Victory Lane Magazine: August 2013, Volume 28, No. 8
It was Friday mid-morning when I rolled into Watkins Glen. Damp and rainy was the weather forecast for the day, just as it was the last time I visited the track. That was in October of 1978, and Mario Andretti had just clinched the Formula One World Drivers Championship. That weekend the overflow crowd welcomed home their new champion. Though many years had past, and new accommodations have modernized the facility, it was still the same classic American road racing circuit. The same Watkins Glen that featured all the top series of its time such as Formula One, Can-Am, Formula 5000, Trans-Am, and the World Championship of Makes. The gloomy weather on Friday almost made it seem as if you were in a black and white vintage photograph. All the more appropriate that this was the start of the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) Finger Lakes Wine Country Classic.
President and CEO, Tony Parella, along with his staff have presented a finely run organization, that focuses on “Safe, Fair, and Fun” vintage racing. Together with Watkins Glen International this provided the perfect showcase for SVRA. Soon the cars of yesteryear, and in some cases, just yesterday would take to the track.
By Saturday afternoon the track conditions began to improve and the racing settled into a groove. By Sunday, the weather was perfect. But it was the cars that made this weekend so special. These beautiful classic and historic racers were on display and stretching their legs. Walking through the paddock garage was indeed a special treat. So special in fact, that I came upon two of my all-time favorite historic sports cars, sitting side-by-side. First, was the stunning red, number 5 (#51 for this weekend), Coca-Cola liveried 1984 Porsche 962 (driven by Lee Giannone), and the ever elegant, number 14, Lowenbrau Special liveried 1985 Porsche 962 (driven by Dan Curry). I was lucky enough to have seen both cars race “in period” while living in Florida back in the 80’s. The Coca-Cola car won the first 12 Hours of Sebring I attended in 1986. The names noted above the driver door were Hans Stuck, Bob Akin, and Jo Gartner. Classic.
Racing ultimately took center stage, featuring a full schedule of sprint races and enduros on the 3.37 mile classic road course. Groups 1, 3 & 4 combined for a sprint race Saturday and Sunday. Each race was won by Patrick Bean in his (#60) 1959 Aston Martin DB4. The Saturday race was a dominating performance with Bean crossing the finish line with a 26 second advantage. The Sunday race was much closer, as he pipped Alan Tosler by less than a half a second.
The races that combined Groups 2 & 5 featured identical 1-2-3 finishes. Hobie Buppert drove his beautiful blue and white (#82) 1969 Lola T70 MKIII to victory in each event. In the Saturday sprint, he won by a margin of 17.6 seconds over Cliff Berry and James Cullen. The margin of victory in the Sunday sprint was a commanding 34.3 seconds.
Group 6 also featured a repeat winner in each of their sprints. Frank Beck drove his (#59) 1972 Porsche 914/6 to victory over the duo of Jeff McKain and Keith Dunbar, with McKain claiming second spot on the podium in the Saturday race, while Dunbar took the spot on Sunday.
The trend continued into the races for Group 7. Howard Katz piloted his classic Warsteiner liveried (#205) 1975 Toj 205C to victory in both events. The margin of victory on Saturday was 37 seconds and the difference on Sunday was 30.9 seconds. The fight for the remaining podium positions on both days was just a bit closer, with Alex Miller claiming second spot a whole 8 seconds clear of John Harrold in third. Chris Jones finished second on Sunday, 4 seconds clear of Bob Lima who finished third.
Group 8 saw another 1-2-3 finish in both of their events. Keith Dunbar drove his blue and yellow (#188) 1967 Lotus Elan to victory. But unlike many of the other preceding races, these were extremely tight right down to the checkered flag. In Race 1, Dunbar crossed the line just 1.3 seconds clear of Mayo Smith, with Harry McPherson looming behind in third. Race number 2 saw Dunbar take the victory over Smith with a margin of just .925 of a second. McPherson crossed the line just another 7 tenths behind Smith.
Group 9 featured the top two drivers sharing the victories between themselves. On Saturday, Marc Giroux drove his blue and white (#30) 1997 Lola T9720 to first place with a safe 6.8 second margin over Travis Engen. On Sunday, Engen returned the favor and claimed the top spot in his (#31) 2001 Lola T9720, by a mere .208 of a second.
Group 10 was a run-away. Jeff Bernatovich may have had the most dominating performance in his red (#90) 1990 Chevrolet Corvette. It was as if he was on rails. His margins of victory were 58.5 seconds on Saturday and 37.2 seconds on Sunday. His lines through the corners were the smoothest and most consistent of any of the competitors during the entire weekend. He simply made it look easy.
The Keenan Motors E1 Vintage/Classic Enduro was claimed by Keith Dunbar (#188) in his 1967 Lotus Elan, and the Keenan Motors E2 Historic GT/GTP Enduro was won by the driver pair of George Robinson/Shane Lewis in their (#74) 2007 Lola B0718.
The SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am Series also made an appearance with SVRA for this weekend. Doug Peterson took the win in the Sunday race driving his (#87) 3Dimensional.com/Chevrolet Corvette.
Saturday evening featured an SVRA Driver and Crew Party at the International Motor Racing Research Center, located in the Village of Watkins Glen. This wonderful facility was opened in June of 1999, and features a fine collection of books, films, poster, programs, photographs, magazines, and a vast amount of historical records and documents. It is a fantastic facility and real treasure trove of racing heritage. I recommend it highly. Also, while at the Center you can learn about the original track that began it all in 1948, and its layout. You can actually retrace history by driving the original road course in its entirety. The 6.6 mile circuit begins and ends in the Village of Watkins Glen. The course is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. I lost track of how many laps I drove that weekend. It was such a beautiful drive I just wanted to keep going.