Victory Lane Magazine, December 2014, Volume 29, No.12
Story and photographs by Terry Johnsen
Virginia International Raceway, September 26-28, 2014
The 2014 vintage racing season marked a seasonal change as the calendar turned a page to Autumn. That could only mean one thing, that it’s time to visit Virginia International Raceway (VIR) for The Heacock Classic Gold Cup Historic Races, sanctioned by The Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA). VIR has enjoyed an exciting season of racing and is fresh off of a very successful event in which they hosted a round of the IMSA Tudor United SportsCar Series. But, this weekend was reserved for a special look-back in time. A moment to celebrate the wonderful legacy of vintage sports car racing.
The Heacock Classic Gold Cup Historic Race weekend offered the vintage racing competitors of SVRA an opportunity to experience many of the exciting track improvements that VIR has introduced this year. Those modifications included a total repaving of the Full Course and Paddock area. The Full Course was also widened by 6 feet for a significant portion of the track. The start/finish line was extended further down the track towards pit out, and featured a new start/finish podium tower.
Track Owner/CEO Connie Nyholm has been involved with the expansion of VIR since its rebirth in 2000. Connie noted that hosting premiere series such as IMSA and SVRA has put VIR on the map with other classic road racing tracks such as Sebring, Road Atlanta, Lime Rock, Watkins Glen, Road America, Mid-Ohio, and Mazda Raceway/Laguna Seca. The 3.27 mile Full Course that ebbs and flows over the rolling natural terrain of Southern Virginia serves as a perfect venue for vintage racing. Connie was very pleased to mention that VIR and SVRA are now in the second year of a five year agreement.
The Friday racing schedule of events concluded with a track walk, led by SVRA Chief Driving Instructor, Peter Krause. The walk benefited High Performance Heroes, a group that is dedicated to helping combat wounded veterans achieve their motorsports dream of racing. Peter Krause described VIR as a wonderful track, a natural terrain road course, in the classic European tradition. Peter noted, “the best drivers make a study of this place and are rewarded more than other tracks.” He stated that all of the corners are linked and that a mistake can have an impact on down through the lap. He added, “Precision and accuracy are highly prized.” Peter described that the global grip of the track is greater since the repaving project, and that the Spec Miata Full Course lap time dropped exactly 4 seconds. In all, the track walk illustrated the various nuances and technical challenges that VIR presents. I came away with a new found respect for an already renowned track.
The weekend also marked the final event of SVRA’s East Coast season. Saturday evening featured the “Black & White” awards dinner. To begin the night of celebration and recognition, VIR’s Owner/CEO, Connie Nyholm made two important announcements. First, she presented the Spirit Award to Pete van ver Vate. Pete raced at VIR from 1960 through 1974, and holds the distinction and honor of being the winningest driver in VIR history. Connie then introduced writer, Bill King, and presented him with gifts of appreciation for having completed a recent book that chronicles the early history of Virginia International Raceway. The book is entitled, “VIR – A Living History”. This is Part One: The Early Years (1956-59). It’s a fascinating book with amazing photos and track history.
SVRA President/CEO, Tony Parella, announced the two newest inductees into the SVRA Hall of Fame. Robert Path and West Clapp were introduced as the 2014 class of honorees. Many of the endurance and sprint series overall winners were announced, yet a few titles were still up for grabs during the Gold Cup weekend. The recipient of the prestigious Driver of the Year Award for 2014, was Mark Giroux. During the awards ceremony, Competition Director Ray Snowdon, stated during his comments, that in his opinion the racing he has witnessed during the weekend was some of the finest he has ever seen. The trend continued , because Sunday’s Gold Cup races were just as memorable.
The Gold Cup race for Group 7A opened Sunday’s busy day of racing. Ben Sinnott (Fairfield, CT) led the way in his 1991 Lola T91/90 (#5). His pace was impressive as he pulled away from the 2nd place and 3rd place finishers, Mark Coombs (Chicago, IL) and Dave Handy (Semora, NC). Ben also recorded the best time of the race with a 1:57.203.
Next up on the schedule for the day was the Group 1 Gold Cup race. Peter Uzdavinis (Carrollton, VA) took home first place honors. Peter led the way in his 1964 MG Midget (#25). Rounding out the podium was Sharon Adelman (Free Union, VA) and Phil Wicks (Columbia, SC) finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively.
The Hawk Performance Historic GTP/GT Enduro then took center stage. This event featured entrants from Groups 5b, 6b, 7, 9, 10 & 11. The 90 minute battle was ultimately won by Travis Engen (Weston, CT) driving his dominate 2005 Audi R8 LMP (#2). Travis covered the timed event in 42 laps. One lap back in 2nd place was Phil Lasco (N. Venice, FL). Phil drove the 1995 Roush Mustang (#14). Finishing in 3rd place was the driving team of Debbie Cloud/Wes Burton (Wellington, OH). Together they tallied 39 laps in their 2000 Ford Mustang Cobra (#70).
Saturday’s schedule of events included the 1 hour Hawk Performance Vintage/Classic Enduro. This event featured entrants from Groups 1, 2, 3, 4, 5a, 6a & 8. The winner of this battle was Paul Stinson (Center Hall, PA) driving his 1963 Lotus Super 7 (#7c). Paul covered the timed event in 24 laps. Jim Steinmetz (Park City, UT) came home in 2nd position in his 1969 Merlyn 11A (#142). The driving team of Goran Nyberg/Dennis Olthoff (Park Ridge, NC) finished in 3rd place in their 1965 Volvo P1800S (#68).
The Gold Cup race for Groups 3 & 4 followed next. The always fast Denny Wilson (Washington, MO) led the field home in first place driving his 1962 Lotus Super 7 (#7). Harry Gentry (Knoxville, TN) took 2nd place honors, while Michael Unger (Gloucester Point, VA) finished in 3rd position. Saturday’s race for Groups 3 & 4 featured the same podium finishers, but Gentry and Wilson swapped places, with Harry Gentry talking the top spot in his 1964 Ginetta G4 (#4). Harry also claimed fastest lap in both events.
After the lunch break, the supporting SCCA Pro Racing/Trans-Am Series held their 100 mile race. 39 cars started the event and in the end Paul Fix (Williamsville, NY) took the checkered flag. Paul piloted his Stopflex.com/Tony Ave Racing/Chevrolet Corvette (#4) to victory, just a mere 7.437 seconds ahead of second place finisher Doug Peterson (Bonita Springs, FL). Third place finisher, Amy Ruman (Kent, OH), was just 9.431 seconds behind the winner. The top three finishers had separated themselves from the pack and crossed the line 20 seconds clear of 4th place.
The Gold Cup race for Groups 7b & 11 followed next. Travis Engen (Weston, CT) paced the field in his silver and red Audi R8 LMP. Phil Lasco (N. Venice, FL) and Jacek Mucha (Laval, QC) finished second and third respectively. The Saturday race from Groups 7b & 11 featured the same podium finishers, with Phil and Jacek having swapped positions for 2nd & 3rd.
The afternoon schedule proceeded on with the Gold Cup race for Group 8, in one of the most evenly matched events of the day. Linwood Staub (Doylestown, PA) led the field and finished 1st in his red/white/blue BRE 1972 Datsun 240Z (#22). Lee Talbot (McLean, VA) followed Linwood to the checker for 2nd place, with Ross Bremer (Atlantic Beach, FL) right on his tail for 3rd position. The top three finishers virtually matched fastest laps; 2:15.449, 2:15.657, 2:15.863 respectively.
The Gold Cup race for Groups 5 & 6 featured three of the most photogenic cars in attendance for the weekend. Bill Thumel (Virginia Beach, VA) drove the stunningly beautiful white and red, 1968 Lola T70 coupe (#71) to victory. Close behind was Hobart Buppert (Sparks, MD) driving the ever-classy blue and white, 1969 Lola T70 MkIII (#82). Coming in third place was Mac McCombs (Mooresville, NC) driving the iconic orange/blue Gulf colors, in the Superformance Ford GT40R. The scenic VIR landscape and even prettier weather provided fans plenty of opportunity to photograph these magnificent vintage racer cars. Saturday’s race also featured the same order of podium finishers.
Next on the agenda was the closely contested Gold Cup race for Group 9. The Sunday event provided a mirror image to the outcome of Saturday’s race. Conner Kearby (Corpus Christi, TX) took home first place honors both days driving his 1997 Lola T97/20 (#3). Gaston Kearby (Corpus Christi, TX) and Marc Giroux (Cushing, ME) finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. Conner achieved fastest lap in both races; 1:43.666 and 1:43.836.
The penultimate event of the day featured the Gold Cup race for the thundering Group 10. These cars and drivers thrilled the fans with some of the closest racing of the weekend. Jeffery Bernatovich (Brewerton, NY) drove his 1990 Chevrolet GT1 Corvette (#90) to the winner’s circle, just as he had done in the Saturday event. Sean Ryan (Candler, NC) finished in 2nd position, closely followed by Maurice Hull (High Point, NC) in 3rd place. In Sunday’s race, Jeffery pipped Sean for fastest lap, 1:54.055 to 1:54.060. That’s close!
The final Gold Cup race featured Group 2. This proved to be the battle of the Brabhams. The top three finishers, all driving Brabham formula cars, were clearly the class of the field. Dave Handy (Semora, NC) took first place honors in both the Gold Cup race and Saturday’s race, driving his 1968 Brabham BT 29 (#2). Completing the podium for both races was Bobby Brown (Oyster Bay Cove, NY) in 2nd place and Lee Brahin (Cherry Hill, NY) in 3rd place, who was sporting a “James Hunt” style helmet. Nice touch!
The pairing of VIR, SVRA, and a pinch of Autumn provided a wonderful weekend of racing. The beautiful weather ensured that there was a very good crowd of enthusiastic fans in attendance. For the SVRA East Coast season finale, it could not have been a better showcase of vintage racing and sportsmanship. This look-back in time sure was a fun show to watch.