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PART 11
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SERIES CHAPTERS
SVRA News

Another one–off event for SVRA occurred in January, 1997. Traveling far afield, SVRA went to Phoenix for the Bondurant Invitational at Firebird International Raceway. It was not a huge success.

Long a fixture on SVRA’s schedule, for 1997 Moroso was abandoned for southern Florida’s new, state–of–art Homestead Motorsports Complex. Rising out of the barren landscape left by Hurricane Andrew, Ralph Sanchez’ new racing facility includes a 2.2–mile road course significantly superior to the usual track–within–a–track configurations. Beginning at Homestead, SVRA now welcomed IMSA GTP/GTPL, FIA Group C and center–seat Can–Am cars. The future had arrived.

Homestead was the season’s first major change, but the next change came as a complete surprise when SVRA was displaced at the last minute by HSR at the Sebring 12–Hour. The 1997 season was shaping up to be anything but business as usual.

Back on track, SVRA held their April Savannah race and survived rain, hail, sleet and even snow during a dismal weekend at Road America in May. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, another change was taking place that would have much greater effect than a canceled race or inclement weather.

At Mid–Ohio it was officially announced that Peter McLaughlin had bought SVRA, its first sole owner since Alex Quattlebaum purchased partner Ford Heacock’s interest in 1987. At the time of the sale to McLaughlin SVRA was owned by Board Members Mike Amalfitano, Henry Payne, Frank Rupp, Syd Silverman and Bob Wechsler. Carl Jensen became SVRA’s new General Manager. The Board had earlier rejected a proposal to spread ownership among several SVRA members.

The second-half of the 1997 season continued with the Quaker Funds Vintage GP at Pocono in August, Watkins Glen’s Zippo United States Vintage GP in September and three weeks later, the Blue–Gray Challenge at Summit Point. The season of change concluded with the Atlanta Vintage GP in mid–October. Herb Wetanson became SVRA’s 14th Driver of the Year while Bob Fergus was honored with a special award declaring him Driver of the Decade.

In late November the SVRA office was moved from Charleston to Hanover, New Hampshire. Susan Wright accepted an offer to return to duty as registrar and moved to Hanover, joining Paul Bench who had been recently appointed General Manager.

The 1998 season began with SVRA’s second visit to Homestead followed by Savannah in April. In May it was off to Road America followed by June's customary stop at Mid–Ohio. Unfortunately, the Mid–Ohio event was overshadowed by a single–car crash by John Kelly, the former Group 44 driver suffering a heart attack while racing. Sadly, Kelly passed away the following week.

After Pocono it was off to Watkins Glen to celebrate the track’s 50th Anniversary. The entry for Watkins Glen exceeded 450 cars, easily making this SVRA’s largest event in its 19–year history. But the weekend was much more than numbers as the village of Watkins Glen truly values and celebrates its motor racing history. The downtown festivities were highlighted by the official dedication of the Watkins Glen Motor Racing Research Library, the ceremony attended by a number of notable people including Cameron Argetsinger, Stirling Moss, IMSA founder John Bishop and New York Senator Randy Kuhl. The activity at the track was equally impressive with most races featuring record fields, the Collier Cup alone gridding an amazing 61 MGs. Thanks in large part to the enthusiastic support of local community, Watkins Glen's 1998 Zippo United States Vintage Grand Prix ranks as one of SVRA’s greatest events.

The Blue–Gray Challenge at Summit Point came next and with Road Atlanta’s owner Don Panoz taking SVRA’s date for his Petite Le Mans race, the season had reached its end. At the Summit Point award banquet, senior member and ardent SVRA supporter Henry Payne was named Driver of the Year.

In 1998 the standard group structure was adjusted with the Exhibition Group eliminated and Group 10 added, a race group for much newer cars than previously seen at an SVRA event. Despite setting a record for entries at Watkins Glen, considering the loss of the second-half of the Spring Fling, Mid–Ohio's tragic accident, events plagued by inclement weather and the truncated season, 1998 was not a banner year......Art Eastman

Next week, Part 12: “The Alliance”

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