Three things I learned about vintage racing

I can appreciate the long-bodied, elegant pre-war cars with seductive curves, but nothing is more alluring than a purpose-built race car.

Open wheel race car

Open wheel race car in garage bay | Nicole James photos

I can appreciate the long-bodied, elegant pre-war cars with seductive curves, and even family-style sedans built for “grocery getting,” and of course I enjoy “go-fast” muscle cars and hot rods, but nothing is more alluring than a purpose-built race car. I’ve always thought that not every show car can be a race car, but every race car can be a show car.

While there’s nothing like seeing these cars ripping around a racetrack, more such historic racers are making their way to the auction block and show fields and, with their presence, bring light to their eras of technology while representing a role in the evolution to modern race cars.

I recently attended my first vintage racing weekend, held by the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association at Auto Club Speedway in Southern California. While it’s educational seeing such cars parked at a show, it’s even better seeing them in their natural habitat — on the track.

Here are three things I learned from the first of what I expect to be many weekends spent watching vintage racing:

They said I could become anything I wanted to be, so I became a race car driver

Driver looking car

Race car driver looking at car before race

As I talked with drivers I asked them how they got into vintage racing and two comments really stuck with me: one came from someone who has been racing for 30 years while the other was from someone in his first season of competition.

The seasoned driver told me that all he knew was racing and shortly after he retired he began vintage racing as a hobby because he loved the sport and cars. In a sense, he started so he could continue, vintage racing allowed him to drive yet again the cars he loved driving in his younger years.

The other driver told me that he had always had a lifelong dream to be a race car driver but never had the opportunity, or time until his recent retirement.

With the proper car, vintage racing is something anyone can do and it allows seasoned pros alongside the lifelong dreamers on an even playing field, enjoying the cars and sport together.

Race cars were meant to be driven, even in the rain

Cars are meant to be driven, but I asked drivers and car owners if they are ever concerned about wrecking the car and not being able to fix it due to a limited supply parts, or that it might impact the cars value.

Everyone was concerned about crashing, but most said that while some of the cars are rare, everything needed for a repair can be fabricated or sourced with time, that the fear of something being irreplaceable shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the car and using it as it was intended.

It rained throughout the event. Some drivers noted that when these were new rather than vintage cars, they were raced in the rain and should be again. Others said that when the track is slippery, they drive more cautiously while others wouldn’t venture onto a wet track for fear of those around them making a mistake and causing a crash.

Pick your poison: Open wheel, stock, sprint, whatever

Mustang

Mustang on grid before race

One of the things I loved the most about my experience with vintage racing was the variety of cars . It was almost like being at several different motorsport events at the same time because each class was so different.

While I had seen sprint cars, Indy cars, and stock cars, I had never been exposed to the GT cars that had competed in the World Sports Car Championship and World Manufacturer’s Championship.

The open pit and garage provided the opportunity to get up close and personal with all cars and to interact with the drivers and owners.

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Photos by Nicole James 

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