRG doesn't seem to have a catch all class but I suspect if you approach them gently they will find a place for you. Addtionally both groups have events events close to you (Mid-ohio 75 miles and Pittrace 100 miles). Basically you may have to tell the sanctioning bodies that you simply want a place to run the car and don't really care what class your in. As SVRA runs tube frame Trans-Am cars you shouldn't have aproblem.   

pizzaman1
pizzaman1 Reader
7/6/19 5:23 a.m.

Thank to all that replied to my question , I have since found a softer stance from the various vintage group , it looks like I’ll be able to run in a few different classes with various groups . And by the way I’m in Northeast Ohio , I’m close to Mid m- Ohio , Pitt , and of Nelson Ledges it ever operates again. 

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
7/8/19 3:08 p.m.

Good deal I new someone would allow your car. The 2.0 is a great motor with lots of godies available. Have fun, we're all happy to help but we expect to see video.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
7/23/19 10:10 a.m.

Peter Cunningham, an old friend of ours who's been a championship driver in autocross, ice racing and the professional ranks, recently made his vintage race debut. In what? One of his team's Integras. Too new? The Type R made its competition debut here in the States like 22 years ago. 

 

Interesting times in deed. 

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