Victory Lane Magazine, January 2015: Volume 30, No. 1
Story and photographs by Terry Johnsen
Watkins Glen International, October 10-12, 2014
For a vintage racer, where better to be in mid-October, than Watkins Glen, New York. The October 10-12 weekend at Watkins Glen International featured the Vintage Racer Group’s event, VRG @ The Glen. Formula One traditionally visited Watkins Glen in the early part of October, from 1961 through 1980. So, the experience of the crisp morning air, the fog hanging over the lake, and the surrounding fall leaves in their full splendor was a fitting reminder of yesteryear during this vintage racing weekend.
The Village of Watkins Glen was filled with a mix of vintage racers and wine aficionados. The streets were a buzz with fall colors and the change of seasons. The beautiful foliage also provided a perfect backdrop for anyone who wanted to take time out of the racing schedule and trundle down to take a lap of the original Grand Prix course that was in use from 1948-1952. The roads that comprised the track layout are still in full use today. While driving the course it’s hard to believe this was the scene of some heady racing and high speeds. The roads are flanked on either side by trees as it winds its way around and through the Watkins Glen State Park. The thrill of coming down and around Big Bend and seeing Seneca Lake and the fall trees in the distance is spectacular. So, its natural to appreciate that this is the perfect time of year to bring back vintage cars for a spin through the Finger Lakes region of New York.
I spoke briefly with VRG President Mack McCormack on Sunday morning. He was preparing for his morning race, and was able spent a few moments with me. Mack reflected on the 2014 season and said it was a really good year. He noted that the Thompson Speedway event was new to the schedule, was well attended, and overall it was a success. He also noted that VRG was pleased that membership continued to increase in 2014. During the Saturday evening VRG dinner in The Glen Club, Mack noted that he was re-elected as President, and Paul Bova was re-elected as Treasurer. Mack added that Butch O’Connor was also elected to the Board of Directors. Butch has been the Event Chairman for the New Jersey event for the last 3 years.
Setting the stage for the weekend was a robust schedule that included plenty of track time time for the competitors. There were four race groups that provided the action for the VRG @ The Glen. The groups were designated as follows: Group 1: Pre 1960 on 70 series tires; Group 2: Pre 1979 Production S/C & Sedans under 2.5 liter; Group 3: Pre 1979 Production S/C and Sedans over 2.5 liter; and Group 4: Open wheel & Sports racers. Each group was also broken down into detailed sub-classes. The weekend schedule called for three races per group, two on Saturday and one on Sunday, along with initial practice sessions.
Group 1 featured a healthy field of 21 cars. Dale Oesterle (Columbus, OH) driving his (#162) 1962 Triumph Spitfire, enjoyed a very successful weekend, by taking wins in races 1 & 2 on Saturday, and a second place in race 3 on Sunday. Despite the second place finish he secured the fastest lap for Group 1 during the entire weekend of racing with a 2:28.051. Michael Clifford (Hopewell Junction, NY) put it all together and brought home the win in race 3. Michael drove the ever-stylish (#94) 1960 Elva 200 FJ to victory.
Group 2 featured a solid field of racers, with up to 27 cars making it to the grid. Dick Stockton (Marmora, NJ) took the win in race 1. Dick drove the black (#1) 1963 Triumph TR4, finishing just 1.2 seconds ahead of second place finisher David Lebrun (Auburn, NY), in his (#3) 1965 Alfa Romeo GTA 1600. Group 2 then belonged to Paul Netterstrom (Cocoa Beach, FL), who took two very decisive wins in races 2 and 3. Paul drove the dominant (#88) 1961 Lotus Super 7, to victory with gaps of 46.338 seconds in race 2 and a 1:14.270 difference in race 3. As could be expected, Paul secured the fastest lap of the weekend for Group 2 with a 2:12.265 in race 3.
Group 3 presented a smaller grid, but made up for it with quality cars through and through. Race 1 on Saturday featured a Corvette 1-2-3 finish. Joseph Riolo (Woodbury, CT) piloting his beautiful (#13) 1965 Chevrolet Corvette captured the fastest lap of 2:11.324 and first place. Second place belonged to Chris Horner (Westbrook, ME) in the (#49) 1964 Chevrolet Corvette. Taking the third step on the podium was Jim Glass (Kingston, NY) in his (#11) 1965 Chevrolet Corvette. Race 2 ended before it had finished the first lap. An incident that occurred up through the esses collected four cars. A black flag was thrown to assist the drivers involved and remove the vehicles. All of the drivers were able to walk away from the incident, but with a few bumps and bruises. A special acknowledgement of appreciation is extended to the Watkins Glen International safety crew and track workers for their immediate response and quick turnaround of the racing incident. Sunday morning greeted everyone with cool temps and frost on the windshields. Group three opened the day of racing with their race # 3. Because of the cooler track conditions, the overall lap times were approximately 4-5 seconds slower than in the other sessions of the weekend. Chris Horner (Westbrook, ME) took the win, with Michael Clifford, Jr. (Hopewell Junction, NY) taking second place, and Peter McLaughlin (Lyme, NH) in the third spot.
Group 4 provided plenty of open-wheel action and a healthy field of 17 cars taking to the grid. Joseph Griffin (Doylestown, PA) and Kyle Kaulback (Bethel, PA) paced the field taking the top two steps of the podium in all three races. Joseph captured the first race in his (#23) 1981 Crossle 45F, with Kyle coming in 10.525 seconds behind in his (#33) 1970 Lotus Type 61 MX. Races 2 and 3 saw Kyle take the wins with Joseph right on his heals. The gap in race 2 was 0.906 seconds, and in race 3 it was 0.089 seconds. Down to the wire!
An enduro race concluded the VRG track activities on Sunday. Chris Horner (Westbrook, ME) driving his bright red (#49) 1964 Chevrolet Corvette stormed away and lapped the field before ultimately taking the victory on lap 16. Second place honors was secured by Andrew Stein (Kintnersville, PA) in his (#195) 1970 Merlyn Mk. 11/17. Coming in third place was Peter McLaughlin (Lyme, NH) in his (#148) Ralt Cicale. A total of 25 cars took the start in the enduro and capped a very successful weekend of racing at Watkins Glen.
As the weekend came to an end, the fading light of the setting sun brought out the beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows of the fall foliage. If only every racing weekend could have this scenery as its back drop. It makes a vintage racer think, that Watkins Glen is the best place to be racing in October.