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The cars are the stars in Monterey

Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races
Monday, August 17, 2009

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Shadow UOP Can-Am car
Bob Heathcote/AR1.com
The Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races concluded today at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca after three days of fabulous vintage racing action, exhibitions, new car reveals and activities for fans. Now 36 years old, the event is often called the most significant vintage racing event in the country, and according to famed driver Brian Redman, who joined the likes of Jurgen Barth, Derek Bell, David Donohue, Vic Elford and Hurley Haywood here this year, it is "one of the top two or three events of its kind in the world."

That's a weighty statement coming from a man who has seemingly done it all in car racing, including winning, in the 1970s, the Formula 5000 championship three consecutive times, the 12 Hours of Sebring twice and the Targa Florio once. "It's the combination of the great circuit at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and the weather, as well as the enthusiastic crowds and tremendous entry of cars," said Redman, who took to the race track on Saturday in a 1971 Porsche 908/3 to win his class by just under four seconds.

To Redman's point, some very big names in auto racing were on the track, but the cars - mostly driven by gentlemen drivers who, while not necessarily famous are undeniably passionate about their sport -- were the main attraction. Of 450 entrants, one-third of those were Porsches, which was this year's Featured Marque. And unlike other events where spectators might be separated from stars who take the stage, crowds of car lovers milled through the 30 acre paddock area, chatting with owners and drivers; watching mechanics tinker; swapping insight with other enthusiasts and parting like the Red Sea when another engine revved up, on its way to take position on the grid.

"The field of cars is really extraordinary and not just the Porsches but all of them," said Steve Earle of General Racing, which produces the event. "The racing (for 15 different race groups) was excellent -- pretty darn clean -- and as long as everybody is having a good time, then I am happy."

Earle drove his own C-Type Jaguar in a race today. "It's just sort of an old family friend now, its old reliable," he said about the car, which he has had for 25 years. "It's the last race for us here, so we'll be at the back of the grid having a nice time," he added, referring to the fact that General Racing will no longer be producing the event after this year. (Later that evening, at the Rolex Awards Ceremony, Earle was presented with a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Milgauss by Doug Meine, Executive Vice President Rolex Watch U.S.A., after delivering an emotional farewell speech.)

The Monterey Cup and a Rolex Steel and Gold Daytona Cosmograph were presented to the owner of the automobile judged to have excelled overall in both presentation and performance. That winner was Richard Clark, an Englishman who lives in Monte Carlo.

"As always it has been such an amazing weekend at the Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races. It is such an amazing track, and the car we run here, the 1952 Porsche 356 Panamericana when coming down the corkscrew in that car, you're just hanging on," said Clark. "Although racing in Europe is a lot of fun, when I race here it's lovely, because I race with people who act in a competitive manner but are gentlemanly at all times. It makes for great racing for the spectators. There was a lot of overtaking in my race, but it was all done in a safe manner which is a tribute to the organization."

Like so many participants here, Clark is in close touch with the people who made history with his car. "It's very sad that Manfredo Lippman could not come here for this weekend," said Clark, explaining that Lippman ran the team on which his car raced to win the 1953 Carrera Panamericana. "He did telephone me today to ask how things went; he loves the details." Clark explained that the accomplishment in '53 was Porsche's first victory internationally, "so ever since then when you see a modern Porsche you will likely see the name Carrera written on the back in honor of that event."

Clark, who flew the car in from Europe, sorted out the paperwork at the airport and then drove it directly from the airport in San Francisco to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, added: "Racing in the 1950s, and especially in the Carrera Panamericana, was completely different from the racing we do today; those drivers were real heroes."


Notes and Quotes:

One of the most popular features at the event is the Rolex Moments in Time display. Set in a massive darkened tent in the paddock area, historically significant cars and their elaborate storyboards are illuminated like masterpieces in a museum. "The Rolex Moments in Time tent is absolutely fantastic; it's the best I have ever seen," said John Horsman, famous for his engineering contributions to the Gulf Wyer Team. "Of course I am biased, because it has two of our cars there, the Ford GT40 and the Porsche 917K, both in the Gulf colors, as well as many photographs from my book, Racing in the Rain."

Vic Elford, another Targa Florio winner who sat for several different autograph sessions outside the Rolex tent, said, "It's wonderful to see the fans that come here; they are all so knowledgeable. The cars that I have seen are magnificent. Whenever I see the cars I once drove it always brings back memories, usually good memories. Having some of the original drivers at the event also adds a lot to the overall atmosphere here."

Stirling Moss, one of the greatest drivers of all time, was happy when he raced his black Lola Mk1 Saturday. "It is a car I never raced before I retired," he said. "I actually drove it afterward, but I can tell you that it is much faster now than it ever was when it was new. I'm really only using third and fourth gear; it really accelerates well out of the slow corners."

Endurance racer and Porsche driving instructor Kees Nierop said his first impression of the Monterey Historic Automobile Races is that everyone walks around with a smile on their face. "When I hear some of these cars racing, it kind of brings a shiver down my spine and makes me feel good to be alive," he said. "You just don't hear cars sound like this anymore."

"This is the very first time I have been to this fabulous event," he added. " I had the pleasure of driving the Porsche 718/8 which was a hill climb car and is the only one in existence. When Klaus (Bischof, director of the Porsche Museum in Germany) invited me to drive this car I was thrilled. He did say though since it was set up for hill climbs it is geared quite low, so be careful not to over rev the engine. Klaus does an excellent job maintaining these cars and this one, with its six-speed gearbox, is a thrill to drive. The gears actually were tall enough so I really needed to shift down a few times, because in order to really make it work it does not want to go below 4,000 rpm. What an honor to drive a car like this with the air rushing past as you go; pride just doesn't get much bigger than that."

As the cars go out on track and for all those who enjoy the thrill of their sound and image, it should be said that the current state of these cars is due to the craftsmanship and dedication of the people who prep, repair and restore them. John Rogers has been a specialist in this field for years and one of the few people in this country known to have the skill and ability to keep his customer's machines race ready and safe.

"It is so satisfying to see a car that you restored 25 or 30 years ago and it's still running strong, especially if it is still the way you did it, without somebody else having monkeyed around with it too much" said Rogers. "When you talk to the owner, and he says how much pleasure he has had with the car, and then you kind of drop it on him that you restored that car so many years ago and point out details he may not have known of, it's rewarding to both of us.

"It's important to note that when one of these cars is restored, it must be restored as close to original as possible but with an eye to safety. As an example, things like suspension pieces that might look okay but are rusty inside after 50 years, need to be replaced with accurately fabricated new pieces. These old cars killed the best there were in their day."

The initial airing of SPEED Channel's one-hour special on the Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races is scheduled for Friday, October 16 at 8 p.m.

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