HomeCar CultureOld race cars were worthless, until Steve Earle changed things

Old race cars were worthless, until Steve Earle changed things

He launched the Monterey Historics and vintage race cars were competitive — and cherished — once again


(Editors note: During the month of April, the Journal presents a series of stories about vintage rallies and vintage racing. If you have a story about your participation in a vintage rally or race that youd like to share, please email us at journal@classiccars.com.)

You could make a good argument that even at its annual Runoffs national championships, the Sports Car Club of America is all about vintage racing, what with imports from the 1960s and ‘70s still competing for regional and national honors in multiple classes.

Steve Earle vintage racing
Steve Earle at 2014 Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival | Photo by Pete Lyons/www.petelyons.com

But it was Steve Earle who took it upon himself to belie the old axiom that there was nothing more worthless than last year’s racing car. 

While people who owned fancy old cars could restore them and compete in a concours d’elegance or cash them in at a collector car auction, “what did you do with an old race car?” Earle asked. 

“Nothing,” he responded to his own question.

But Earle liked not only his own old race cars but those of his friends. Indeed, he recalls that they used to sneak into the Willow Springs race track for a few laps from time to time. But such events were unsupervised and could be dangerous. So in 1974, Earle decided to organize a showcase event for vintage racing cars and their owner/drivers. 

The location he selected was the Laguna Seca circuit near Monterey, California, and he timed his event to coincide with the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, which made sense since that event actually was born as part of the old-time sports car races through the Del Monte Forest. 

 1974 Monterey Historics, Steve Earle

Earle organized General Racing and, to make sure the competition was conducted as safely and as sanely as possible, he brought in SCCA corner workers and safety personnel, “the same guys who worked the Can-Am races,” he noted. 

And thus, the Monterey Historics, which grew so large that a Pre-Historics weekend was added to deal with the overflow and as a practice session.

Old race cars were worthless, until Steve Earle changed things
Steve Earle in a Ferrari 412 (#4) at the 1st Annual Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca | Photo by David Love

Initially, Earle simply wanted the event to be a stage to encourage people to preserve, maintain and enjoy their old race cars, and for spectators to get to see such cars once again being driven at speed around a track. 

He planted a seed, which sprouted into a variety of vintage racing groups and events being staged across the country. 

After 36 years as the founding father of American vintage sports car racing, Earle’s oversight ended when Laguna Seca’s own managers, the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula, decided they should be in charge of the event, which is now known as the Monterey Motorsports Reunion.

There was concern that the Historics would not continue. Thankfully, they have, albeit under a new name and leadership. But Steve Earle’s role in preserving and promoting old race cars needs to be revered, not forgotten.

Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.



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