VRG Jefferson 500 (story)

Peter Krause (#91), 1984 Tiga SC84.

Peter Krause (#91), 1984 Tiga SC84.

Victory Lane Magazine, July 2015, Vol.30, No.7

Story and photos by Terry Johnsen

Summit Point, West Virginia, May 15-17, 2015

The month of May can mean a lot of things to auto racing enthusiasts…the Indy 500 and Monaco Grand Prix come to mind. But for the vintage racer, the Jefferson 500 at Summit Point has made its mark as a mid-May annual vintage racing event in the Northeast. 2015 marked the 21st year of the event. Vintage Racer Group (VRG) has taken very good care of the Jefferson 500, an event originally co-founded by Brian Redman and Summit Point track founder Bill Scott.

While speaking with Jim Karamanis, the Jefferson 500 Co-Event Chairman for VRG, he noted that 2015 features the largest field of cars ever for the event, with over 250 entrants. Just driving through the paddock on Saturday morning told me this was a large turnout. Which is not surprising, VRG has grown its ranks steadily over the years. They have attracted quite a following for their camaraderie, sportsmanship, and an emphasis on safety.

The Grand Marshal of the 2015 Jefferson 500 was legendary sports car driver Brian Redman. The annual event included an array of special feature races, to include: The Brain Redman Enduro, The Bill Scott Enduro, The Kas Kastner Cup featuring Triumph, the IMSA RS/SCCA 2.5 Challenge Re-Union Race, and special feature races for Porsche, Formula Vee, S2000, and Formula Ford. This impressive line-up doesn’t even include the series of sprint races scheduled for each of the seven race groups. The weekend was a wall-to-wall, sun-up to sundown racing marathon.

The cars/entrants for VRG are categorized into seven groups: Group 1 – Wyer Cup (Medium Bore); Group 2 – Cunningham Cup (Big Bore); Group 3 – Marlboro Cup (Small Bore over 1.3L); Group 4 – Lola Cup (Small Bore under 1.3L); Group 5 – Donohue Cup (Production and Special through’60 & Formula Vee); Group 6 – Charlie Gibson Trophy (Sports Racers); and Group 7 – Phil Hill Cup (Open Wheel).

Friday’s schedule ended with the running of the two feature Enduros. The Bill Scott Enduro was first up, and included cars from Groups 1, 3, 4, and 5 (closed wheel only). Tom Benjamin (#35) drove his 1969 Alfa Romeo GTV to victory. He also captured the fastest lap of the race with a 1:30.035. Vince Vaccaro (#99) placed second in his 1972 Alfa Romeo GTV, with Don Wannagat (#74) claiming third position in his 1973 Alfa Romeo GTV. It was an Alfa sweep!

Closing out the Friday activity was the running of the Brian Redman Enduro, featuring cars from Group 2 and Group 6 (closed wheel only). Ben Sinnott (#5) in his menacing flat black 1991 Lola T90/91 captured the win. He also clocked the fastest lap of the race with a sizzling 1:14.612. Nathan Scigliano (#79) finished in second place, behind the wheel of his 1986 Swift S2. Ralph Manaker (#2) rounded out the podium finishers in his 1969 Chevron B-16.

Saturday’s track activity was filled with two sprint races for each of the seven groups, leading up to the afternoon program of special featured events. First on the agenda was the IMSA RS/SCCA 2.5 Challenge Re-Union Race. A field of 18 cars took the green flag. From that point it was John Baucom (#86) leading the charge and extending his lead, lap after lap in his 1969 Fiat 124 Coupe. John secured the fastest lap with a solid 1:27.452. Vince Vaccaro (#99) drove his 1972 Alfa Romeo GTV to second place, but was challenged in the closing laps by Skip Bryan (#316). Skip closed the gap in his 1972 BMW 2002, taking third position in a spirited effort.

Next on the Saturday agenda of special events, was the Porsche Feature Race. This may have been the most intense competition of the weekend. Olga Reindlova (#390) drove the beautiful blue and green ‘psychedelic’ liveried 1969 Porsche 911 to a well-deserved first place finish. Second place belonged to John Deford (#57) in his 1970 Porsche 914-6. The top two finishers drew away from the pack, distancing themselves from the rest of the field. The battle for third and fourth belonged to John Coey (#37) in a 1971 Porsche 911S, and George James (#177) in a 1974 Porsche 911 Carrera. John withstood the pressure and held off George for the third spot on the podium. Further back there were tight battles all through the field.

The competitors for the Formula Vee Feature Race then took to the track. By this time the skies in West Virginia were darkening. It was expected that the FV race would be completed, but the remaining schedule of the day was in doubt. Paul Buttrose (#28) drove his 1968 Zink Formula Vee to the win, with Harry Sroka (#25) placing second in his 1967 Autodynamics Mk IV FV. The top two finishers were virtually in another time zone, as they crossed the line well ahead of third place. Roger Bailey (#87) finished third in his 1972 Lynx B. He also claimed the fastest lap of the race with a 1:34.732.

By the end of the Formula Vee Feature Race the heavens began to open. Thunder and lightening announced their arrival. Random raindrops quickly turned into an early summer monsoon. From my vantage point in the timing and scoring booth, you could see a river crossing the track at pit-out. Later, as the rain lightened to a steady drizzle, the safety trucks and pace cars took to the track in an attempt to disperse the water and develop a dry line. This was to no avail, and the remaining afternoon activities were scrubbed. The Sunday schedule was to be amended to include the rained out special feature races. Though the racing ended a bit early, this didn’t dampen the VRG spirits, and the evening Jefferson 500 Dinner was to go on as planned.

As preparations began in earnest to ready the large tent just off of the Turns 8 – 9 complex, the catering staff was faced with ankle deep water from the deluge of rain. Rick Karamanis, Co-Event Chairman for the Jefferson 500, stated the dinner was transported to the paddock and training/classroom area. Rick noted this was a prime example of what sets VRG apart. He added that the camaraderie and collegial spirit of everyone pitching in to move tables, chairs, and all the catering to the other side of the track was typical of their close-knit group. Rick stated that Brian Redman spoke to the dinner guests that evening and entertained as always with stories of his racing and driving exploits. Brian expressed his delight with the impressive number of entrants, and with the improvements that Summit Point has made to the track. Rick said that VRG made a contribution of $5,000 to Summit Point as support and assistance for the continuing improvements to the track. Rick added that safety is most important to Vintage Racer Group and what they stand for. Also, during the Jefferson 500 Dinner, VRG auctioned off an event poster signed by the participants and a book signed by auto racing legend, Sir Stirling Moss. In total, VRG was able to raise over $5,000 for High Performance Heroes (HPH), a fantastic group worthy of our support.

Early misty Sunday morning, just prior to the start of the Kas Kastner Cup race for Triumphs.

Early misty Sunday morning, just prior to the start of the Kas Kastner Cup race for Triumphs.

The focus Sunday was on the completion of the special feature races. First on track was the Triumph – Kas Kastner Cup. Thirty-Five Triumphs took the green flag, in what was a very closely contested battle. First, second, and third place finishers crossed the line nose-to-tail. Mike Munson (#23) was first under the checkered flag in his 1970 Triumph TR6. Mark Wheatley (#86) followed suit and finished second in his 1962 Triumph TR-4. Tony Drews (#95) rounded out the Kas Kastner Cup podium in his 1963 Triumph TR-4. One second covered the top three finishers.

Next up was the Sports 2000 Feature Race, in combination with the scheduled Sunday sprint race for Group 6. Ben Sinnott (#5) again blistered the track in his 1991 Lola T90/91. Ben’s fast lap of the race was clocked at 1:14.097. This was an improvement from his fast lap in the Brian Redman Enduro. Alan Friedman (#23) drove his classic liveried red and white 1972 Chevron B-21 to a solid second place finish. Taking third place was Bryan Gernert (#77), piloting his 1986 Swift DB-2.

The last of the special races featured the Formula Fords. Leon Hodges-Austin (#5) paced the closely contested field in his 1976 Zink C5-A. He crossed the line just 0.379 of second ahead of Joseph Griffin (#23) in his 1981 Crossle 45F. Third place was firmly in the hands of Doug Meis (#27), driving a 1974 Lola T340. The racing was close, heated, and entertaining. The Formula Ford races always have people at the edge of their seats.

The final checkered flag brought an end to another great weekend at Summit Point. Throughout the three days of racing, each of the seven groups had as many as four to five sprint races. Some of the Sunday races were curtailed to make room for the rained out special feature races from Saturday. In total, the weekend schedule called for over 30 sprint races. There was never a dull moment, and no doubt the unsung heroes of the weekend were the corner workers, flagmen, and safety crew. Without their presence, awareness, and countless hours of work, none of this would have been possible.

The Jefferson 500 is definitely alive and well. With this annual mid-May event, the organizers of VRG and Summit Point appear to have created an enduring classic for vintage racers. With a bumper crop of entrants this year, one can only expect another fantastic turnout in 2016. See you there!

————————————-TJ 2015

About terryjohnsen

Writer/photographer of vintage/historic sports car racing. See you at the track! Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terry Johnsen and terryjohnsen.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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