I LOVE ogling the details on classic, high performance vehicles. Especially Lotus models. And there is NOTHING like chat-ting up a proud owner/driver of such an iconic vehicle as a Lotus 71, or a Cheetah, just AFTER a stirring race session!
If any of these images make your heart skip a beat, you owe it to yourself to make a weekend of one the VSCDA Vintage Race weekends held across the Midwest each season.
I took such a drive down “memory lane” this September at the Fall Vintage Festival at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The weekend of September 16-18 includes Friday with what usually is the fun of drivers reacquainting themselves with the classic track at “America’s National Park Of Speed”. But this year, Friday was a day to reinforce awnings and catch up on details of mechanical perfection in one’s ‘pride and joy’, as the track was a “chain of’ lakes”. Fortunately, I arrived in Plymouth at the “52 Stafford” that evening, AFTER the deluge. The Stafford is a charming Victorian road-house/pub, and features 19 rooms above the entry/restaurant/bar serving absolutely delectable Irish ‘comfort food!’ It’s right across the street from the regional Cheese Market of a bygone era in downtown Plymouth.
Saturday morning, I was first downstairs to the personable breakfast, including a customized omelet and all the ‘fixins’! I straddled my handy-dandy Mountain Bike and reveled in the cool morning sunshine for the 20 minute ride north to the track, comfortably donning a daypack with my supplies for the day AND my track-side transportation at the same time. Road America is long enough that a bike is highly advised to allow flexible viewing throughout the day. The best views for a Formula I car differs from that for a Healey Bug-eye, and might be as much as a mile apart!
My first stop was at the pit of one James Buchanan, who drives a pristine Formula Ford Series I Merlin, #66. James is only 4 years into his racing career, having made the transition from sail-boat racing to Formula Ford (Isn’t that the usual path to glory?!?).
I have talked with him over that time period several times, and today he absolutely shocked me! When first he started racing, it was with the usual temerity of a proud owner, but this morning he passed at least three in his short, qualifying race! What a transformation! Now that’s how you make a good car look really GREAT!
Next, I made a new friend in the upper pits: Chuck Smith is the protective owner of a 1991 Tiga FF. Chuck is delighted to reveal the “secret” air channels that this Series II FF automobile used to create its own ‘unfair advantage’ in the day! And to recount the story of the ‘find,’ the rebuild and his journey in Vintage Racing for the last 10 years. Chuck LOVES Mid-Ohio as a venue, and chose to use this weekend to enjoy Road America from the back third of the grid. He is complementary of his peers in the FF pack, and praises their skill as well as their camaraderie in the open-wheel parade of speed.
After the morning qualification sessions, I cruised the ‘middle’ pits, and found several Lotus Formula Juniors, a couple of fine Super Sevens, and the beautiful Lotus 71 owned by Charlie Van Dyke. Charlie was pumped by how well this sleek bullet was running, vowed not to “touch anything,” and was delighted to tell of his love of the Lotus Marque. It turns out that he also owns a Lotus 11, which, alas, is worth ‘too much to put on the track any-more!’ He, and his cars, are a treasure trove of Lotus lore, exuding the passion that Colin himself injected into these hybrid and seminal vehicles of 40-60 years ago!
Late Saturday Brian Garcia caught my attention, driving a Cheetah ‘roadster’ in the Sports Racing Cars Sprint Race to an impressive winning margin. I had to drop by and complement his presentation of such an iconic vehicle, and was caught off-guard when he told me he had done so, after the first two laps, stuck in THIRD GEAR!! (Big block American Iron has its advantages, I guess!!) He calmly suggested that he would fix it overnight, and ‘shift conservatively’ on Sunday. Which he did. Again to first place, but using ALL the gears this time! Seeing the real item that launched dozens of us young slot car racers was great fun. The shape is unique, whether it’s a Cox 24th-scale in the slots, or the original shot out of the corners at Road America!
Over Lunch Hour, I caught up with “Duck” Waddle, the Grand-daddy of the VSCDA, and eloquent, yet simply, genius interpreter of driving on the track, for a ‘Chalk-Talk’ with a couple of other reminiscing fans. His advice: “If you put your eyes in the right place, your car will follow!” (He also quite accurately observed that my Westfield was “quick!”)
At the end of the long canopy holding the ten Formula Junior cars on hand this weekend, was my favorite car of the weekend; a subtly smooth and calmly FAST 1965 Lotus 23 owned by one Jim Gewinner. Saturday this car just smoothed its way to a 3rd place in the Sprint Race for its group (Historic Production GTU and Sports Racing Cars), but won my admiration for its under-stated elegance just standing still! Sunday this vehicle was in its own world, lapping at over a mile/hour faster than Saturday and winning going away.
The final event of the weekend saw the Formula Fords running with Sports and Racing machinery, and allowed me to drool over the Merlin, the Tiga, AND that lovely ‘23’, which won handily, lapping most of the field. But the point this weekend wasn’t the wins. It was THE CARS! And they delivered in spades.
The venue is an easy 2.5 hour cruise from home, and is one of my favorite weekend experiences. Finding the “52 Stafford” sealed the deal: I will be back! I would love to organize a Lotus Corps assault on the experience this next season. Think about it; competition Lotus machines in their element, enthusiastic owner/mechanics to tell the tales, and a delightful Road House in which to gather and recount the day’s discoveries in the evening!
In 2017, Road America has Vintage Racing weekends the 3rd weekends of May and September for VSCDA and the 4th weekend in July for the Brian Redman vintage race weekend. In other VSCDA Midwest schedules, Gingerman Raceway in southwest Michigan has a race meet the first weekend of May, and Black-hawk Farms in South Beloit, WI, has their competition the 3rd weekend of June. Grattan Raceway in Belding, MI, schedules the VSCDA the 3rd weekend in August this coming season.