“Once you raced, you never forget it… and you never get over it”
— Richard Childress
The Sports Car Vintage Racing Association opened its 2022 season with the So-Ca Speed Tour races at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, where around 100 vintage racing cars took to the track built by Roger Penske.
Among the competitors was Steve Meline, driving a 1965 Triumph Spitfire in Group 1. He finished in seventh place and was happy just to be part of the scene.
You see, his car bears the racing number 74, which also is Meline’s age.
“The power under the bonnet is a race-tuned Triumph Spitfire motor which is stock configuration but runs a Weber with 13:1 compression,” he said. “It is tuned to the max at about 80 horsepower. That engine is smaller than a 1200cc 1960 VW, but has twice the horsepower and the suspension like a brick.
“This is my rookie season at 74 years old so it’s never too late for you dream. (Actor Paul) Newman raced till he was 82.”
What I like about SVRA’s philosophy is its effort to “encourage the restoration, preservation, and racing of historically significant automobiles that are configured as closely as possible to their original design and construction.”
Along with that creed, all spectators are welcome to stroll the paddock and garages to talk with owners and drivers and to examine the race cars.
SVRA, founded in 1981, conducts events at tracks including Willow Springs International, Road America, Sonoma Raceway, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Portland International Raceway, Watkins Glen International, Circuit of the Americas and others.
The sanctioning body notes that “SVRA events also include car shows, auto auctions, vendors, and other activities promoting the ‘car culture’.”
Being back at the Auto Club venue reminded me of 1997 when I was at the track’s inaugural event in 1997, the NASCAR California 500. Vintage races use an infield road course and I recall being at Turn 9 where a couple of photographers cut “shooting holes” in the chain-link fencing to get better access for telephone lenses.
Turn 9 is tricky because if you don’t get the speed and steering just right, you will spin out and lose precious seconds.
Another good location is on the grid with a full view down the line of cars with the massive grandstands in the background as the drivers settle cockpits and adjus their helmets.
By the way, a bit of movie trivia: Auto Club Speedway represented Daytona International Speedway in the filming of the blockbuster movie Ford v Ferrari.
For the recent vintage races, Hagerty organized a Cars and Caffeine car show on Saturday that drew maybe about 75 cars including classics, customs, sports cars, hot rods, muscle cars, trucks and motorcycles. Registration for the show included weekend passes and the opportunity to drive your own vehicle around the track.
After practice and qualifying Saturday morning, wheel-to-wheel competition started Saturday afternoon and continued Sunday. “Safe, Fair and Fun” is a core value of SVRA events where classic Jaguars, Triumphs, BMWs, MGs, Shelby GT 350s, NASCAR stock cars, Formula Fords, Porsche, Camaros, Audis, Corvettes and others went at it on the 21-turn course.