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It's a wrap at Monterey Motorsports Reunion

Graham Wallis claimed the Spirit of Monterey Trophy
Monday, August 16, 2010

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As the sun set on the fourth and final day of racing at the 2010 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, entrants representing 13 countries and competing in over 600 historic cars gathered to celebrate their accomplishments at the Rolex Awards Ceremony at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. No one was more proud than Graham Wallis (Cedar Glen, Calif.), who claimed the Spirit of Monterey Trophy for overall excellence in presentation and performance of his 1929 Lagonda, which raced in the group for  Pre-1949 Sports and Racing Cars.

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“This is the car we drive,” said Wallis. “We go shopping in it, we vacation in it, we go to the garden center and put plants in it, and four or five times a year we pump the tires up and we go racing,” said Wallis. “The car is absolutely all original; we’ve traced its history back to the 1930s and found that the body is all original--most of the leather is original, the engine and gear box are all original, and it’s all as it was when it came out of the factory.”  Wallis added, “It’s fun to drive this car around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but it’s a big car, and it’s heavy, and you just have to keep your eyes in the mirrors. I got passed three times today in the race, but I don’t think anyone had more fun than we did. I just want to thank Rolex for everything.”

For his performance, Wallis also received a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona and artwork from artist Bill Patterson’s event poster (signed by Patterson and Dan Gurney), which renders Dan Gurney’s famous Eagle-Weslake Formula 1 race car and reflects the tribute to Gurney that filtered consistently through this weekend’s festivities. Another high note at the awards was the presentation of Rolex Awards for Excellence in each race group, as determined by a three-person panel who watched every 10- lap race around the 2.2-mile circuit. That meant 19 races for as many race groups, with ten of those groups racing yesterday and another nine showcasing the best from bygone eras today.

Wowing the Crowds

If anyone could sum up the satisfaction of being a spectator at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, it is Jan Griffith-Mower of Everett, Wash. For the last 21 years, she has come to camp at the event with her husband in their Volkswagen Westfalia camper at the Grand Prix camp ground. “This year the event turned a corner,” she said. “There are more cars, more variety, and with the printed legends at the head of each row in the paddock areas, we know exactly what cars to look for down each aisle. The vendor area (Yamaha Marketplace) is expanded and more interesting, and I was even able to buy some California wine for gifts when I go home.”

Drivers themselves became spectators when they weren’t actually racing, and all of them had access to the Rolex Driver’s Lounge, complete with a sky box for a bird’s eye view of racing. From there, participant Mark Colbert (Del Rey Beach, Fla.) enjoyed watching his friend Scott Gray driving a 1968 GTA in the 1966-1972 Trans AM group on Saturday. Gray had bought the car 25 years ago, and it had been in storage until a month ago. “Since it was the first GTA ever to be brought to North America and this year is the 100th Anniversary of Alfa Romeo, we insisted that he bring it here to race,” said Colbert. “Dust literally blew off it when the engine started, and whenever he put on the brakes, the sun visor would plop down, so he had to do a lot of work on it before he came.”

Stock Cars Steal the Show

When the checkered flag dropped for the finish of the Grand National Stock Cars today, it was a bit like the phoenix rising from the ashes. The oil filter in Randy Peterson’s (Sonoma, CA) 1971 Chevrolet Monte Carlo had failed in this morning’s qualifying race and shot oil onto his engine, creating a Vesuvius-like eruption. With the help of a hard-working crew, Peterson was able to join 18 other Stock Cars on the grid and prevailed as the race’s winner, exclaiming breathlessly after finishing, “I had so much fun out there, I didn’t want to come in; I wish there were a few more laps!”

Peterson has raced here before in Corvettes, but this was his first time here in a Stock Car. In fact, in Mazda Raceway’s 53-year history there has never been a group of Stock Cars to roar through its Corkscrew, and including them was a deliberate effort to add yet another nostalgic patch—V8s from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s--into the colorful quilt work of historic automobile racing presented here.

“The brakes were okay while we were running up front,” said Peterson, “and the group I was running with, we were all pretty evenly matched and were going all out. I hope the spectators enjoyed the show, and I hope to see more of these cars come out and race.”

Jim Hague (Saratoga, CA) raced a totally unrestored 1972 Ford Torino, which made the favorites list. “This car came right off the track at Riverside in 1972,” said Hague. “It was Bobby Unser’s rookie car, and it’s set up as a road course car and did pretty well for Unser that year at Riverside, finishing in fourth place. We’ve had this car for about ten years now and found it in a barn where it had been for about 15 years; we got it out and brought it back to life. We plan to keep it in its original unrestored form; we think it’s gorgeous this way.”

Hague explained that it’s hard to drive a Stock Car here at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca because of the drum brakes. “Going into turn one, you’re going at a pretty good clip, and it almost takes two feet on the brakes to slow the car for the turn.”

Justin Bell, son of Derek Bell (who won at LeMans five times) and a famous driver in his own right (he won the FIA GT2 championship in a Dodge Viper GTS-R, racing for Team ORECA in 2000), had his own thoughts about driving Ken Epsman’s 1966 Ford Galaxy in today’s race.  “As for the drum brake Stock Cars, I don’t mind the 4000 pound weight and I love the 600 horsepower,” said Bell, “but regarding the drum brakes…there is a reason we have evolved from them. When you drive a car like this, you know what your parameters are, so you just drive within them, and if you don’t, you just have an accident, and you don’t want to do that.”

Scott Rubin (Saratoga, Calif.), who drove another of Ken Epsman’s cars, a 1964 Mercury Marauder, added, “We could probably go a whole lot faster, but you would really be taking chances, which you don’t want to do with these cars. We just give ourselves a little bit of a margin, since they are a bit slower to respond than a modern race car.”

Speed TV Special

A one-hour Speed TV special on the 2010 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 17, at 8:00 p.m. EST. The show will re-air at 1:00 a.m. the next morning and also on Friday, Sept. 24 at 1:00 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 17 at 5:00 p.m. (Check local listings for changes.)

Dates for the 2011 event are September 19-21.

For more information and full results from Saturday and Sunday at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, please visit www.MazdaRaceway.com or call 1-800-327-7322.

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