Will the electric car secure the survival of vintage racing?

Photography by HSR/Patrick Tremblay

Hinton isn’t looking at a future too far off: In a dozen years, California, New Jersey and the European Union plan to end sales of internal-combustion cars. 

In 2035, I don’t think we’ll be fully EV in production cars by then, but it certainly won’t be long after before we are all electric,” he says. “Because if all the motor manufacturers in the world are just producing just electric vehicles, they won’t want the sanctioning bodies to be racing gasoline engines. It wouldn’t make any sense.”

But while HSR looks toward a changing future, a lot has changed in its recent past. We’re closing in on just 18 months since IMSA swallowed up the Historic Sportscar Racing series. 

John Doonan, the president of IMSA, the sanctioning body behind Daytona, Sebring and most of the other big events on the professional calendar, couldn’t be happier with the acquisition. With the philosophy of “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke,” IMSA has largely taken a casual strategy with HSR, leaving it in the capable hands of the man they bought it from: David Hinton.

It is no secret that HSR celebrates a great deal of IMSA history,” Doonan says. “So many of the cars that compete in HSR had the chance to race in IMSA over the years. We are proud to see these cars, with all their unique sights and sounds, still running.

And at IMSA, in the same manner, we are attempting to create the best endurance sports car racing history each and every event–each and every year. So, in many ways, IMSA is constantly creating the next batch of HSR content.

HSR also brings so much passion to IMSA,” Doonan continues. “The teams, drivers and staff that compete and operate in HSR are absolutely an extension of the values of IMSA.”

In other words, so far, so good.

HSR, which recently added the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion to its schedule, provides a template for where vintage racing has been–and where it’s headed next.

But with his own racing, plus taking care of a thriving restoration shop, it was too much, and Hinton decided to take IMSA’s offer to buy HSR, though he’d remain president. It happened in January of 2022.

The vintage racing business is good, he says, but the last few years have been a challenge, first with the covid pandemic and now with resulting higher prices for many goods and services. A substantial part of HSR’s customer base comes from overseas, mostly Europe. Covid, of course, slowed the participation from overseas because of travel restrictions, but a lingering issue remains: shipping costs, which have risen for everyone with no indication of when they’ll go down.

European racers typically rent a container and have their cars shipped to the U.S.“A container and shipping used to cost $5000,” Hinton says. “Now it’s $18,000. That makes it unaffordable for a lot of our competitors.”

Even so, there were about 125 entries for HSR’s biggest race, the Classic 24 at Daytona last November, which was followed by a similar 12-hour event at Sebring International Raceway. The Classic 24 is an idea that originated with a similar event at Le Mans. Entries are divided into six classes based on era. 

One class races for 55 minutes, then takes a 4-hour break while the second class races, then the third, then the fourth. Each class gets in nearly 4hours of racing in the 24-hour period, with plenty of time to work on cars, refuel and rest up.

And to socialize. That’s a big part of vintage racing.

As for vintage cars, we’re assured a healthy supply for years to come, Hinton says. “We’re just going to keep developing the series because as more and more of these current IMSA cars get retired–in the Michelin Pilot series or in the WeatherTech classes–those cars will continue to race with HSR

People have seen the cars out there racing in IMSA and say, ‘I’ve got to have one of those.’ And we have a home for them.” 

To be considered vintage in HSR, cars must be at least 5 years old. And even newer cars can race as exhibition entries.

Just this year, for instance, all of IMSA’s outgoing DPi prototypes be-came obsolete with the all-new GTP class. Those older prototypes will likely be sold off and end up in a historic series. The cars are durable, and parts should be available for quite a while.

I still think people will have interest in the older cars,” Hinton continues. “The Mustangs, the Corvettes, they’re always going to be popular.

By 2035, I think vintage racing will still be strong, and as the world goes more and more towards alternative power, I think it’s just going to get stronger. I know I’m not going to stand at the fence and watch an electric car go by. I hope its 20 or 30 years away, but the way people are pushing it–the current administration wants us to go in that direction really badly–it could be sooner.”

Hinton has been around vintage racing all his life. “My dad raced old Jaguars in England,” he explains. “He was a classic car dealer. I was always interested in it. He moved to America in the early 1980s to open a shop in Florida, and I followed him over.”

Hinton was vintage racing himself–he still is–when the owner of HSR asked him to become a partner. He accepted–along with two other racers, now deceased–and ended up owning HSR outright. 


David Hinton and John Doonan, presidents of HSR and IMSA, respectively, share a common vision regarding motorsports: Yesterday’s pro cars will become tomorrow’s historic race cars. 

As far as the IMSA takeover goes, it has “really been great,” Hinton continues. “They’ve been good to work with. John Doonan has become a good friend, he’s been a big help. I think we’re in good hands. I really do. They’re a big company, but they truly have an appreciation for the history of motorsports, and I think we can carry that torch for them.”

Doonan doesn’t doubt it: “I am a firm believer that the history of our sport is what has allowed us to arrive at where we are today. From various technological advancements that have been developed through racing over the years to so many iconic brands and models that have established themselves in the marketplace through motorsports, the people and vehicles that blazed the trail cannot be forgotten and should absolutely be celebrated forever.

“Just as musicians and bands never stop playing their original hits, we believe we should continue to race the fan favorites.”

Part of the acquisition has included a plan to increase the body’s reach regarding venues and fans. “As we add new venues and new opportunities for our HSR members to compete and showcase their cars in the coming years, we want to attract new fans and enthusiasts, especially the younger, next-generation audience,” Doonan notes. 

Bringing the younger generation into the fold is critical for the continued success of vintage racing, he explains. “We believe that our current-era audience needs to see and hear the cars of the past as a history lesson. In the same manner, we feel that fans of vintage racing should see, hear and feel that we are carrying on the traditions that they have helped established–with new technologies but the same passion that established our sport from day one.”

Of course, you can’t have vintage racing without the racers themselves, and several prominent ones see a bright future for historics. Butch Leitzinger, 54, a pro driver for years–he has class wins at Le Mans, Sebring and Daytona–is a major supporter of historic racing. 

“Technology is going so much more toward electricity, and I think vintage racing will become just that much more popular as people who talk about the days when cars made noise want to see them,” he says. “I think we’ll probably just get stronger. I am a proponent of electric power, but there is a lot of romanticism in a mechanical engine, so I think we’ll be the place people come to see how cars used to be.”

Andy Wallace, 62, has both overall and class wins on his resumé at the 24Hours of Le Mans, along with three wins at Daytona and two at Sebring. When he isn’t vintage racing, he’s Bugatti’s official test driver, having set a record of 304.77mph in a Bugatti Chiron.

“The world went through quite a bit with covid and it slowed every-thing, but it looks like historic racing is coming back up,” Wallace told us at the Classic 24 at Daytona. “Every time you come to an event, it’s to have fun. The competition is less intense than professional racing, but it’s always strong. 

“The people who are here want to be here, showing off their wonderful cars that have been really well looked after by their crews. And coming to Daytona–I did the 24 Hours more than 20 times, and you’re never going to forget that. You drive into the track and it feels like you’re back home.”

As for Wallace’s predictions for 2035 and beyond: “I think our cars will still be running. What stops them might be the electrification and perhaps you couldn’t find a computer to run the internal-combustion cars.”

Still, “There’s a massive group of people who are crazy about vintage racing. My only worry is trying to get more younger people interested in historics. I think you’re okay in the U.S. because most young people drive, but in Europe there’s quite a few younger people who don’t even have a driver’s license. It’s quite disturbing to think about it.

“Before gasoline cars were invented,” he continues, “we were getting around on horseback. And there’s still plenty of people who like to ride horses. I don’t think it’ll really be any different.

“Watching a vintage race just brings everything back: Oh, I remember that car, and that car and that car. I know I’m getting on a bit in years, but there are plenty of people who like that, even young people.”

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Comments
Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
8/15/23 9:46 a.m.

Sounds like a promising future for vintage racing.

ROBERT TRANCHANT
ROBERT TRANCHANT New Reader
8/15/23 11:32 a.m.

I dread the coming days of racing without fire, snaps, crackles, and pops.

Sonett323
Sonett323 New Reader
8/15/23 1:03 p.m.

Don't worry. You could have plenty of fire,snap, crackle and pops in the parking lot in the future.

Coupefan
Coupefan Reader
8/16/23 11:54 p.m.

Remember horses?  Those totally utilitarian transport devices that suddenly gave way to the automobile?  Where are they now?  They've practically become the toys of the rich.  While I doubt (for many reasons too long to discuss here), the same thing will not befall the ICE vintage or collector cars.  In a (paper!) car club newsletter many years ago, a column I wrote predicted that as the infrastructure universe of the ICE fell (think active oil drilling to processing to spare parts to mechanic expertise) the cars we all love would gain even more of a boutique status.  I teased a chemical engineer friend of mine that he would have a second career cooking up special designer fuel and lubricants for specialty cars, selling the best stuff to people with seven digit cars for hundreds of dollars a gallon on track day.  Apparently, the argument I presented got his attention. 

frenchyd
frenchyd MegaDork
8/20/23 5:04 p.m.
Colin Wood said:

Sounds like a promising future for vintage racing.

As a serious Gearhead. I want self driving EV's as soon as possible .  Let people climb in the back seat after giving their destination and let the computer do the driving.  
  Save the rest of us from accidents and multitasking people too distracted to pay attention. 
   The real payoff is no speed limits and cars inches apart. So trips are done without stop signs or congestion.  
 Leaving us more time to work on our cars/projects/ hobby. 
    On weekends we take our cars to various tracks and gathering places. And have fun.  

frenchyd
frenchyd MegaDork
8/21/23 5:39 a.m.
Coupefan said:

Remember horses?  Those totally utilitarian transport devices that suddenly gave way to the automobile?  Where are they now?  They've practically become the toys of the rich.  While I doubt (for many reasons too long to discuss here), the same thing will not befall the ICE vintage or collector cars.  In a (paper!) car club newsletter many years ago, a column I wrote predicted that as the infrastructure universe of the ICE fell (think active oil drilling to processing to spare parts to mechanic expertise) the cars we all love would gain even more of a boutique status.  I teased a chemical engineer friend of mine that he would have a second career cooking up special designer fuel and lubricants for specialty cars, selling the best stuff to people with seven digit cars for hundreds of dollars a gallon on track day.  Apparently, the argument I presented got his attention. 

People fail to remember the horrors of horses. The only time they are seen today is in idyllic   pasture settings where they are carefully pampered and kept at great cost.  
     They don't know about the daily  tons of manure pulled from city streets or horses whipped, abused, and neglected.  Like some people treat cars  today.  
  The rag peddler  trying to get a tired half starved old horse to pull an overloaded wagon  who finally succumbs to such abuse and neglect.  Who's owner  leaves the horse  lay for the city to deal with.   
   The stench from rotting  carcasses, tons of manure and horse piss made life pretty miserable.  
  Not to mention, horses have brains.  They remember past abuses and neglect, act up, toss riders or carriages. 
  Need regular shoeing, broken harness and saddles.  Get sick, need vets.  Plus the riders used horses rain or sun, snow or cold. With nothing but a hat to offer protection. 
    There were no horse whisperers back then. A bullet in the brain  was what some horses were given for acting up or tossing it's rider. 
   So yeh!    I can see carefully tended ICE cars pampered and polished.  Occasionally brought out  to school gatherings or shows.  Gently driven  on sunny days.  Or the occasional vintage race.  
  Come-on EV's with FSD 

Coupefan
Coupefan Reader
3/16/24 11:41 a.m.
frenchyd said:
Coupefan said:

Remember horses?  Those totally utilitarian transport devices that suddenly gave way to the automobile?  Where are they now?  They've practically become the toys of the rich.  While I doubt (for many reasons too long to discuss here), the same thing will not befall the ICE vintage or collector cars.  In a (paper!) car club newsletter many years ago, a column I wrote predicted that as the infrastructure universe of the ICE fell (think active oil drilling to processing to spare parts to mechanic expertise) the cars we all love would gain even more of a boutique status.  I teased a chemical engineer friend of mine that he would have a second career cooking up special designer fuel and lubricants for specialty cars, selling the best stuff to people with seven digit cars for hundreds of dollars a gallon on track day.  Apparently, the argument I presented got his attention. 

People fail to remember the horrors of horses. The only time they are seen today is in idyllic   pasture settings where they are carefully pampered and kept at great cost.  
     They don't know about the daily  tons of manure pulled from city streets or horses whipped, abused, and neglected.  Like some people treat cars  today.  
  The rag peddler  trying to get a tired half starved old horse to pull an overloaded wagon  who finally succumbs to such abuse and neglect.  Who's owner  leaves the horse  lay for the city to deal with.   
   The stench from rotting  carcasses, tons of manure and horse piss made life pretty miserable.  
  Not to mention, horses have brains.  They remember past abuses and neglect, act up, toss riders or carriages. 
  Need regular shoeing, broken harness and saddles.  Get sick, need vets.  Plus the riders used horses rain or sun, snow or cold. With nothing but a hat to offer protection. 
    There were no horse whisperers back then. A bullet in the brain  was what some horses were given for acting up or tossing it's rider. 
   So yeh!    I can see carefully tended ICE cars pampered and polished.  Occasionally brought out  to school gatherings or shows.  Gently driven  on sunny days.  Or the occasional vintage race.  
  Come-on EV's with FSD 

I know it a recycled thread, but I'm very informed on the situation of the day.  Did you know NYC employed a force of over 5000 workers who dealt with the ankle-high, or higher, horse dung 24/7?  There are pictures of the 'mess' available for viewing through a quick internet search, that will just disgust you if you think of the smell and potential disease.  The other stat I like throwing around about disruptive technologies taking over is the number of permitted horses in NYC and the greater metro area.  In 1907, there were about 480,000 horses permitted.  A short ten years later, the number dropped to just over 6000.  All those businesses and industries that relied upon the horse, essentially vanished overnight. The only reason I like to quote the situation in New York City is all of it is well documented, through official data, reports and photographs, and it's one of the easiest places to use as an example because of that material. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
3/18/24 4:28 p.m.

Sort of as a PS to this, but we just met with the new president of HSR. Video coming up shortly. 

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