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September 12th, 2007

Monterey Historics 2007

Story by Michael T. Lynch

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Fourteen years ago, the Monterey Historics celebrated its 20th Anniversary, and honored Harry Miller, whose cars won Indianapolis seven times and his engines a further five in the 1920s and 1930s. Some think this era was the only time in history that American racing cars were technically superior to their European brethren. 1993 was the sole time the Historics’ honored marque came from U.S. oval racing, until this year.

The 2007 theme was Indianapolis roadsters, the cars that dominated the Indy 500 for twelve years in the 1950s and 60s until they were swept away by the rear-engine revolution that had already taken over Grand Prix racing. These roadsters were spread across the sports pages of the time, before the plethora of professional sports blossomed and NASCAR marginalized all other U.S. racing.

The turnout of roadsters, with Phil Reilly and Larry Pfitzenmaier assisting Steve Earle with entries, was overwhelming. It was enough to make a 33 car grid redolent of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. On both Saturday and Sunday most were on the track together for exhibitions, educating a new generation on their archaic starting procedures, precision workmanship, imaginative paint jobs and, most of all, the yowl of their 4.2 and 4.5-liter, four-cylinder Offenhauser engines.

The weekend’s schedule was more hectic than usual, beginning on Thursday with an open-to-the-public panel discussion of innovation in racing. Some of the many taking part included Richard Cregan, General Manager and Team Manager for Toyota Formula One Team; Herb Fishel, former head of GM Motorsports; Mario Illien, co-founder of Ilmor Engineering; and a group of famous drivers from the past who would later compete in a race of their own. Speed TV’s Dave Despain was the moderator, and elicited some fabulous stories.

After the various racing classes practiced on Friday, the weekend’s competition opened with two races for Ferrari Historic Challenge cars. They were won by Tom Price’s Maserati 200Si and Todd Morici’s Ferrari 512 BB LM.

Saturday’s racing began with the Race of Legends. In this case, the drivers were the vintage legends and the cars were modern Scion tC sport coupes. The finishing order gives an idea of the depth of the field, which Indy types on site had opined represented 14 Indy 500 victories; Derek Bell, Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Sr., Parnelli Jones, Bobby Unser, rally legend Ove Andersson, Larry Bowman, Vic Elford and Johnny Rutherford. Bowman, a Northern California vintage racer, won his place in the field at a charity auction benefiting a local children’s health care organization, and $25,000 was donated in Bell’s name to the Hope for Tomorrow, a UK-based cancer charity and the Florence Fuller Foundation, which provides day car and family support.

Vintage racing got underway after lunch and the only French or Italian winner of the weekend was Brian Mullen’s Talbot Lago 26 SS. James King and Phil Reilly were 4th and 5th in the race that included Indy roadsters, a good showing for cars hardly designed for a road course. Larry Bowman won the popular late 50s, early 60s sports racing class in a Lister-Chevrolet, while Rob Walton’s Cobra Daytona coupe won the race for 1963-66 production cars. Fastest race time was posted by Chris MacAllister’s Mirage Mk 6, in the day’s finale for 1965-72 FIA cars.

Sunday saw more racing in various classes, with the two big draws being the historic Can Am cars and the IMSA cars from the Porsche 935 era, 1972-1981. MacAllister won again in the Can Am class, this time in his McLaren M8F, giving him the distinction of winning the fastest two races of the weekend.

The IMSA cars put on their usual battle between the DeKon Monzas and the Porsches. Once again, the Chevrolet V-8 in the Monza triumphed, but only just. Chad Raynal’s Monza was less than two tenths of a second ahead of Rob Walton’s ex-Brumos 935, the slimmest margin of the meeting. For some, the highlights were the demonstration laps by the Indy roadsters, as well as other cars that competed at the brickyard, on both Saturday and Sunday. In each case there were over 25 cars on the track. The sound of so many Offys running together had not been heard in years.

At the awards ceremony afterwards, Phil Reilly took the most prestigious prize, the Monterey Cup, for “the owner of the automobile judged to have excelled overall in both presentation and performance.” Phil and his Kurtis-Epperly were certainly deserving recipients.

The usual announcement regarding next year’s honored marque was not forthcoming, leaving us more time before we can begin to fantasize in detail about what we’ll see next year.

It was Monty Python time at the Monterey Historic Automobile Races. Steve Earle said, "And now, for something completely different." The Indy Roadsters were the featured marque for the first time. This is Phil Reilly's 1959 Kurtis 500J as modified by Quin Epperly for A.J. Foyt to drive in the 1960 Indianapolis 500. The fabulous uniforms come from Hinchman Racing Uniforms in Indianapolis that has supplied winning 500 drivers since Pete de Paolo in 1925. The have the files on every uniform, whether for crew and driver, they've made since. All Reilly had to do was call and he and his crew were just as historically accurate as his car. The long shaft at the left has a socket on each end. One end goes into a guide in the grill and engages the driveshaft. The other end goes on the starter motor in the cart. Outriggers steady the starter motor on the pit floor and the juice is applied. When the Offy comes to life, everyone smiles. Credit: Michael T. Lynch

All the Indy cars at Monterey weren't roadsters. This is Wilbur Shaw's 1935 second place finisher at Indianapolis. It has a front wheel-drive Shaw chassis with an Offy engine. Rules of the "junk formula" in place at the time required a riding mechanic, so Linda Mountanos' husband hangs on as she speeds down the pit lane. Credit: Autoblog

The second race of the weekend was a bittersweet one. Rodney Smith was a Silicon Valley executive and passionate vintage racer. He was also a great benefactor to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Rodney was killed in May this year when hit by an elderly driver while bicycling. In the pre-war racing car race which Smith won last year, there were two of his cars entered. Both showed his impeccable taste. One was ERA R2A and the other was this Maserati 4CL. David Morris drove the former to victory, while Mark Gilles finished 2nd in the Maserati. Smith had won this same race last year in the ERA. To say he will be missed is a major understatement. Photo Credit: MHAR.

The finale of the racing weekend was the historic IMSA cars. The boys were all charged up because they would be the featured event at the Lime Rock Vintage Fall Festival in two weeks. Here, Kurt Schultz' Ferrari 512 BB LM stays wide to let the leaders through. Winner, Les Raynal's DeKon Monza leads Rob Walton's Porsche 935 with Ken Epsman bringing up the rear. Before it was over, Bruce Canepa, who had started from the back, came through to take third in a 935. Credit: Michael T. Lynch

Old race drivers whe are still racing is part of what makes the Monterey Historic Automobile races so special. This year Peter Lovely took the concept to a whole new level. In 1957, Pete won Laguna Seca's first feature race in a Ferrari 500 TR. This year he won the Group 4A race in his Lotus 11. There have been many other victories in the intervening 50 years. The term, Living Legend, doesn't do Pete justice. Credit MHAR.

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