This next post features the SVRA Vintage Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio. The article appeared in the September 2012 issue. Volume 27, No. 9
Mechanics Bank Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio/June 22-24, 2012
Story and photographs by Terry Johnsen
While enjoying the drive along the rolling hills of Steam Corners Road in Lexington, Ohio, the thought comes to mind that this is the perfect environment for a challenging and picturesque road racing circuit. It is no wonder that this area was chosen for the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The track opened in 1962, and has been host to some of the most premiere professional and respected amateur road racing series in the country. On this most perfect weekend of weather, Mid-Ohio welcomed the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) for their 30th consecutive year at the track. A huge field of competitors and cars roared to life for the Mechanics Bank Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio.
Only one week prior, at the legendary 24 Hours of LeMans, the latest breed of sports cars competed for racing’s highest honors. Now, just one week later it seems as though everyone who is a sports car enthusiast has been injected with the excitement of history, legend, and tradition. The Mechanics Bank Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio featured Marque for 2012 was entitled the “British Invasion”. This all inclusive call to glory included some of the most legendary names in sports car history. Names such as Jaguar, Lotus, MG, Triumph, Morgan, Ginetta, and Lola bring to mind endless stories of racing glory. These classic marques are still bringing excitement and enjoyment to competitors and fans alike.
Saturday’s featured event was the “British Invasion” race for Groups 1, 3, & 4. The race was won by Max Heilmann (Kenton, OH), who piloted his immaculate white (#78) 1958 Jaguar XK150 to victory. Max noted the long straights are where his car was able to take advantage of its power and make-up time that may have been lost in the slower, more technical corners. Max also recalled that his car appeared on the cover of Victory Lane Magazine in approximately 1988, at the time bearing #1, while at a vintage event at Mid-Ohio. It’s still winning after all these years. Second place in the “British Invasion” feature race was Charles Guest (Greensboro, NC) who piloted his (#211) 1967 MG Midget. Third place belonged to Greg Miller (Richmond, VA), in his (#4) 1962 Morgan 4×4.
A full weekend of racing culminated on Sunday with a fantastic schedule of events, beginning bright and early with the first race of the day at 8:15 am, featuring Groups 3 and 4b. The race was won by Denny Wilson (Washington, MO), driving his (#7) 1962 Lotus Super 7. Second place was claimed by John Higgins (Dayton, OH), in his (#44) 1959 Porsche 718RSK. Securing the third spot was Vic Skirmants (North Branch, MI) in his (#70) 1961 Porsche 356B Roadster.
The following race for Group 1 was a thrilling duel that saw numerous lead changes as the top three separated themselves from the pack. First place went to Rick Haynes (Hebron, OH), driving his (#3) 1966 MG Midget. Coming in a close second was Craig Chima (Akron, OH), in his (#5) 1962 Lotus 7. Taking third in the leading trio was Pat Ryan (Fletcher, NC) in his (#16) 1967 Triumph Spitfire.
Next on the schedule was the “Mike Stott-UBS Financial Historic Enduro” for Groups 5b, 6, 7, 10, & 11. This was a race for power and speed to flex their muscles. Leading the way were cars that no-so-long-ago were competing at the highest level in sports car racing on the world stage. Coming in first was David Porter (Darien, CT), driving his beautiful (#18) 2007 Pescarolo/Judd LMP. Charging hard and coming in second place was Travis Engen (Weston, CT), in the fan favorite (#2) silver 2005 Audi R8 LMP. Bringing home third place was the husband and wife team of David and Andrea Robertson (Braselton, GA), who just one year ago on the their wedding anniversary stood on the podium at the 79th running of the 24 Hours of LeMans, taking third in the GT/Am category. Today they were driving their (#04) 2006 Ford GT MkVII, again taking third.
Saturday’s “Mike Stott-UBS Financial Classic Enduro” was won by Travis Engen (Weston, CT), piloting his (#1) 1962 Lotus 23B. Ralph Salomon (Katonah, NY) set a steady pace to take second place in his (#98) 1961 Ginetta G4. Third place belonged to George Balbach (Lake Forest, IL), in his 1961 Porsche 356.
Immediately following Sunday’s Historic Enduro was the race for Group 8. The race was won by Todd Treffert (Naples, FL), driving his (#14) 1973 Porsche 911. Setting a nice pace and coming in second place was Debbie Cloud (Wellington, OH), in her (#53) 1995 Ford Mustang Cobra. Bringing home third position was Tom Briest (Tarpon Springs, FL) in his (#711) 1970 Porsche 914/6.
The last race of the morning was for Groups 2 and 7b. This was fitting conclusion to a great morning of racing as it was highly competitive throughout. In the end Joe Blacker (Columbia, MD), took the victory in his sleek (#29) 1969 Brabham BT29. Closely behind in second place came Travis Engen (Weston, CT), in his (#1) 1970 Chevron B17b. Following in third position was Bob Lima (Meadowbrook, PA) in his (#19) 1967 Brabham BT21.
The lunch break allowed fans to break-away from the action to see the vast array of wonderful cars on display featured in the 14th Annual British Car Showdown and the Concours d’Elegance competition. The Grand Marshal for the Mechanics Bank Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio was Ohio native, Tom Yeager. He has a long and distinguished career that dates back to the early days of Mid-Ohio since its inception in 1962. His career includes competing in SCCA and Trans-Am, along with appearances at Sebring and Daytona. During the Sunday Lunch Break, Tom Yeager was interviewed by track announcer John Fippin. As they reminisced about Yeager’s racing career and his long-standing tie to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Yeager referenced the original layout of the track. He mentioned that even today the “Big Oak” and an original portion of the track can still be seen at the far end of the circuit near turn 9 and Thunder Valley. At the time I was listening to the track PA system and this interview I just so happened to be near “the Big Oak”, and there in plain view was the original portion of the track surface he mentioned. Echoes of the past comes to mind as you walk on that surface and think about the glory days as Mid-Ohio was just being established as one of our country’s classic venues. Those were very fitting memories on this Vintage Grand Prix weekend.
The afternoon agenda began with the BMW/Alfa/Datsun Challenge Race, won by Jim Lenehan (Rydal, PA) driving his beautiful white with red and blue stripes (#240) 1971 Datsun 240Z. Afterwards Lenehan commented that it was a real fun race, and was very competitive. He added that there was a good turn-out of competitors and that all of the groups were competitive. He stated that the event and setting offered lots of nostalgia on this vintage grand prix weekend. Coming in a close second was Joe Maloy (Bridgeville, PA), in his (#39) 1968 Datsun PL510. Taking third step on the podium was Curt Richards (Lexington, KY) in his (#24) 1991 BMW 318.
The next race featured Group 11. It was a repeated finish for the top two spots as in the Historic Enduro. David Porter (Darien, CT) took the win in his (#18) Pescarolo/Judd. Travis Engen (Weston, CT) brought home another second place finish in his (#2) 2005 Audi R8 LMP. Taking third place was David Nikolas (Orchard Lake, MI) in his thundering “Budweiser” (#5) 1981 March 817.
The next race on the afternoon schedule was for Group 7a. This featured a hot battle that was won by Ben Sinnott (Fairfield, CT) in his ever-quick, black (#15) 1991 Lola T9190. Coming in a close and competitive second place was John Kramer (Chicago, IL), in his (#19) 1985 Swift DB2. Third place went to Richard Duffey (Brookfield, WI), in his (#167) 1985 Swift DB2.
Next on the agenda was the race for Groups 6 and 10A. The sound and roar of this race got everyone’s attention, and the racing heated up as well. Leading a “Chevrolet sweep” and taking first place was Jeff Bernatovich (Brewerton, NY), driving his brilliantly red 1990 Chevrolet Corvette GT1. Second place honors went to Sean Ryan (Biltmore Lake, NC), in his (#117) 1970 Chevrolet Camaro. Close behind and in third place was Mark Rife (Carolina Beach, CA), in his (#17) 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Roadster.
Group 9 and the Lola marque highlighted the next race. First place belonged to Shelby Mershon (Springfield, OH) in the (#1) 1997 Lola T9720. Second spot was claimed by David Porter (Darien, CT) in his (#16) 1997 Lola T9720. The third and final podium step went to Charles Monk (Port Edward, ONT), who also drove a (#69) 1997 Lola T9720.
The final race of the weekend was for Groups 4a and 5, and it proved to be good to the last lap. Ken Mennella (Armonk, NY) piloted his (#000) 1963 Chevrolet Corvette GSRep for the win. Graham Adelman (Free Union, VA) took second spot in his (#58) 1962 Lotus 23B. Third position was secured by a very busy Travis Engen (Weston, CT), in his (#1) 1962 Lotus 23B.
The competition didn’t end there. The fans were the real winners of the weekend, as they were also treated to two unbelievable car shows throughout the weekend. A wonderful display of sports cars dating back over 60 years graced the open field opposite the start-finish line. The “People’s Choice Award” for both the Concours d’Elegance and for the 14th Annual British Car Showdown went to the elegant and magnificent 1946 MG-TC S-Type (Jack Smittle).
By late Sunday afternoon another fulfilling race weekend was complete. Now it’s back to the future as we step into our hybrids, smart cars, and creature comfort vehicles for the ride home. I can’t help but think, “they don’t make ‘em like they used to.” That’s why we keep coming back to these wonderful events. The Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course together made the Mechanics Bank Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio a huge success. I can’t wait for next year to take another trip back in time in the beautiful hills of Central Ohio.