June 24, 2012
Okay, I’m becoming a fan of this whole vintage racing thing.
Years ago, vintage racing began with a handful of guys who had old cars but were afraid to drive them. Now it’s exploded and the competition level is insane.
The theme for this weekend’s Vintage Grand Prix of Mid Ohio was “British Marques,” complete with a race event dedicated solely to old English cars. When the green flag came out, about one-quarter of the cars in the field puffed out a big billow of oil smoke.
Hey, at least we know they’re genuine British cars. And it’s eternally satisfying to know that they run with the same lovable nuances today that they did fifty years ago.
The entire field put on an enormously entertaining show, and this business of driving around on glorified exhibition laps is long gone. These guys were getting after it.
In the American vintage class, my pal J. B. Mattison and his 1969 Corvette hit 151 miles per hour on the backstretch in a pack of about ten cars, all door-to-door. Believe me, you don’t turn exhibition laps at a buck and a half. This was really good racing.
It’s also a great car show. Imagine what you’d see during a trip to your local hot rod drive-in on Saturday night, minus the shoebox Chevy’s, plus a heavy dose of European road machines. That’s what you have at a vintage racing event.
Vendors offered T-shirts, posters and paintings. There was enough food on the grounds to make any county fair proud.
But by and large, vintage racing is still participant driven. Why don’t more people go to these things?
While sitting in the upper echelon of grandstands at the entry to pit road, a sobering thought occurred. Pretty soon, vintage racing will be the only racing there is because the automobile itself will be dated.
How much longer will the piston-powered gasoline automobile be around? How many more generations will enjoy the glorious thunder of an American V8, or hear the grind of a gearbox at the apex of a corner?
Remember all those people in the 1930’s who were floating around in those old dirigibles… you know… the Hindenburg and such? They thought they were riding the new wave of forever, when in fact, the days of the blimp were numbered. They didn’t know what they’d soon be missing. One of the classic modes of air travel would cease to exist right under their noses and hardly anyone would even notice.
Folks, the days of the automobile are numbered. Wake up.
One of two things is bound to occur in the not too distant future. Either the government will get out of transportation and entrepreneurs will quickly make the traditional automobile obsolete by creating something vastly superior, or government will not get out of transportation and will utterly destroy what little has survived their heavy handed interference thus far.
Either way, the automobile as we know it will be lucky if it outlives our grandchildren.
For anyone who thinks that auto racing is still a grand and noble showcase for the cutting edge of automotive ingenuity, I have one word for you – NASCAR.
Auto racing is no longer a proving ground for the automobile. On the contrary, if your race team thinks up a way to go faster, the sanctioning body will outlaw it in ten minutes. Then you’ll be fined and placed on probation. Even the most advanced racing on earth – Formula 1 – spends more time outlawing technology than promoting it.
There are no more Ray Harroun’s out there inventing rear view mirrors at the Indianapolis 500. Racing doesn’t exhibit technology anymore. It limits it.
My point is that those magnificent men and their driving machines will not be among us forever. We are living in what history will view as a narrow window of time in which the piston powered, gasoline driven, four-wheeled automobile defined the world.
Vintage racing is not truly about the past. It is a vision of our future – a future in which auto racing will be viewed as a dying leftover of a bygone age, much like the traveling, three-ring circus is seen today.
One day, all racing will be vintage racing. So go enjoy it while you can.
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