Nuts & Bolts: Running at Monterey

I first went to the Monterey Historics some 20 years ago. Even then I thought, “Man, would it be fun to race a truly classic car out there with all that super-cool, high-dollar machinery.” At the time, this was utter fantasy. My budget was more Econo Lodge than Hilton—and this was back before the Econo Lodge in Monterey started charging nearly $300 per night.
Fast-forward through 20 years of dedication to this dream, along with a little luck and a lot of hard work, and I am on the grid at my first ever Monterey Historics.
The reality of this dream started a few years ago when we picked up the Group 44 Inc. Triumph GT6+ from a barn near Danville, Virginia. The full story on this is elsewhere in this issue [January 2010]. Even then, we thought, is this the car that gets us to the Monterey Historics? A whirlwind restoration had the Triumph ready for the Amelia Island Concours earlier in the year.
Despite the drawbacks of the past year’s economy, an already overwhelming travel schedule, and way too many commitments while out at Monterey, we sent in our entry anyway.
Honestly, the entry procedure was full of arrogance and intimidation. Entries were due by the middle of March, as I remember, and we were warned to not even be a day late.
We didn’t hear anything—even as to whether or not the entry had been received—until three months later. We were then given one week to work out all details: who would crew, how to transport the car, what trailer to bring, and where to paddock.
At that time, the car had a damaged engine. I had no idea if I could get it together, figure out transport, and fund the whole adventure. Enter Gary Hunter, Jere Dotten and J.K. Jackson. We all sat down and decided, “Damn it, you don’t get invited to Monterey every day. Let’s figure out a way to do this.”
And we did. We yanked the engine back out of the car, and J.K. determined that the gasket failure was caused by a warped head. Jere offered to get the car out there. “I’m retired,” he said. “If you pay the expenses, I’ll tow the damned thing out there and help you crew.”
We thrashed on the car and got it back together. After another all-nighter, we did a shakedown run at our test track in Ocala. We wanted to break in the fresh engine and begin some tuning.
J.K. drove the car first and found it a dream to drive. He begged me to try it. I initially resisted as I had had little sleep the night before; then I relented and jumped in.
He was right, this was a cool car. In all honesty, except for a drive around the neighborhood and the trip across the Amelia Island greens to accept our award, this was the first time I had really driven the car.
After a few laps, I loosened up a bit—and that’s when the next big problem occurred. Coming around one of the tighter turns, I got a little wide and stuffed the car into a plastic hay bale. Unbelievable as it might sound, I did significant damage to this little jewel—just three hours before it was supposed to be loaded on a trailer for Monterey.
I could not believe it. What an idiot I am. I have covered something like a million laps at this easy, safe little kart track without incident. Now, in perhaps the most valuable car I have ever driven here, I smack the wall.
I nearly cried, but instead I sheepishly called one of my best friends in the world and the greatest body man I have ever met, Tom Prescott at The Body Werks. I explained the situation: “Tom, you will never believe what I just did.”
He didn’t even let me finish. He just told me to get it back to the shop as quickly as I could, and he would make it right so we could leave for Monterey on time.
We had the car there at 3 p.m. By noon the next day, the passenger door, nose and front bumper all looked like new again. We loaded up the car and headed for our next stop, Road Atlanta.
We figured that the car needed a real track test before its Monterey debut, and the good folks at the National Auto Sport Association let us join their test day. Trying to learn a vintage race car with new Porsches and Mustangs whizzing by was a trip.
The other drivers didn’t know how special this car is, nor did they care. They were racers and couldn’t understand why this silly old Triumph was on track with them. After some alignment and tuning, we had three sessions under our belt. We determined that if the car was good enough to run Road Atlanta, it would be good enough to run Laguna Seca.
Jere made it to Monterey with no incidents, and things seemed to run smoothly out there. The earlier attitudes were largely gone.
Once on site, everyone was nice, professional and courteous. The event was also very well run. We got through tech with only one small hitch, as our brake light switch had temporarily stopped working.
We even had the opportunity to reunite the car with Mike Downs, who won the 1969 SCCA E Production national championship for Group 44 in our car. When we asked Mike what needed to be addressed to make the car more original, he couldn’t come up with a thing. We were feeling pretty good at that point.
Monterey is a very public event, and I definitely didn’t want to be “that guy.” It seems every year at Monterey, someone does something so bad that everyone else is talking about it the next day. This year, the honor went to the guy in a 1958 Pontoon Ferrari who hit the wall coming down out of the Corkscrew.
Because of all the time and expense we had in this whole proposition, I initially took it real easy on track. Heck, this was my first event with the car—and it was the Monterey Historics, no less. Great little event for a shakedown, huh?
The car handled great, and while there was a lot more tuning that could have been done, it ran pretty well, too. By the last session, I was becoming reacquainted with what is definitely one of my favorite tracks, so I started to push a little harder.
We had been told repeatedly that this was not a race, but an exhibition of important cars. That’s a load of crap, as the guys around me were driving as hard as they do at the HSR and SVRA races that I usually run.
I picked up five, six, seven seconds per lap and started to fall in love with the car and the whole experience. Up to that point I had been so preoccupied with not making a mistake and keeping up with all my magazine duties that I had forgotten the main reason we were there: to have fun.
By the fifth lap of my feature race, I had forgotten all of my worries and was just listening to the uncorked wail of that legendary small Triumph six and having a good old time.
Again, thanks to Margie, the kids, J.K., my staff, Gary, Jere, Paul, Tom, the guys at Vintage Racing Services, my dad, Rennie and everyone else who made this dream come true. Enjoy our special vintage racing issue, the first installment of our Group 44 GT6+ build, and our coverage from Monterey.

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71GT6
71GT6 None
10/13/12 8:01 a.m.

Really enjoyed the article and the video on Lenos' cars. Now if I could only get my restoration done that fast...

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