2021 VRG Jefferson 500 @ Summit Point (article)

Summit Point Motorsports Park, Summit Point, WV – May 13 -16, 2021

Victory Lane Magazine, Story by Terry Johnsen

John Delane (#8), 1972 Chevron B21

The Jefferson 500 at Summit Point Motorsports Park is the marquee event for Vintage Racer Group (VRG). With 2020 firmly in the rearview mirror, and COVID restrictions being eased throughout the country, everyone was ready to get back to the business of having fun! As a result, VRG celebrated a record turnout for this year’s event. Everyone had a newfound spring in their step, heightened by the opportunity to get back behind the wheel, and to renew old friendships. You could feel the energy and excitement in the air. To top it off the weather cooperated with beautiful sunny skies and warm temps. After the long lay-off, the cars looked well prepared, polished, and ready to go!

While speaking with Jim Karamanis (Jefferson 500 co-chair) on Friday, he shared with me a few event details from earlier in the week. Wednesday and Thursday featured the VRG Driving School, under the direction of Denny Austin (Chief Instructor). Karamanis noted how encouraging it was to see so many younger drivers in the school, many of whom are 2nd and 3rd generation in the VRG family of racers. This year’s graduating class of 32 drivers was their largest ever. Thursday also featured practice sessions for all of the VRG race groups. The day concluded with a track walk directed by Peter Krause (VRG Driving Instructor). The participation fee involved a contribution of beer for the track workers. I’d say that was suds well spent!

To highlight the excitement and enthusiasm of a new racing season VRG launched their new logo/branding in April. I spoke with John Wood (VRG Vice President), and Krisjan Berzins (in charge of VRG “Merch”) about the concept and evolution of the new look. Wood noted that they were lucky to run a few events in 2020 (Lime Rock, Watkins Glen, and the Turkey Bowl at Summit Point), and while at Lime Rock they started to have the discussion of rebranding, which lead to the conversation, “what are we all about?” Berzins stated the brainstorming process was a very spontaneous and collaborative effort. 

John Wood noted that he, like all VRG members, got involved with vintage racing because of cars, “it starts with cool cars.” He added the club puts an emphasis on driver orientation, teaching car control on the track, wheel to wheel discipline, and respecting each other. Wood explained, “we’re here to have fun with an emphasis on safe racing”. Finally, he said that the VRG community offers the opportunity to foster meaningful relationships and make “great friends”. Adding, “VRG’s identity says it all in six words: Cool Cars/Safe Racing/Great Friends”.

Krisjan Berzins led the effort to improve the VRG branded clothing line, and as a result was put in charge of “Merch”, previously known as their regalia. Berzins noted he took the lessons learned from running his landscape business to appreciate the value of a neat and clean uniform look. VRG workers now have bright green, high visibility shirts, which aids recognizability in their availability and support to members. The new logo is a natural progression and evolution of the VRG letters, accentuated by the bright green highlights. Berzins noted that VRG will always have their original logo for future use as a heritage theme.

The new VRG logo and branding was on full display! “Cool Cars, Safe Racing, Great Friends” says it perfectly. This photo is from the paddock location for Krisjan Berzins (#10), 1987 BMW M3.

The weekend’s schedule promised non-stop on-track activity with a record 258 entrees descending upon Summit Point for another VRG classic! The 2021 Jefferson 500 race groups were set as follows: (Group 7) Phil Hill Cup/Formula Ford Challenge Series, (Group 6) Charlie Gibson Trophy/Sports Racers & Non-FFCS Open Wheel, (Group 5) Donohue Cup/Production & Special through ‘60, (Group 4) Lola Cup/Small Bore under 1.3L & Formula Vee, (Group 3) Marlboro Cup/Small Bore over 1.3L, (Group 2) Cunningham Cup/Big Bore, (Group 1) Wyer Cup/IMSA-SCCA 2.5 Class B Reunion Racers. 

The sprint races began Friday afternoon with Group 7 taking to the track, eager to get things started on a beautiful day for racing. Thomas Gaffney (#6) started on pole and took the early lead. The race was black flagged on lap 3 due to multiple cars off course in turn 3. Upon the restart it was Scott Fairchild (#120) in his Zink Z-10 that took command of the race, with Doug Meis (#27) and Gaffney rounding out the podium. The Saturday sprint for Group 7 was dominated by Gaffney (#6) in his Lola T-342. The fight for second place was a pitched battle between Wayne Nicolette (#2) and Doug Meis (#27). Meis briefly held second place on the penultimate lap, only to have it snatched back by Nicolette at the checkered flag. 

Group 6 witnessed a tour-de-force performance by Justin Frick (#09) in Friday’s sprint race. Piloting his Indy Lights Lola T97/20, Frick’s commanding pace left his competitors far behind in his mirrors. Impressive as it was, he did not last till the finish. Ultimately it was Colin Thompson (#11) who grabbed the win in his Lola T88/90. Rob Sherwood (#05) and Jeremy Treadway (#12) followed closely behind and rounded out the top finishers. Saturday’s sprint featured a heated family battle between the red Lolas of John Thompson (#14) and his son Colin Thompson (#11), with John holding the lead in the early laps. Colin passed his father on lap five and held on for the win. Rob Sherwood (#05) had another strong showing and claimed third spot.

The Group 5 sprint races offered fierce competition between front-runners Michael Oritt (82) in a Ginetta G-4 and Ralph Salomon (#88) in a Bobsy SR2. Friday’s race saw Oritt setting the pace for the first four laps. Salomon then overtook for the lead and held his position till lap nine when he had to pull into the pits with an issue. With the pressure off Oritt easily cruised to the win, with J. Richard Schnabel (#284) and John Styduhar (#9) taking second and third respectively. The Oritt/Salomon battle resumed on Saturday with an entertaining battle that featured multiple lead changes between these drivers. Salomon grabbed the lead once more on the final lap and held on for a thrilling win. Vic Schuster (#57) held on firmly to third position throughout the race.

Each of the Group 4 sprint races were shortened due to multiple cars having off road excursions and the time it took for the safety and support crews to clear the track. But, while there was action, it was David Gussack (#88) who took both wins in a Triumph Spitfire. In Friday’s race a close battle for second place was won by Peter Carroll (#55) who had a spirited dice with Tom Brown (#18). Gussack’s win on Saturday was made interesting in the closing stages from a charging Kent Bain (#69). Peter Uzdavinis (#25) claimed third spot in a close battle with Carroll (#55).

Friday’s sprint for Group 3 delivered an inspired drive by race winner Chris De Minco (#48) in a Mallock Mk 11B. Having started on pole position, De Minco fell back to fifth place at the end of the first lap. He then charged through the field taking fourth position on lap 2, third position on lap 3, second position on lap 5, and ultimately the lead on lap 8 of the ten-lap event. Henry Frye (#29) who held the early lead finished second, while William Bartlett (#37) finished in third position. Frye and Bartlett renewed their podium battle for the Saturday sprint race. This time it was William Bartlett (#37) driving a Lotus Super 7 who lead from start to finish, with Frye (#29) breathing down his neck lap after lap. Erich Stahlman (#87) was the best of the rest and brought home a strong third place finish.

Group 2 presented an impressive display of power and speed. Two cars in particular were in a league of their own. Hobart Buppert (#82) unleashed his beautiful Lola T70 Mk3B and stormed away from the field winning both sprint races. Not to be outdone, Phil Meaney (#81) matched Buppert lap for lap in his sleek Gropa/Chevron CMC 11, capturing second place in both races. Christopher Zappa (#29) placed third on Friday while John Delane (#8) took honors on Saturday.

The Friday sprint race for Group 1 was a hard charging affair, even though race positions never changed throughout. John Baucom (#86) took a commanding victory behind the wheel of his Fiat 124 Coupe. David Lebrun (#67) and Dave Nicholas (#60) rounded out the podium with strong performances. Baucom (#86) also won the Saturday sprint, followed by Lebrun (#67), in a race that was stopped briefly for cars off track. Once the track was cleared and returned to green Vince Vaccaro (#199) held off a train of cars to claim third position.  

The 2021 Jefferson 500 Feature Races took place on Saturday afternoon, and if the sprint races were any measure, these contests promised to be classics. A field of 38 cars took the green flag for the Group 7/Phil Hill Cup Feature Race. Thomas Gaffney (#6) led from start to finish in his Lola T-342. In the early stages of the race Gaffney held off the charge of Stefan Vapaa (#97). Doug Voss (#46) climbed through the field and began challenging Vapaa for second place at the mid-way point of the race. With two laps to go Voss captured second place and held on till the checkered flag. The top eight finishers crossed the finish line within 5 seconds of each other. A great start to the afternoon!

Next up on the schedule came the Group 6/Charlie Gibson Trophy race. This pitted teammates versus one another, and also within the family. Colin Thompson (#11) and his father John Thompson (#14) were stuck like glue together for 12 thrilling laps. Colin started from pole position in his Lola T88/90 but gave up the lead on the first lap. He hounded John relentlessly, then finally on lap 8 grabbed the lead and held on for the victory. David Gussack (#5) rounded out the podium with a strong third place finish, three seconds back.

The Group 5/Donohue Cup provided edge-of-the-seat racing with a thrilling pass for the lead at the checkered flag. Ralph Salomon (#88) started the race in fourth position in his Bobsy SR2, and by the end of the first lap he was battling Michael Oritt (#82) for the lead. Just as their battle was heating up the race was stopped on lap 3 due to multiple cars stranded off track and in an unsafe position. Once the track was cleared the race resumed, along with its intensity. Salomon and Oritt exchanged the lead multiple times, with Oritt in the lead heading towards the checkered flag. Salomon pulled off a daring pass for the win right at the line, and with .0001 of a second to spare. Amazing! Harvey Parke (#92) rounded out the podium finishing in third place.

The Group 4/Lola Cup race was seemingly over as soon as it started. Which is too bad because each of the sprint races for Group 4 were also shortened affairs due to cars being off track. But in this case the stoppage on lap four was because of a significant amount of oil put down in turn 9 which required significant time to clean-up. For what it’s worth the early laps of the race were setting the stage for an entertaining battle. Ultimately, David Gussack (#88) was declared the winner in his Triumph Spitfire. Peter Uzdavinis (#25) and Andrew Moore (#79) claimed second and third places respectively.

After a lengthy clean-up process the Group 3/Marlboro Cup race rekindled the intensity and excitement that had been on display all weekend. 37 cars took the green flag with William Bartlett (#37) leading the way. Bartlett held a comfortable lead through the first four laps, but then started getting pressure from Henry Frye (#29) in his Triumph TR250. For two laps Bartlett held Frye at bay, until lap seven when Frye seized the lead. Bartlett retook the lead and held for laps eight and nine. Frye used the final lap to set-up the pass for the win and took the checkered flag, edging Bartlett by a nose. Kenny Williamson (#27) had a quiet but strong race as he worked his way up from seventh starting position to finish in third place. 

Next up it was the Group 2/Cunningham Cup racers that took to the track, and it was Hobart Buppert (#82) in his Lola T70 Mk3B that stormed away at the drop of the green flag and never looked back. He crossed the finish line eleven laps later and 12 seconds clear of second place finisher Phil Meany (#81). The power of Buppert’s Lola was impressive, and his smooth driving style never put a wheel wrong. John Delane (#8) rounded out the podium in third position.

The packed Saturday schedule concluded with the Group 1/Wyer Cup race. An early-stage battle for the lead between John Baucom (#86) and Andre Henke (#6) came to its unfortunate conclusion on lap three when both cars went off track. The race was stopped at that point until the cars were safely removed by the safety crew. The race resumed and we were treated to a green/white/checkered finish. David Lebrun (#67) driving his Alfa Romeo GTV crossed the line 1.6 seconds clear of Thaddeus Pace (#3). Raymond Nichols (#44) led a group of close pursuers across the finish line for a strong third place finish.

Henry Frye (#29) and his 1968 Triumph TR250 lead a parade of cars during the Bill Scott Enduro.

The Jefferson 500 weekend concluded with three morning enduros: Dan Gurney Enduro (Groups #6, #7 – open wheel only), Bill Scott Enduro (Groups #3, #4, #5), Brian Redman Enduro (Groups #1, #2, #6 – closed wheel only). The decision by VRG to wrap-up track activity by noon was applauded by its members and resulted in healthy grid numbers for the three endurance races. In summary, Wayne Nicolette (#2) drove his Lola T-340 to victory in Dan Gurney Enduro; Tom Upshur (#83) took the checkered flag in the Bill Scott Enduro piloting his Lotus Europa; and David Gussack (#5) closed out the racing activity with the win in the Brian Redman Enduro behind the wheel of his Lola T91/90.

And just like that the 2021 Vintage Racer Group (VRG) Jefferson 500 was in the books. The electric and upbeat atmosphere surrounding the event was real and contagious. The cars looked great, everyone enjoyed being back on track, and most importantly reuniting and spending time with old friends. Driving home Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help but think that John Wood (VRG VP), nailed it when he said, “VRG’s identity says it all in six words: Cool Cars/Safe Racing/Great Friends”. See you in 2022!

Terry Johnsen (2021)

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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