U.S. Vintage Grand Prix @ Watkins Glen (article)

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Ken Epsman, #2, 1971 AMC Javelin.

Victory Lane Magazine, December 2016, Vol.31, No.12

Story and photos by Terry Johnsen

Watkins Glen International, September 7-11, 2016

The 2016 U.S. Vintage Grand Prix presented by Jaguar was an amazing celebration of American road racing, held at the most iconic road racing venue in North America. The vision of Tony Parella (SVRA President and CEO) was to create a festival atmosphere for the fans, celebrating sports cars, vintage racing, and the Watkins Glen racing legacy. The weekend brought crystal clarity to that vision. The program schedule was carefully designed to include something for everyone.

Over 450 cars were on hand for the event. The paddock was spread far and wide, and seemed to be endless. A person could literally spend a whole day enjoying the vast array of beautifully presented vintage machinery without ever seeing action on the track. A multitude of vendors were also on hand offering souvenirs, memorabilia, and fine artwork. It had to be one of the best collections of vendors I’ve seen at any event in a very long time. My wallet can attest to that!

American racing veteran and winner of the 1996 24 Hours of Le Mans, Davy Jones, was the Grand Marshal for the USVGP. Jones was also on hand as the Head Driving Instructor for the Jaguar Driving Experience. This extremely popular activity included the Jaguar Driving Experience autocross in the North Paddock, and the Land Rover motorcross in the “boot” section of the track. The annual downtown Watkins Glen Festival re-enactment took place on Friday, capped off by a fireworks display in the State Park gorge. Roberto Guerrero served as the celebration’s Grand Marshal. He and fellow Jaguar Driving Experience ambassador, Davy Jones, were honored for their driving achievements and given their own markers on the downtown Walk of Fame.

Motostalgia Auctions D’Elegance continued their successful partnership with SVRA and held their auction Saturday evening. There was an impressive array of road cars, racecars, motorcycles, and automobilia sculpture available to the highest bidders. Representatives from the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC) were also on hand to provide information about their splendid research facility located in the town of Watkins Glen. Sitting next to their display booth was a brand-sparkling new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata that is being offered up for their annual fund-raising raffle. Only 2,500 tickets will be sold, so act now. The drawing for the winning ticket will be held on December 10, 2016. For more information go to their website, www.racingarchives.org.

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Tony Parella and Lyn St. James.

Fan favorite and racing veteran Lyn St. James was at the track, and was honored by Tony Parella and SVRA for her achievement at Watkins Glen in 1985. During the IMSA GT Championship event that year, she became the first female driver to win a North American professional endurance road race driving solo. James competed in the GTO class for Roush Racing. Throughout the USVGP weekend she was available at The Pyramid, the Watkins Glen gift shop, and signed copies of her book “An Incredible Journey”. I asked her what the draw of vintage and historic racing was for her. She really likes the relaxed atmosphere, which is similar she said to her earlier SCCA days. She also enjoys the unique experience of getting to drive various cars from past generations. Lyn also spoke about her role as Ambassador for the RPM Foundation. Their stated mission is to preserve and promote America’s automotive treasures, and to educate a new generation of restoration craftsmen. You can find more information by visiting the RPM website: www.rpm.foundation.

Providing race commentary throughout the weekend were track announcers, Frank Delvecchio and Mike Pazdyk. Their unique blend of witty conversation and automotive know-how was an added bonus for the spectators. Saturday’s racing activity featured the two Hawk Performance Endurance Series races. Each endurance event fielded healthy grids of over 30 cars. The morning Classic/Vintage Endurance Race was won by Greg Frey/Ron Zitza in a 1970 Porsche 914/6. The afternoon running of the Hawk Performance Historic Endurance Race was won by David Porter in his 2007 Pescarolo 01 Judd.

Sunday brought with it another beautiful sunny day at The Glen. The fans were back in force and were ready for the main program of events. The Collier Cup race embodies the history and heritage of American sports car racing. No U.S. Vintage Grand Prix would be complete without it. 24 cars took the green flag. Fierce racing ensued with former SCCA G Production Runoff National Champion, Kent Prather, ultimately taking top honors with the overall win in his 1962 MG/A. The prestigious Collier Cup, as voted by the competitors themselves, was awarded to Steve Konsin, who drove his 1953 MG/TD to a 13th place finish.

The Historic Trans-Am Series were the rock stars of the weekend. The 50th anniversary celebration of the Trans-Am series served as the perfect headliner for the USVGP in 2016. Their special paddock was flooded with fans all weekend long. It was such a special treat to get up close and personal with these iconic and legendary American racecars. Anytime you have a grid lineup with former driver names on the cars such as: George Follmer, Peter Gregg, Mark Donohue, Dan Gurney, and Sam Posey (just to name a few) you know you are witnessing something special. NASCAR announcer/broadcaster Mike Joy was on-hand to give the pre-race commentary, then jumped in a 1966 Ford Mustang and drove in the race, finishing 19th. The pre-race ceremonies included an overflowing fan grid walk and a stirring rendition of the National Anthem, made all the more memorable being that it was the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy in 2001. The race served as a showcase of the memorable Pony War years. The engines roared and the ground shook. Jim Hague set a blistering pace and led the field to the checkered flag in his ex-Peter Gregg, Ford Mustang Boss 302.

Following the Historic Trans-Am race out on the track was the Governor’s Cup All-Corvette Race. This event proved to be equally thunderous and just as competitive. The fans loved it. Jeffrey Bernatovich led from start to finish in his 1990 Chevrolet GT1 Corvette, taking the top spot on the podium. Rounding out the special feature races on Sunday was the Dick Mooney Memorial Race for Group 6 won by Peter Klutt, the Joel Finn Cup Race for Group5/7b won by Justin Frick, and the S2 Feature Race for Group 7a taken by Ben Sinnott.

The track action and intensity of competition never abated. From top to bottom the group winners displayed wonderful driving skill and sportsmanship. Harry Gentry led the way in Group 1 with his 1962 MG Midget, while Peter Giddings graced the track with his lovely 1954 Lancia D50 A/R Formula One car in the Pre-War race. It was a sight to behold, an amazing piece of automotive fine art. Dave Handy set the pace in Group 2 in his 1968 Brabham BT29, edging out Bobby Brown for the win. Bob Bramlage, driving a 1964 Ginetta G4, also won a tight battle by beating out Vic Skirmants in Group 3, while Randy Williams secured the Group 4 win in his 1966 Jaguar ERA XKE-R.

Rounding out the group race competition on Sunday was an impressive win by Jim Hamblin in Group 8 behind the wheel of his 1968 Porsche 911. Mark Brannon took the fastest lap and the win in Group 9. Jeffrey Bernatovich not only won the All-Corvette race in the afternoon, but also began his day by taking the Group 10 race win. Group 11 was a free-for-all, no-holds-barred battle, ultimately won by Randy Johnson in his 2007 Pescarolo 01. Finally, Jonathan Pfeffer won the Group 12 race in his 1990 Chevrolet Corvette. He topped off a great race by taking the fastest lap.

A special feature to the weekend racing program was the inclusion of the International GT Series. This contemporary series features Porsche Caymans and GT3 Cup cars, along with an assortment of Ferrari 430’s, 458’s, and 355’s. Their sprint and endurance races were ultra competitive and a joy to watch. International GT served as the perfect bookend for the vast racing heritage on display at The Glen.

The SVRA U.S. Vintage Grand Prix presented by Jaguar was indeed a festival celebration. Congratulations to SVRA, Watkins Glen International, and the downtown festival organizers. It was a huge success. The attendance throughout the weekend spoke volumes for the enthusiasm fans have for vintage and historic racing. History came alive and everyone enjoyed the festive ride. Once again, The Glen laid claim as being the spiritual home of American road racing.

TJ 2016

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Vintage Racer Group – VRG @ The Glen.

So it was back to Watkins Glen for the VRG @ The Glen event, 7-9 October 2016…and what a difference a few weeks make. Cool, windy, and drizzle characterized most of the weekend…at least while I was there. Still, any day at Watkins Glen and the Finger Lakes region of New York is a good day. I’ve submitted the article for Victory Lane Magazine. When it’s published I’ll post it here. Meanwhile, here’s a few photos. Enjoy!


Jason Di Cesar (#53) 1969 Volkswagen Beetle


Kevin Young (#160) 1971 Crossle 20F


Gary Allen (#32) 1982 Porsche SC

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U.S. Vintage Grand Prix @ Watkins Glen

It doesn’t seem real that two weeks have passed by since the SVRA U.S. Vintage Grand Prix presented by Jaguar @ Watkins Glen. Time flies by before you know it. Earlier this week I submitted the event coverage article for Victory Lane Magazine. I’ll post it here once the Victory Lane issue is out. Until then, here’s a few shots of some of my favorite cars of the weekend. For some reason they all seem to be red. Hmmm, interesting. Enjoy….TJ.

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Peter Giddings beautiful 1954 Lancia D50 A/R.

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The Historic Trans-Am Series cars were the stars of the weekend. Here’s Andrew Alcazar’s Ford Mustang Boss 302.


A work of art. This Surtees TS-5 run by Mark Harmer, was an ex-David Hobbs Formula 5000 car. It even had Hobbs’ autograph on the car next to his name.


This 1968 Alfa Romeo T33/2 Daytona of Jay Iliohan has an impressive history with former drivers such as Mario Andretti and Lucien Bianchi.


The immaculate 1985 Porsche 962 driven by Bill Hawe.



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IMSA Weekend @ VIR

One week ago I visited the beautiful rolling countryside of the Virginia International Raceway. The weekend of August 26-28 (2016) featured five amazing series, headlined by the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. This event set the stage for a battle between the GT Le Mans (GTLM) and The GT Daytona (GTD) classes going for the overall win. Also on the weekend agenda were the cars and drivers of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America series, the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA series, and The Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup. What more can a sports car racing fan ask for?! My “Future History” article for Victory Lane is in the final edit stages, but here are a few shots from the the IMSA WeatherTech and Continental Tire SportsCar series. Next week it’s on to Watkins Glen for the SVRA US Vintage Grand Prix. Enjoy!


Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Ford GT #67, with drivers Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook.


Pit stop teamwork in action for the Turner Motorsport, BMW M6 GT3 #97, with drivers Michael Marsal and Markus Palttala.

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In the paddock where the race preparation never ends for the Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing, Porsche 911 GT3 R #23, featuring drivers Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas.

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Powering through Oak Tree corner is the Continental Tire SportCar Challenge team RS1, Porsche Cayman #17, featuring the driving duo of Spencer Pumpelly and Nick Galante.


The race helmet design of driver Liam Dwyer, of the Freedom Autosport, Mazda MX-5 #26.

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Turning the page, revisited

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In preparation for the new season, I decided to refresh the blog with a new look, and new designs for my business cards. My son, Eric Johnsen (ericjohnsendesigner@gmail.com, Twitter @EricJ_Designer) incorporated my love for the Gulf Porsche 917 of the early 70’s, with a simple and elegant design. The graphic layout from a previous post illustrates both variations of the front of the card, using the numbers 20 and 70. The #20 is of course my homage to Michael Delaney, aka Steve McQueen, from the iconic movie “Le Mans”. The #70 is in reference to the year 1970. This was a very pivotal and influential year for me as I entered my teen years.

So many memorable things happened in 1970 that made an impression on me. In the world of auto racing it was the year Porsche first won Le Mans. The movie “Le Mans” was filmed at the 1970 event. The release of the movie the following year has since become a cult classic. The Porsche 917 is in my mind the perfect racecar, aesthetically…simple, elegant, and ferocious. The drivers of the #20 in the actual 1970 race were Brian Redman and Jo Siffert. Steve McQueen prepared for the film by racing at the 12 Hours of Sebring with Peter Revson. The underdog entry almost pulled it off, if it hadn’t been for an eleventh hour comeback charge by Mario Andretti in a Ferrari. 1970 also saw Jochen Rindt become the first and only driver to be the crowned Formula One World Champion posthumously. Rindt drove the iconic Gold Leaf sponsored Lotus designed by Colin Chapman. Finally, Al Unser won the Indianapolis 500 in the Vels-Parnelli/Johnny Lightning Special (Colt/Ford). Lightning Bolt livery and all!

1970 also featured some of the most beloved music of my life. Cars and music go hand in hand. Driving is a pleasure, and having the right tunes in your car makes all the difference. The music released in 1970 is for me the most concentrated grouping of influential classic rock I can ever remember. Let me remind you of just some of the music released that year…Derek and The Dominos (Layla and other Assorted Love Songs), Eric Clapton (Eric Clapton), CSN&Y (Déjà vu), The Beatles (Let It Be and Abbey Road), Santana (Abraxas), The Who (Live at Leeds), The James Gang (Rides Again), Neil Young (After the Gold Rush), Stephen Stills (Stephen Stills), Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Water), James Taylor (Sweet Baby James), Joe Cocker (Mad Dogs & Englishmen), Sly & The Family Stone (Greatest Hits), Jimi Hendrix (Band of Gypsys) and the “Woodstock” movie soundtrack…just to name a few. I defy you to find a year that can match that kind of output. 1970 is all you need for the perfect road trip playlist.

Then there was Kent State, May 4th, 1970. I grew up nearby in the Akron area. I’ll never forget it. It was the year I really became focused on politics and the world in turmoil. Later I would attend Kent State, and most of my core classes were held at Taylor Hall, the scene of the tragedy.

So, as you can see trying to decide on numbers for this project was ultimately an easy choice. Fast forward to 2016, and it was refreshing to get back to the track for the SVRA Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio. I’m still contributing to Victory Lane Magazine, but will not be doing the race reviews for now. My focus has instead turned to special focus storylines and interviews of my choosing. Stay tuned!  ……..TJ 2016

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SVRA Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio, June 23-26, 2016

It was a beautiful weekend in central Ohio. SVRA and the staff of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course couldn’t have asked for better weather. Though the spectator turn-out was less than I expected, the racing certainly didn’t suffer. Each of the groups presented close entertaining racing. The stars of the weekend (in my opinion) were the International GT cars and drivers. It was no-holds-barred racing. It was fantastic. Here are some of my favorite cars from that weekend. TJ 2016

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Bill Riddell #05, 2011 Porsche Cayman S.

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John McCormick #28, 1985 Ford Cobra IV.

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Tom Cantrell #2, 1969 Open Sports Ford Can-Am.

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Mike Fisher #7D, 1960 Austin Healey 3000.

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Turning the page….

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It’s the start of a new season for me. The SVRA Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio will be my first event of the year. With that comes a new look. I’ll have more to say about that in my next post, but for now I’m packing for the trip tomorrow morning. Stay tuned. TJ.

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