Victory Lane Magazine: February 2014, Volume 29, No. 2
Friday, November 29 – Sunday, December 1, 2013
Story and Photos by Terry Johnsen
Planning for outdoor activities in late November is always tricky. Though, the VRG Turkey Bowl has always been able to dodge the big one. Less than a week earlier, one of those rain, sleet, and snow beauties came through the East Coast states, snarling up pre-Thanksgiving travel plans for everyone. But just a few days later, calm winds and a brisk chill with temperatures in the mid-30’s/lower 40’s welcomed the competitors of the Vintage Racer Group’s Annual Turkey Bowl. The event is held every year at Summit Point Raceway, located in the rolling splendor of West Virginia. A healthy field of just over 100 entries filled the grids in the five featured groups: Group 1/Vintage Small Bore (<2 liter), Group 2/Open Wheel & Sports 2000, Group 3/Vintage Big Bore (>2 liter), Group 4/Modern Sports GT & Baby Grand, and Group 5/Legend Class. Prior to the race activity on Saturday, I was able to spend some time and speak with a few notable VRG representatives for their reflective thoughts on 2013 and for the future.
I first met with Michael Oritt, who this year’s Event Chairman for the Turkey Bowl. He only had a moment or two to spare, as he was preparing his white and red, 1958 Elva Mk IV SR (Slow Dance Racing) for a morning practice session. Michael described the weather as decent for this time of year, and typical for the Turkey Bowl. Friday’s weather conditions were expected to be the best of the entire weekend, with temperatures hovering in the low 40’s. Needless to say the track was slick, as was expected. He noted that the schedule for Saturday featured two exciting activities later in the afternoon. The first was a lunch time charity ride activity that raised money and awareness for a group called High Performance Heroes. They have formed to assist combat-injured service personnel, empowering them to achieve their motorsports aspirations. Later, the track activity for the day closes with the Turkey Bowl Relay Race. This unique VRG concept consists of five teams that are made up with a representative car from each of the five groups. It’s fun…they’re not keeping score…everyone has a blast! I then proceeded to the warmth and comfort of the Summit Point instruction room and continued my conversations.
Next, I was able to speak with Mack McCormack. He had just assumed the position as President of the Vintage Racer Group (VRG). He most recently served as the Vice President under outgoing President, Bill Hollingsworth. Mack shared his thoughts on a variety of topics to include; becoming President, the 2013 season, the upcoming 2014 season and beyond. He began by stating that VRG is doing very well, adding that his job is to maintain the momentum of the group for the three years of his term. Mack explained that VRG is known for fun, fair, and safe racing. When looking back on the 2013 season, he noted that VRG grew their ranks and welcomed 57 new members, increased their overall Formula Ford car count, and that they strive to continue that trend. Mack stated that Group 1 has been their strength, but that the goal is to increase the numbers of the big bore entrants. Looking forward to 2014, Mack added that VRG will be involved in the re-opening of a classic and historical road course, Thompson Speedway in the northeast corner of Connecticut. The facility originally opened in 1938 and has a long and prominent history featuring an oval track. The Hoenig family is now dedicated to bringing road-racing back to Thompson through the redevelopment of the road course. The facility will celebrate it’s re-opening (June 27-29, 2014) with an event co-sanctioned by VRG & VSCCA. Mack was also excited to talk about a special Formula Ford Challenge being planned for 2014. The series will consist of three races to be held at The Jefferson 500 (May 14-18), the PVPG Historic Races (July 11-13), and the New Jersey Historic Races (September 19-21). Overall, Mack noted that VRG’s strength derives from being able to provide a lot of track activity for the cost of an entry fee. A good racing value. Looking forward and beyond his term, Mack stated the goal is to maintain the path that they’re on…”we have a good thing.” He added VRG has term limits for their leadership positions, which then fosters new and fresh ideas of improvement.
Next I had the pleasure to speak with Mark Palmer. He was one of the founding members of VRG and a past President. When asked to share his views on the Turkey Bowl, Mark noted that it’s a low-key event, just for fun. He went on to add that there is a different kind of camaraderie that prompts fellow competitors to come out in these conditions. He referred to them as the “true believers.” There are no timing and scoring sheets to worry about, no trophies. The goal is to have fun and bring your car home in one piece. He offered one caveat, and mentioned that there is an award called the “Tom Turkey Award”. This light-hearted award goes to the person who has done “the stupidest thing during the weekend.” (Writer’s note: I’ll allow the identity of the honored recipient to stay within the brotherhood of the Turkey Bowl competitors.) Reflecting back on 2013, Mark stated it was a good year, highlighted by their marquee event, the Jefferson 500. This year’s 500 featured their largest entry count with over 240 car/driver combinations. Mark added that VRG does not hold festival events, but in turn focuses their race meetings on the drivers, offering a great value, maximizing track time. Mark was excited for the future, noting the planned opening of Thompson Speedway road course, adding it was the first purpose-built road racing course in the US. He was very excited for the upcoming Formula Ford series, noting it will coincide and highlight the 45th Anniversary of the Formula Ford racer. When reflecting on Summit Point Raceway, Mark stated that this is one of his favorite tracks. He loved the course for its rhythm and for being a drivers course. He particularly mentioned The Carousel for its multiple flowing corners as being a key area for making up time. Overall, “Summit Point has a real grass-roots feel to it.”
Next, I spoke with Ashley Shutka, Director of Race Operations for High Performance Heroes. She explained that later in the day during lunchtime (Saturday) their organization would be sponsoring an activity to raise funds and awareness for their cause. High Performance Heroes is a group of dedicated individuals from the racing community that has donated their time and talents to develop cars for combat wounded veterans in order for them to pursue their racing dreams. The two Heroes they have been assisting thus far are SSgt. Liam Dwyer and Cpl. Pat Brown of the US Marines. Both of whom were wounded by IED’s; Liam while deployed to Afghanistan and Pat while deployed to Iraq. HPH began there project with developing a blue 1962 Austin-Healey Sprite for Liam. They are currently developing a 1974 MG Midget for Pat, while he in turn is still recovering at Walter Reed Hospital. Ashley noted that a special racing insert seat has already been fashioned at the hospital for Pat. Liam was on hand this weekend and drove a specially prepared 2007 Nissan 350Z in Group 4. This is a fantastic organization that truly needs our continued support and thanks. You can learn more through their website; www.hpheroes.org.
As was noted earlier by Mark Palmer, the Turkey Bowl event does not have timing and scoring. Each group sets their grid based on pace and then they get out there and just have fun. Pretty simple concept and a great way to end the season by getting that last adrenaline fix before winter. Some of the notable pace setters in each group were: Michael Oritt, 1958 Elva Mk IV SR, #82 (Group 1); Harry Sroka, 1967 Autodynamics Mk IV FV, #25 (Group 2); Derek Sweger, 1973 Porsche 911, #177 (Group 3); Liam Dwyer, 2007 Nissan 350Z, #7 (Group 4); and Matt Lewis, 1937 Ford Sedan, #0 (Group 5).
The Vintage Racer Group has yet again put on a fantastic season ending event with the traditional Thanksgiving weekend Turkey Bowl. They served up a healthy plate of sports car road racing and no one went home feeling stuffed. A low-calorie, high-octane menu for sure. The 2014 season looks to be full of great racing, as does the outlook for VRG into the future. Good luck VRG, see you next year!