What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen to one of these vintage race cars? Most of you would probably say something along the lines of “wreck it”, or “wall touch” or even “burn it to the ground”. These are all terrible things, for sure; but not the worst thing. If you follow, or have even been amused briefly by, the auto auctions that are popular programming these days, then you’ve seen some of the most desirable classic cars that are all well on their way to becoming not much more than trophies in a trophy case.
Hard to imagine some of the most incredible machines ever conceived are relinquished to being still, for the remainder of their ever more pitiful lives. It’s bad enough when it’s a hot rod…a street rod…and especially a midcentury sports car or 60’s American Muscle car. But to do this terrible injustice to a RACE CAR? That, my friends, is the most horrible fate a machine designed for glory can endure. Being still. Locked away and forgotten in a dusty corner, or even preserved immaculately in glossy show car like condition. Being still instead of being thrashed, flogged or rode hard – being still…being still is death.
After speaking with several drivers and crew members at the Rolex Motorsports reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, I found that they all agreed. I even had an opportunity to speak with a few drivers that faced the worst-case scenario. All of whom were in surprisingly good spirits after putting the hurt on their beloved machines. They understand that when you put these, sometimes priceless wonders of the automotive world on the track, it won’t always go as planned. All of them are keenly aware of the risks, and most that I spoke to, employ at least one top-shelf craftsman to make sure that when things come home with the odd scrape, dent, or missing bit, it can be re-created, and the car can be put back where it belongs: on the track.
Quite possibly the most passionate conversation I had over the weekend, was with a car owner/driver who had three vehicles in competition throughout the week: Mr. Erich Joiner. He was fielding a 1982 Williams FW 08C Formula 1 car, as well as a 1977 Chevron B36; and finally a 1972 Porsche 911 2.4 S/RSR with which he garnered victory in the Weissach cup race. Unfortunately he had some gearbox issues with the Williams, but said he has a good relationship with Williams; and will be able to secure the parts necessary for repair. Then we got to the conversation about “when it all goes wrong”. He was very clear about the idea that these cars are meant to be raced. He described it as a “responsibility” not only to the fans of these wonderful machines, but to the future generations and even future owners of these great classics, to make sure they are on the track doing exactly what they were designed to do.
He went on to explain that you could compare these cars to a Picasso. If you put it on display at a museum, sure, there’s a chance it could be damaged by vandals, or stolen, or destroyed in a fire, etc. But not putting it on display, and not letting people see this incredible piece of art would be a much greater tragedy. And he’s exactly right. These machines are works of art designed for a specific purpose: racing. But it goes beyond that in my opinion. Like any work of art, these machines provide joy and even some amount of inspiration to drivers, fabricators, engineers and fans that get the opportunity to see and hear what they were made to do.
The sequence below shows what happens when it all goes wrong. There are a few reasons I wanted to share it with you:
1. It illustrates clearly that these gentlemen racers push these cars to the limit, even in “friendly” competition such as the Reunion
2. It shows the immense level of camaraderie, sportsmanship and respect that these drivers have for one another
3. It shows the advanced level of professionalism and care given by the support and safety crews employed by the racing organizations that govern these events
Remarkable people, all of them. It’s no wonder why the racers do a parade lap after the checkered flag, to wave to and salute these dedicated individuals. Their hard work is sincerely appreciated.
Here’s the most amazing thing about this entire incident. These drivers were running 1-2-3 at the time of the incident, but as soon as the accident occurred, standing was thrown out the window, and the drivers wasted no time coming to the aid of their fellow competitor. Brilliant.
If you’ve never been to the Rolex Motorsports Reunion, I suggest you do so as soon as humanly possible. It may be the best ticket you buy all year.