In the 1970s, a friend of Brian Blain’s family died, Harry Sprague, who Brian’s family had sort of adopted as a grandfather figure. And when he died, Sprague left Blain an old trunk filled with things from his earlier life.
One of those things was a jersey bearing the word “National.” Blain wondered if it might have been a stick-and-ball sports team for which Sprague had played. But after doing some research, he discovered National was an automaker and that Sprague had raced cars back in the days when as many as 40,000 people would show up for the auto races in Visalia, California, Blain’s hometown.
Blain was fascinated by his friend’s history and then by the early history of American auto racing, fascinated to the point that he started searching for and collecting and restoring those early racing cars. That led to the Blain Motorsports Foundation and, in 2018, to a group called the Ragtime Racers: Exhibitions of Speed. The group is participating this weekend in the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Not only do the Ragtime Racers have their own area in the Laguna Seca paddock, where they have a couple dozen cars that first raced in the first two decades of the 20th Century, but they also have a garage-like structure that looks like it, too, dates back more than 100 years. They even dress in white coveralls that look like those racers wore in the early years of the previous century.
“Our desire is to educate spectators about the rich motorsports history of this time period,” the group says on its website. “Our goal is to spread our knowledge about these race cars simply to keep them alive.
“As long as we are around these cars will be in motion, not sitting idle in a museum.”
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.