Some Thoughts on Vintage Racing...

I remember that little impromptu vintage race they had prior to the
12-Hour race over at Sebring back in the late 70’s. That small
group of enthusiasts evolved into the SVRA, (then the Southeast
Vintage Racers Association), CARE, and a few other fledgling
organizations, into Vintage Racing as it is today. Being an SCCA
Club racer and a Vintage driver myself, I see a big difference
between the two. True, the purpose of a race is to win, but Vintage
requires a little different mindset. My feelings on Vintage Racing
are best summarized by this article written by BS don’t-leave-your-
race-car-keys-lying-around Levy back sometime in the mid 80’s. I
clipped it out of a sports car magazine then and framed it; it’s been
hanging on the wall in my office ever since, and I still read it often.
The article may old, but the words are as true today as when they
were written.

I hope you enjoy it.

“A Crash Course in Track Manners”
By BS Levy
(reprinted with permission from the King of the Ride Mooches

Racing, as it is practiced in the SVRA, is quite a bit different than
any other kind of racing. For this we should all be thankful,
because vintage racing encompasses several unique conditions.
First, there is the beauty and value of these cars. And the laws of
physics being what they are, two solid objects still have a tough
time occupying the same piece of track, especially if they happen to
be a NART Ferarri Daytona and a Corvette Split-Window Coupe.
The inescapable fact is that you can’t dial up JC Whitney & Co. and
have them pluck new bits & pieces out of the parts bin and ship
Next Day Air. Noooo. These lovely old hulks need to be treated with
a little respect.
Which does not mean that vintage drivers are supposed to go
puttering around on the idle jet, sooting up the plugs & waving to
fans. These cars were bred and built to race, and to bring them out
to a racing circuit and not put your foot in it is almost as
disrespectful as flinging them into the guardrails. The whole idea is
to enjoy the cars, to get the oil hot and blood pumping for car and
driver alike.
Which brings us to special condition number two: No-where else in
racing is there such a wide variety of talent, skill, and experience
(or lack thereof) as in Vintage Racing. At one end of the spectrum
you’ve got people like Bertil Roos and Brian Redman who make
their living with steering wheel & shifter. Then there are many
people like Patsy Bolin & Ed Henning and so many, many more who
are excellent, excellent drivers, the kind you can go door-to-door
against with the confidence that they will respect your piece of
track and your piece of mind. At the next level down are the
journeymen drivers, the majority of whom have the wisdom to place
the value of their cars above the value of a tin cup and who,
moreover, have a realistic view of their own limits. At the far edge
of the spectrum, there are the drivers “on the edge.” They may be
rookies testing the waters for the first time or two, or they may be
experienced drivers who suddenly find themselves strapped into a
car that is too much for them, or they may be simply good drivers
who, in the heat of competition, fall victim to “the red mist” and
venture beyond their limits.
 The key here, as has been stated in every SVRA drivers meeting
that I have attended, is to go out and have fun. Drive hard, but
drive well, and don’t prang any of that wonderful equipment. To
this end, the SVRA “Crash-Out” rule is both fair & responsible. The
idea that “winning isn’t all that important” makes great policy &
even better conversation, but the fact is, when you buckle up, flip
your visor down, and fire up the horsepower, the adrenaline starts
pouring out both ears and it’s kind of difficult to maintain that
lovely detachment. Which brings us to the heart of the matter.
That little island inside your helmet (…as the field thunders
around on the pace lap, weaving back & forth to heat up the tires,
checking your belts & gauges, sneaking a look at the guy next to
you on the grid…), that place is the most private, solitary place in
the universe. Racing is a supremely individual sport, and all the
gladhandling chatter in the paddock and pitlane disappear like a
vapor when you are inside the beast. Alone.
 And yet, here in the hollow center of this inner sanctum of
isolation, you are a part of a blood-serious secret society, your fate
intertwined with every other driver on the track. This is the
cornerstone of the camaraderie that is racing. I will try to beat you,
and you will try to beat me, but we will take care of each other, so
we may do this again another day. It’s not something you
consciously think about, but it is there, always. And it should be.
 Which brings us, in a round-about way, to the point: Given that
the performance envelope for cars in SVRA racing varies greatly,
and given that the variety of driver ability and experience varies
even more, a driver (especially a good one) must make allowances
for ”the idiot factor” when the green is out. This is not to say that
inexperienced drivers are idiots, but they are not likely to do what
the experienced driver would do in the same situation. If a driver is
out there for the first time with his guts in a knot and a death-grip
on the steering wheel and his eyes the size of buzzard eggs, he is
somewhat past the limits of well-considered thought. In fact, he is
over his head, and should probably ease off, point the pursuing
cars past, try to fall in line on an empty piece of pavement and get
into the program of learning how to race. But, as we observed, you
really don’t know what this fellow is likely to do (which figures, as
he doesn’t know either) but you can be pretty sure that he is busy
and probably not in touch with his mirrors.
And, the thing of it is, until you have a mental “book” on every car
and every driver (which may be impossible in SVRA racing), you don’
t know which car/driver combination may fall into the “idiot”
category. This means that you have to treat every car with a
certain, extra care, particularly on those first few laps when the
field is bunched and the drivers are really keyed up. If an accident
occurs because the rookie driver does the unexpected, the
experienced driver who gets involved is equally to blame. He didn’t
consider “the idiot factor.”
There is difference, in racing and in life in general, between “fault”
and “responsibility.” If a rookie driver doesn’t see you making your
move to pass and introduces you to the guard rail, it may well have
been his fault, but it was your responsibility If you fail to realize
that 8/10ths for you may well be 11/10ths for some one else, you
are not practicing vintage racing. You are practicing Blood Racing.
There is nothing wrong with that kind of serious competition, but
there are many other places to practice that manifestation of the
sport. Try the Barber or Russell series or Sports Renault or buy a
Formula Ford and order up a big slice of humble pie.
 Vintage racing is something unique. It includes the competitive
spirit , but it should not be slave to it. Many of these cars were
driven the greats in their heyday: Fangio and Moss and Hill and
Shelb and all the rest. We may never attain their skill, but perhaps
we can follow the example of their judgment. The most important
thing is to respect the limits of the car, of self, of track, and of fellow

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