Story by Michael T. Lynch
June 23rd, 2013
After continuous progress since the first edition, the Art of the Car Concours (Kansas City, Missouri) took a significant step forward in 2013. Added to the previous programs was a new event on Saturday called Meet the Legends/A Conversation with Sir Stirling Moss and Denise McCluggage/Remembering Masten Gregory. Moss is always a big draw and since Gregory was born and raised in Kansas City and McCluggage graduated high school in nearby Topeka, the program generated high interest in the region.
The week’s events began with radio and television interviews on both Thursday and Friday. To hear a podcast of Steve Kraske’s interview of Sir Stirling, Denise and Marshall Miller, the concours organizer. (Listen to interview).
Click the listen button under the picture when the site opens.
On Friday, Moss and McCluggage visited Kansas Speedway, across the state line in Kansas. The track, owned by International Speedway Corporation, holds two NASCAR Sprint Cup events each year. The day was a photo opportunity for the press and part of the launch of a new road course, built inside the oval that will hold its first major event, a round of the Rolex Grand Am Sports Car Series, on August 17. To be run at night under the lights, it should be spectacular.
Both Stirling and Denise were highly complimentary about the new circuit. Touring the track with Stirling, it was fascinating to hear him try to figure out the fastest line. Rumors were that a vintage race might be arranged next year to coincide with the AotCC.
There was a sponsor and VIP dinner on Friday night and host Marshall Miller sprung a surprise. Everyone in the room had to give a brief bio. This led to much closer camaraderie as the weekend progressed.
Saturday morning saw the traditional entrants’ breakfast at Tivol, Kansas City’s leading jeweler. A selection of entries for the next day’s concours was displayed on a closed street for the general public to enjoy. Moss and McCluggage took the time to hear details about the cars from their owners.
It was followed in the afternoon by the Meet the Legends panel discussion, attended by well over 300 avid enthusiasts. Because of unprecedented demand, this had to be moved from the Kansas City Art Institute to a large hall at the University of Missouri-Kansas City nearby. An audio visual précis covering racing during the 1950s and 60s by your faithful servant opened the proceedings and was followed by images of the highlights of the careers of Sir Stirling, Denise and Masten Gregory. The latter was a Kansas City native who was one of the earliest drivers to take on the Europeans on their home ground and beat them. Then it was turned over to the guests. Masten, who died in 1985, was well-represented by his brother, Riddelle, who was also a driver in that period who once beat Carroll Shelby. Masten Gregory will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on August 21st at the Fillmore Theatre in downtown Detroit.
The honored guests then took over and answered questions from the crowd for well over an hour. Many there had seen at least one of them race and their stories took one from the Monza wall at long gone Meadowdale Raceway where Denise won one of her greatest victories, to the Monaco Grand Prix which Stirling won three times. Memories of Gregory were also shared.
The crowd was not only enthusiastic but incredibly well-informed. Italian car fans should be aware that two of Stirling’s favorite drives were the Maserati 250F and Birdcage. Denise had high praise for OSCAs.
The three discussed the importance of mechanics and their reliance on them during their careers. That led to the discovery of the presence of the son of Masten’s Kansas City mechanic, Carl Badami, a successful midget driver and later, entrant.
That evening featured an entrants’ dinner at the Kansas City Art Institute, where the next day’s event would take place. It was a low key evening allowing everyone, including the weekend’s stars, to meet and greet.
Sunday dawned overcast and hot. It was a residual of picking the weekend with the least chance of rain. That brings a probability of heat with it. Luckily, the humidity was not overwhelming and a nice breeze further mitigated the temperature.
As over 5000 streamed through the gates, they were amazed to see the 198 vehicles from 12 states that were assembled. These included cars (street, race and electric), trucks, motorcycles, a Unimog, and an impressive collection of pedal cars.
Denise was familiar with Kansas City but Sir Stirling and his wife Susie were not. Stirling opined, “Kansas City is really among the most beautiful cities we have been to and a fantastic backdrop to the Art of the Car Concours.” The two were gracious with their time and provided two autograph sessions concurrent with the concours.
One hardly knows where to start with the cars. The variety was impressive. Race cars included the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame’s Ferrari 250 LM which was the last Ferrari to win Le Mans. It was there to honor Masten Gregory who drove it with Jochen Rindt. An Austin Healey Sprite reminded us of another woman driver. Donna Mae Mims raced it to become the first woman to win an SCCA National Championship in 1963. It was brought by Jeff and Clarissa Moore. To make things even more interesting, the first owner was Dr. Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine.
Other racers of interest included Richard Morrison’s MG Liquid Suspension Special that Walt Hansgen drove in the Indianapolis 500 in 1965 and the Fischer family’s Ferrari 250 Tour de France that finished second in that event in 1957. An Allard J2X raced in period by Walt Gray, is still in the family and Tom Slaymaker brought a Daimler SP 250 that he had raced when it was new.
Other crowd pleasers were Roger Willbanks’ Auburn 851 supercharged Boattail Speedster and an Indian Chief motorcycle once owned by Steve McQueen. There was also a Morgan Three Wheeler Sports that was Stirling Moss’s first car. Since there are no classes or judging at the Art of the Car Concours, winners are chosen mostly by the public and sponsors.
Willbanks Auburn won First Place in the Peoples Choice balloting, Tom Schaefer and John Hietz’s Indian Chief took the same honor in the motorcycle class. The Indian was once owned by Steve McQueen. Steve Hobbs’ Morgan Three Wheeler Sports took the Chairman’s award.
In all, some 40 people took home trophies. One of the great traditions of the event is that the awards are made by KCAI faculty, students and alumni.
Kansas City has called itself “The Heart of America” but there is no doubt that the Art of the Car has established itself as a premier event on a national basis. One would have to drive many miles in any direction to see a selection of cars equal to what was presented. And Moss, McCluggage and Gregory were more than just icing on the cake.
See you there next year. Shorts and a Lacoste shirt will probably be appropriate attire unless you want to brave period gear.
Special thanks to Tom Strongman who writes about cars for the Kansas City Star and beyond, for his help with the Saturday AV presentation.