VRG Jefferson 500 @ Summit Point (article)

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Ray Morgan (#6) 1964 Merlyn Mk6.

Victory Lane Magazine, July 2017, Vol. 32, No. 7 – Story and Photos by Terry Johnsen

Summit Point Motorsports Park, May 19-21, 2017

The Jefferson 500 at Summit Point Motorsports Park is the marquee event for the Vintage Racer Group (VRG). The challenging Summit Point circuit, paired with the beautiful rolling countryside surroundings of West Virginia, makes for an enjoyable and memorable experience for the competitors and spectators. Events such as the Jefferson 500 are why I enjoy attending vintage and historic sports car races. There’s a level of excitement for this event that is brought about by the coming together of many favorable factors. First, the seasonal weather has now changed and is producing cool mornings and pleasant temps in the afternoon. Also, the month of May for the racing fan is filled with discussions about the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, and the road-racing classic, 24 Hours of Le Mans, is just around the corner too. Finally, Summit Point epitomizes the homegrown, grassroots type track that bleeds nostalgia.

VRG President and Co-Event Chairman Jim Karamanis stated 240 cars entered the 24th running of the Jefferson 500 event, adding that 47 cars were on hand from the Formula Ford community commemorating the 50th anniversary of Formula Ford on the east coast. Jim noted the Jefferson 500 has become a bucket-list event for the vintage sports car racing enthusiasts. He stated many competitors have commented to him that this event feels like what vintage racing did back in the 1980’s.

Just a glimpse at the weekend schedule will indicate the scope and magnitude of what the Jefferson 500 has become. Wednesday, May 17th featured the VRG Drivers School. Thursday continued with day two for the school and an open practice for all competitors. The day concluded with a Tech Talk by Peter Krause of Krause & Associates LLC, “Simple Tech Tools to Go Faster”.

Seven race groups define the Vintage Racer Group field of competitors: Group #1 (Wyer Cup) IMSA/SCCA 2.5 Class B Reunion Racers, 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 & Special through ’60 & Formula Vee, Group #6 (Charlie Gibson Trophy) Sports Racers & Non-FF Open Wheel, and Group #7 (Phil Hill Cup) Royale Formula Ford Challenge Series.

Friday the 19th began with a round of qualifying for all seven of the race groups, followed in the afternoon by the first of four weekend sprint races for the groups, which consisted of ten laps each. The last on-track racing activity of the day was reserved for the first of two Brian Redman Enduro races, 45 minutes in length, involving race groups 1-6 (closed wheel only). Once the engines quieted for the day, Peter Krause conducted one of his very detailed and enlightening track walks. The event helped raise funds and support for High Performance Heroes (www.HPHeroes.org). Finally, the day concluded with a coming together in the paddock with the Royale Formula Ford Challenge Series & J500 Volunteer Workers Paddock Party. It was an amazing expression of thanks to all the volunteers that make events like this happen.

Saturday’s calendar was filled with two sprint races for each group. The lunch break featured charity rides for the purpose of raising funds and awareness for High Performance Heroes (HPH). The day’s racing activity concluded with the second of the Brian Redman Enduro races. In the evening, the Jefferson 500 Dinner was held in the big white tent just off of turn 9. A wonderful evening of food and socializing was capped off by a keynote address from Jefferson 500 Grand Marshal, Brian Redman. He shared his many memories of the Jefferson 500 and it’s origins that he helped establish with the track’s late founder, Bill Scott. It was another fun and story-filled trip down memory lane. Over the years, Brian has been asked by his fans to write a book, capturing his many memorable stories and career highlights. He brought with him 80 copies of the highly anticipated new release, “Brian Redman: Daring Drivers, Deadly Tracks”. It was sold out within 30 minutes!

One of the main staples of any Jefferson 500 weekend are the aforementioned Brian Redman Enduros, aptly named for the legendary racer and Grand Marshal, Brian Redman. Friday’s race consisted of 21 starters. Ben Sinnott (#5 – 1991 Lola T90/91) absolutely ran away and hid, winning the race with a dominating two-lap gap. Greg Miller (#4 – 1985 Swift DB2) finished in second place, with David Hughes (#25 – 1981 Tiga S2) a further one lap behind. Neither Sinnott nor Miller participated in the Saturday enduro, which saw a larger field of 29 starters. Nathan Scigliano (#79 – 2004 Carbir S2) finished in first place with a comfortable 28-second lead over Alex Heckert (#34 – 1966 Chevrolet Corvette). David Hughes (#25) completed the podium by claiming third position, 40 seconds back and still on the lead lap. Each of these contests brought to close a full day of competitive and clean racing.

Sunday’s schedule began with a whole host of feature races consisting of 12 laps each: Sports 2000, Porsche Feature, IMSA RS/SCCA 2.5, Historic Ford (HF), and Club/Formula Ford (CF/FF), followed by the fourth round of sprint races for the weekend. The Jefferson 500 schedule concluded with the Royale Formula Ford Challenge Series race, the Formula Ford 50th World Celebration.

The first of the Sunday feature races began with the Sports 2000 contest. Ben Sinnott (#5) was once again in a class of his own as he drove away from the field. By lap five his lead covered the entire front straight, and kept building to the finish. Brent Gernert (#70 – 1991 Swift DB5) finished in second place 36 seconds behind. The battle that defined the race was for third place, between Bryan Gernert (#77 – 1986 Swift DB-2) and Rodney Kendall (#83 – 1987 Lola T87-90). The final laps were closely contested and decided by less than a second at the checkered flag, with Bryan nosing out Rodney by a mere car length.

The Porsche Feature race was next on the schedule. A field of 14 cars took the green flag. The racing was intense and close in the early stages and then settled into a rhythm. Douglas Hagopian (#24 – 1968 Porsche 911) claimed victory with a ten second margin, along with capturing the fastest lap of the race. George James (#171 – 1974 Porsche 911) took second place and Daniel McChesney (#9 – 1970 Porsche 911) finished in third.

The IMSA RS/SCCA 2.5 feature race was charged with excitement beginning with the drop of the green flag. 22 cars charged down the front straight towards turn 1, and the intensity level never abated. This was the type of contest that should have gone longer than the scheduled 12 laps, because it was that good. David Lebrun (#67 – 1967 Alfa Romeo GTV) crossed the finish line 4.3 seconds ahead of train of five cars that were covered by less than four seconds. In the end, Steve Lebrun (#91 – 1969 Alfa Romeo GTV) finished second with Brian Walsh (#93 – 1971 Ford Pinto) taking third place.

Next on the agenda was the Historic Ford (HF) feature race. Through the initial stages of the contest the top three cars were seemingly glued together in battle. On lap 10, Doug Voss (#74 – 1971 Merlyn Mk20) worked his way up from third starting position to take the lead. He held on for the win over Christian Morici (#169 – 1971 Lotus 69) who had claimed pole position for the race. David Porter (#69 – 1971 Lotus 69 FF) finished third.

The Club/Formula Ford (CF/FF) feature continued the pattern of highly competitive races. In an odd twist, the top three starters did not get anywhere near a podium finish by the end of the race. Pole sitter Scott Fairchild (#20 – 1978 Zink Z-10) and third position starter Joseph Griffin (#23 – 1981 Crossle 45F) had a coming together on the first lap, which dropped them down the order, but both were able to finish on the lead lap. Tyler Pappas (#101 – 1980 Hawk DL15) inherited the lead and held that position until lap 9. Doug Meis (#27 – 1974 Lola T340) worked his way forward, taking advantage of the incidents in front of him and took the lead on lap 10. He finished 27 seconds ahead of a close battle for second position. Ultimately, Michael Hummel (#11 – 1979 Crossle 35F) crossed the start/finish line a tenth of a second ahead of Dennis Austin (#5 – 1976 Zink C5-A).

After the first five Sunday feature races, the fourth and final series of sprint races for the groups took center stage. First up was the Group 6 contest. Ben Sinnott (#5) once again showed his dominance and claimed victory 37 seconds ahead of second place finisher, Brent Gernert (#70). Ben and Brent finished 1 – 2 respectively in each of the group’s four sprint races.

The Group 5 sprint race saw Joey Bojalad (#70 – 1960 Elva Mk VI) pace the field with a 13 second victory over Hervey Parke (#11 – 1965 Ginetta G4). Roger Cassin (#256 – 1964 Elva Mk 7S) completed the podium just six seconds back. Roger claimed victory in the first three sprint races for Group 5, while Joey took second in each of those races.

Ray Morgan (#6 – 1964 Merlyn Mk 6) was the class of the field in Group 4. He claimed victory in each of the four sprints races during the weekend. In the Sunday sprint race, Mack McCormack (#109 – 1966 Morris Mini Cooper) raced to the second place finish, while Andy Russell (#16 – 1972 MG Midget) secured third spot in a field of 20 starters.

Group 3 presented the closest battle for the win in the Sunday sprint races. Chris De Minco (#90 – 1971 Mallock 11B) battled with Lee Talbot (#162 – 1967 Ginetta G4) and crossed the finish line just 4.2 seconds in the clear. Denny Wilson (#7 – 1962 Lotus Super 7) secured third place. Thomas Grudovich (#94 – 1966 Ginetta G4) won the first of the three sprint races for Group 3. Lee (#162) raced to second place in both of the Saturday sprints, while Chris (#90) claimed second on Friday.

Group 2 presented close, hard fought races throughout the weekend. Alex Heckert (#34) took three of the four sprint races in his Corvette, including the Sunday contest. Robert Korzen (#63 – 1966 Ford Mustang) claimed second place on Sunday, with Alan Friedman (#23 – 1973 Porsche 911 RSR) winning a tight battle for third place over George Wright (#38 – 1972 Datsun 240Z). Robert Korzen (#63) and Alex Heckert (#34) swapped first and second places for Saturday’s second sprint race.

The Group 1 sprint represented the penultimate contest for the Jefferson 500 weekend. Dave Edsinger (#18 – 1966 Yenko Stinger) powered home the win ahead of Shawn Bullard (#29 – 1974 Alfa Romeo GTV). Brad Karol (#56 – 1968 BMW 1600-2) drove to a third place finish, the last car on the lead lap.

The final feature race was the Royale Formula Ford Challenge Series event. 26 starters took the green flag in what was a fitting end to the Jefferson 500 weekend. This contest was a testament to Vintage Racer Group and their commitment to clean, fair competition. The top three finishers crossed the finish line with less than a second covering them. Lap after lap the battle maintained a frenetic pace. Scott Fairchild (#20) held off Joseph Griffin (#23) for the win. Doug Meis (#27) finished in third position.

The Jefferson 500 once again placed its claim as being the marquee event for the Vintage Racer Group (VRG). Their presentation and administration of the event was extraordinary. Summit Point Motorsports Park once again served as the perfect venue and host for this wonderful yearly event. The Jefferson 500 is why I began attending vintage and historic sports car races, and why I’ll keep coming back. Bravo to all that were responsible for presenting the event, which of course includes the corner workers, safety crews and volunteers. And finally, hearty congratulations to the competitors for giving us all quite a show!

—–TJ 2017

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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