Victory Lane Magazine, January 2017, Vol.32, No.1
Story and photos by Terry Johnsen
Watkins Glen International, October 7-9, 2016
Driving through the Finger Lakes region of New York in autumn is always a feast for the senses. The beautiful countryside, the vibrant colors, and the crisp bite in the air all converge to create a unique and unforgettable experience. Memories of autumn days gone by also shape and identify this time of year in the Village of Watkins Glen, beginning with the original Grand Prix that raced through the streets in 1948. Years later, the current location of Watkins Glen International hosted the Formula One circuit from 1961 to 1980.
So, on the weekend of October 7-9, Vintage Racer Group visited again for their VRG @ The Glen event. Nostalgia runs high at Watkins Glen this time of year, with a bit of sadness too. October 7th, 1973 was the day that Jackie Stewart’s teammate Francois Cevert lost his life in qualifying. The young, dashing Frenchman was poised to take over for Ken Tyrell’s team once Stewart retired. Due to the fatal accident, the team withdrew, and Stewart retired as Champion one race shy of 100 grand prix starts.
Watkins Glen has it all. Known as being a driver’s track, the added variable of changing weather conditions in early October combined to make this not only a race meeting, but also an event. It was sunny, it was cloudy, it rained, and it was even very windy at times. But that didn’t matter. This was Watkins Glen. The drivers of VRG were taking to the same track, at the same time of year, that saw the likes of Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, and Emerson Fittipaldi take the checkered flag at the United States Grand Prix.
Mack McCormack (VRG President) noted that in a previous survey of their members, Watkins Glen was the clear favorite of all the racetracks. This year they partnered with the racing group from the New York SCCA Glen Region. VRG’s weekend schedule featured practice, qualifying, and full slate of races for four groups: Group 1/Vintage (all pre-1960) plus small-bore (under 1300 cc), Group 2/Formula Cars, Group 3/Historic Production under 2.5L and Sports Racers, and Group 4/Historic big-bore (over 2.5L). The new Royale Formula Ford Series was also featured.
The Royale Formula Ford Series began this year and has already held races at Summit Point Motorsports Park, Thompson Motorsports Park, and New Jersey Motorsports Park. Watkins Glen serves as the fourth race in the series, which will then wrap up with the fifth and final race at Dominion Raceway in late October. McCormack stated the Formula Fords are a popular and growing category for VRG. Mack was a flagger at the recent SCCA Run-Offs at Mid-Ohio, for which there were 14 Formula Fords entered. In contrast there were 35 entries on hand for the VRG @ The Glen.
Looking towards next year, Mack stated VRG’s 2017 schedule should look very similar to 2016. The scheduled board meeting in November should solidify those plans. Based on the feedback in the paddock from many of the competitors I spoke with, you can bet Watkins Glen is high on the list for a return engagement.
Group 1 hit the track with over 25 entries. Peter Carroll (#55) driving his 1963 Austin Healey Sprite could be seen at the front of the field throughout the weekend. Peter stated this was his first time racing at The Glen since the resurfacing project was completed. He described the track as fast and smooth as glass. Peter scored two wins during the weekend. John Faulkner (#28) claimed victory during the Saturday morning session, while Randy Williams (#127) took home top honors on Sunday.
Group 2 fielded a healthy grid of 35 cars. Kevin Young (#160) traveled down from Toronto to race his 1971 Crossle 20F. Kevin noted this was his first time racing with VRG, adding it is a good group and a well-run event. Group 2 ran a split grid for their races. Competitors from the Right Coast Formula Ford Series (RCFFS) joined VRG this weekend. They run with treaded tires, where as VRG uses slicks. This weekend’s variable conditions were a definite advantage for the guys from RCFFS. Charles Foster (#27) was the class of the field in his 2009 Piper DF5 taking three wins on the weekend. Daniel Pyanowski (#18) claimed victory in the Sunday Group 2 race.
Group 3 sported a field of over 30 cars. David Zavetsky (#159) drove the sleek and ever-impressive 1959 Devin-Healey-Chevy 283, and could be seen consistently mixing it up at the front of the field in every session. David stated that he’s been coming to The Glen since attending an early 1990’s IMSA endurance race. He said sports car racing is in his blood. He even has the same poster of a 1966 white-winged Chaparral in his trailer that used to be on his bedroom wall as a kid. Group 3 offered equal opportunity glory for their races. Bob Tkacik (#30), Randy Williams (#127), and Henry Frye (#29) each won a race. The fourth race of the weekend for Group 3 was a combined race with Group 4. The highest finisher for Group 3 in that event was David Zavetsky (#159), who claimed 8th position.
Group 4 rolled out 23 cars to the grid. One of my favorite cars of the weekend was the 1982 Porsche SC (Super Carrera) driven by Gary Allen (#32), from Brooklin, Ontario. Gary was one of the Canadian competitors that came down with the Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada (VARAC) to compete with VRG. I asked Gary about the wet conditions that Saturday morning, and he said with a smile, “We Canadians don’t mind the rain…we’ll go out and splash around.” He also noted The Glen was his favorite track in the States, and that it is very similar to Mosport. Gary said VARAC and VRG would often work together as organizations, each supporting the other’s series. He described VRG as a happy and friendly club, with good clean racing. Group 4 also exhibited wide-open racing at the front of the field, with three drivers each taking a win. Randy Williams (#29) won the first race on Friday, while Neil Young (#48) and Paul Netterstrom (#88) won the Saturday events. Chris Horner (#49) won a tight battle over Jim Glass (#3) in the combined Group 3/Group 4 Sunday race.
The Royale Formula Ford Series race was held on Sunday after an adjustment to the schedule. This allowed for the weather to improve, and the race was run under sunny skies. Bernard Bradpiece (#16) stormed away from the field in his 1972 Crossle 20F. His margin of victory in the 10 lap event was 19.549 seconds. Nigel Cass (#41) earned second spot on the podium driving his 1975 Merlyn Mk 29., while Donald Denomme (#101) challenged from behind and secured third place in his 1980 Van Diemen RF80.
Being at Watkins Glen at this time of year is always an amazing experience. Though each visit may vary, they’re filled with similar memories of beautiful fall colors, and the exhilarating sound of racecars. My first October at The Glen was in 1978 for the United States Grand Prix. Mario Andretti had just clinched the Formula One World Championship at the previous race in Monza, Italy. We were all thrilled to see him secure pole position for the race in his elegant John Player Special Lotus 79. Ultimately, Carlos Reutemann and Ferrari took the win on the cold and windy day.
So many competitors shared with me their Watkins Glen memories. Coming here and racing, especially at this time of year means something very special. They’re driving in the tracks of history. Memories of the past live on with each turn of the wheel.