VRG Jefferson 500 @ Summit Point (article)

Victory Lane Magazine, June 2022: Volume 37, No.6

Summit Point Motorsports Park, Summit Point, WV – May 10 -15, 2022

Story by Terry Johnsen

It’s the middle of spring and the destination this week is beautiful West Virginia. The sun is peeking through the clouds, the trees and flowers are in full bloom, and the air is filled with the sounds of sports cars. Where else could this be but the comfortable and welcoming surroundings of Summit Point Motorsports Park. And like clockwork, Vintage Racer Group (VRG) has once again set-up shop for the annual Jefferson 500, their marquee event.

A full schedule lay in store for the VRG participants. Starting on Tuesday, May 10th, the week includes large rig load-in, registration, technical inspection, a driving school, practice sessions, and a detailed and instructive track walk. Qualifying and the first of the sprint races take place on Friday. The morning of Saturday, May 14th begins with the second set of sprint races, with the afternoon highlighted by seven group feature races. The Jefferson 500 weekend concludes on Sunday with three morning enduros and two afternoon “all-comers” sprints. If you’re a racer and want to find value for money and time well spent, this is the event for you.

In the days leading up to the event, advanced weather forecasts predicted a high percentage chance of rain throughout the weekend. This may have discouraged some racers from attending, but still a healthy field of over 230 entrants arrived for the Jefferson 500. Thankfully the forecast improved significantly, and rain gear was only needed sparingly. Vintage Racer Group set the line-up for competition with the following groups: Wyer Cup (Group 1) IMSA/SCCA 2.5 Class B Reunion Racers, Cunningham Cup (Group 2) Big Bore, Marlboro Cup (Group 3) Small Bore over 1.3L, Lola Cup (Group 4) Small Bore under 1.3L & Formula Vee, Donohue Cup (Group 5) Production & Special through ’60, Charlie Gibson Trophy (Group 6) Sports Racers & Non-FFCS Open Wheel, and the Phil Hill Cup (Group 7) Formula Ford Challenge Series.

Brian Walsh, Group 1/IMSA RS – 2.5 Challenge racer was selected as this year’s Jefferson 500 Grand Marshal. Brian told me that VRG wanted someone from within their racing fraternity to lead the festivities this year. He was honored to be asked and proud to represent “the common racer” for the VRG community. Brian said he started the IMSA RS – 2.5 Challenge Reunion Racers category about seven years ago, and it has quickly become a VRG event favorite. Brian’s father, Jerry Walsh, was a very successful driver in IMSA back in the 70’s when the RS Class first started, and Brian has continued the legacy of this very popular category.

Brian brought plenty of color and a distinctive 1960’s ‘flower power’ flair to his duties as Grand Marshal. It was very easy to spot him in the paddock because he was decked out in psychedelic tie-dye apparel from top to bottom. Brian wore tie-dyed pants, a flamboyant Jimi Hendrix Experience shirt, and a large Alice in Wonderland top hat with buttons and colorful ribbons. His enthusiasm for the honorary role of Grand Marshal showed no bounds. Brian said he enjoyed being part of VRG from the first event he participated in. He noted the VRG crew always have a smile on their face and are very approachable and helpful to anybody who asks for assistance. He likes the fact that there are no million-dollar cars. Brian noted everyone is on the same playing field, and they all hang out together at the end of the day, just like family. He said the atmosphere of the paddock reminds him a lot like what IMSA used to be when growing up with his dad.

The 2022 Jefferson 500 Feature Races took center stage on Saturday afternoon, running in reverse order, with the Group 7/Phil Hill Cup taking the grid just after the lunch break. A brief but heavy shower began to fall just as the cars started their formation lap. At the drop of the green flag a stream of rooster tails roared down the front straight. Miraculously the field of 24 starters made it through the first lap with no one going off course. At the mid-point of the race Eric Langbein (#41) driving a 1971 March 719 took the lead and held on for the win, with Mike Agnifilo and Joseph Griffin in close pursuit. Langbein continued his unstoppable charge, having won the two Group 7 sprint races as well.

Next to take the track were the Group 6 sports racers for the Charlie Gibson Trophy race. The last of the weekend’s precipitation fell in the early laps, but eventually the sun broke through the clouds which dried the track out quickly. John Thompson (#14) piloting his 1991 Lola T91/90 took advantage of the improving conditions and dominated the race, just as he had in the two weekend sprint races. Dave Handy finished in second with Nate Scigliano rounding out the podium. They put on a heated battle early in the race, swapping positions multiple times.

The Group 5/Donohue Cup race proved to be a battle of the Lotus Super Seven’s. There were five lead changes in the final seven laps of this epic dual. It was incredible! Michael Kaleel (#126) and Adolph Battifarano (#2) battled tooth and nail, back and forth, crossing the start/finish line tied with four laps to go. Kaleel ultimately prevailed taking the checkered flag ahead of Battifarano, with Timothy Richie (#94) finishing with a solid third place in his Mazda Miata.

Peter Uzdavinis (#25) led every lap of the Group 4/Lola Cup race, driving his 1964 MG Midget. He drove comfortably out front and was never challenged. There were two black flags thrown during the race, one being for a “stray spectator on track”. You don’t hear that call often. Luckily the misguided fan was corralled quickly, and the race continued. Peter Carroll (#55) cruised to a second-place finish, while Steven Hirschtritt (#64) held off a persistent Jon Clerk (#1) for third position.

The Group 3/Marlboro Cup race was won by Henry Frye (#28) in his 1968 Triumph TR250. Frye completed the Group 3 sweep by winning the two sprint races as well. TW Herren (#29) hounded Frye and stayed close throughout the race for a well-deserved second place finish. Further back was a splendid contest between Mike Moore (#167), Scott Janzen (#63), and David Biegert (#1) with Moore leading the pack across the line for third position.

One of the most dominating performances of the weekend was put in by Jim Scott (#755), driving his 1973 Porsche 911. Scott easily won both Group 2 sprint races, and then sailed to a win in the Cunningham Cup race. Scott Kissinger (#202) looked poised for a solid second place finish but had to pull in for a late pit stop, dropping him out of contention. Todd Angel (#12) made it a Porsche 911 1-2 finish, with James Pettinato (#90) bringing home third in his BMW M3.

The Saturday feature races concluded with the running of the Group 1/Wyer Cup for the IMSA-SCCA 2.5 Class B Reunion Racers. Grand Marshal Brian Walsh threw the green flag, unleashing a field of 27 starters hurtling down towards turn 1. The race for the lead quickly became a Datsun vs. Fiat battle between Steve Byrne (#3) and John Baucom (#86). Baucom hounded Byrne lap after lap, until four laps from the end when he made his move and took the lead. Brian Walsh later told me that he heard Baucom’s engine missing as he passed the starters tower to begin the last lap. Walsh said it was only a matter of time before Bryne got him, and sure enough it was Steve Byrne who took the win in his 1970 Datsun 510. Despite finishing second, Baucom showed his speed by taking fastest lap of the race. David Porter (#58) finished third.

The Jefferson 500 weekend concluded with three Sunday morning enduros. Joseph Griffin (#23) drove his 1975 Van Diemen RF75 to win the Dan Gurney Enduro (Groups #6, #7 – open wheel only). Kenny Williamson (#27) piloted his sleek 1969 Nerus Silhouette for the win in the Bill Scott Enduro (Groups #3, #4, #5). The Brian Redman Enduro (Groups #1, #2, #6 – closed wheel only) was won by Dave Handy (#59) behind the wheel of his 1988 Swift DB2.

A final set of ‘all-comers’ sprints concluded the Jefferson 500 weekend. Frank Del Vecchio (#13) won the closed-wheel sprint in his 1981 Van Diemen RF81, while Gary Jebsen (#41x) took the weekend’s final checkered flag in his 1962 Volvo P1800 in the closed-wheel sprint.

As the cars pulled off into the paddock and the track went silent there was a familiar sense of calm in the air, like at the end of a family reunion. Throughout the week friendships were renewed, laughter and conversation eased the soul, and good racing satisfied the competitive spirit. VRG once again put on a first-class vintage racing event, amongst the beautiful surroundings of the Summit Point Motorsports Park. The Jefferson 500 is truly an experience not to be missed. Mark your calendars for 2023!

Terry Johnsen (2022)

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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