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Just keep the old cars rolling!!
Ahh, is this heaven?
Ahh, is this heaven?
November 24th 2007 - Vintage Racing:
The Sport Racing the way it used to be
by Harold Pace /

In many ways, today's racing is undoubtedly safer than in the past, but in other, less tangible ways it just doesn't seem as much fun. Fortunately, if you yearn for the "good ol' days" of motorsports competition, there is a segment that may be just right for you—vintage racing. We'll start with an overview of the sport, and in later articles we'll cover the cars, safety equipment and getting a racing license.


Racing vintage cars started back in the 1970s when racing technology was beginning the transition to computers and electronics, and was being increasingly directed by the sponsors and the big factory teams. Carburetors became anachronisms and racing cars began to be constructed on purpose-built chassis, which served to distance them from their street-driven brethren. Even amateur racing began to shift from sports cars and modified sedans to tube-frame chassis that might be run as a Mustang during one season and then a Camaro the next. The emphasis shifted from the cars to the racing, causing the cost of staying competitive to skyrocket. Worse, sponsors required results to keep the money pipeline open, so drivers became more aggressive to the point that damaging and destroying cars was considered just part of the game. Vintage racing began as a reaction against this philosophy with more emphasis on making sure the focus stayed on historic cars.

Vintage racing started with road-racing cars and has since become very popular with circle-track fans as well. There are even nostalgia drag racing events for quarter-mile stars from the past. Although most vintage racing clubs share a similar philosophy, most of the hundreds of clubs across the country have their own rules regarding driver etiquette and car preparation. There are periodic cries for a nationwide set of regulations, but most clubs want to keep the decision making at the local level where it can be more responsive to the desires of the drivers and car owners.


Some sponsors pony up big bucks to put on high-profile events such as the Monterey Historics or to help out a particular team, but for the most part demanding sponsors are discouraged in vintage racing. Vintage racing is unique in that it's beholden only to the drivers, and all decisions are based on what is best for them and their cars. Most clubs are set up as non-profit organizations, and as long as they make enough money to put on their events, they are not concerned with pulling in more sponsors or attracting more spectators.

Although some clubs give trophies, most downplay the importance of winning to discourage aggressive driving or excessive car development. Drivers who are too aggressive or who exhibit poor car control may be black-flagged for a consultation with the officials. Car-to-car contact usually results in a racing license suspension or revocation. This sometimes leads to accusations that vintage racing is a "parade," but many experienced drivers say they go nearly as fast in vintage events as in other forms of racing, they just add in some respect for the other drivers and a desire not to damage their cars. It is not unusual to see a driver slow down in a vintage race to allow another competitor to catch up so they can have a good race, something that never happens in other forms of racing. And although accidents do occur (as in any form of racing), they happen much less often than in "modern" racing events.


So who do you find in vintage racing cars? All kinds of people are attracted to the low-key atmosphere and friendly attitude. Many are former racers who retired when the intensity of competition became tiresome. Others are racing fans who finally found a form of on-track competition that was appropriate to their budgets and racing ability. Others are fans of particular marques who always wanted to race cars just like the ones they read about when they were younger. Basically, most vintage racing clubs walk the line between a historical re-enactment and a low-key racing series, with each driver leaning slightly one way or the other.

Due to the diversity in vintage racing regulations nationwide, it is hard to give a firm definition of what a vintage racing car is. Most are sports cars, sports-racers and formula cars built in the 1950s to the 1970s, ranging in value from around $2,000 for a MG Midget or Volkswagen-powered Formula Vee, to several million for rare Ferraris or Porsches. Some clubs have a rolling cut-off date that moves up every year, while others have a firm cut-off, say 1972, that never changes. Most clubs encourage their members to restore their cars to period racing condition, except for modern safety equipment such as rollbars, fuel cells and safety harnesses. But the exact nature of allowed modifications varies widely from club to club, so it pays to check with your local racing group before building or buying a car that may not be allowed.

If vintage racing sounds like it might be right up your alley, attend some events to see how they are conducted and what is permitted in car preparation. The best way to check it out is to volunteer to work on a corner crew or some other position where you can meet the insiders and experience what a race weekend is like. All clubs have an ongoing need for workers and participation is a lot of fun—even if you decide not to buy a car of your own.
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