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PART 5
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SERIES CHAPTERS
SVRA News

Entering its seventh year of continuous and impressive growth, SVRA began the 1986 season fueled by the sponsorship of Variety, Aston Martin Lagonda North America and Escort. A new Board of Governors was formed with its seven members (Miles Collier, Robert Fergus, Charlie Gibson, Ford Heacock, Henry Payne, Alex Quattlebaum and Alden Robinson) each charged with representing the interests of individual race groups. This was the genesis of SVRA’s group rep program to ensure equity within individual race groups.

As its membership increased SVRA’s staff was also expanded. The primary staff members were now Ford Heacock–President; Joe Pendergast–General Manager; Bruce Clarke–Competition Director; Ralph Whaley–Chief of Tech; Kate Heacock–Registration; Joni Phillips–Chief of Timing and Scoring and Mike Swaine–Chief of Grid. New General Manager Pendergast was one of Sebring’s original vintage participants, racing at various times an Allard J2X, Cunningham C–2R and Lister–Corvette.

An interesting development in 1986 was SCCA’s hiring of Jim Haynes to establish their own vintage racing program. Amidst rumors of SCCA wanting to buy SVRA, Heacock wrote a strongly–worded editorial in Vintage Motorsport magazine slamming SCCA and clearly putting to rest any rumors of a sellout. The response was enormous and unanimously supported SVRA’s policies and the absolute necessity to remain totally independent of suffocating bureaucracy.

The season began with a drivers’ school at Savannah’s Roebling Road Raceway in February followed by the now traditional Spring Fling doubleheader at Moroso and Sebring in March. The center of attention at Sebring was a spectacular gathering of 20 Abarths as a tribute to Carlo Abarth. Perhaps there have been larger gatherings of Abarth’s creations in Europe, but it’s doubtful the variety seen at Sebring has been equaled. On the track Peter Sach’s Ferrari TR61 narrowly beat Stirling Moss who was again racing Jim Roger’s Maserati Birdcage while Tom Congleton’s Porsche 907 won the Historic race by a similar tight margin over Henry Payne’s 908.

Mid–Ohio celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 1986 and SVRA responded by breaking the 200–car mark for the first time. Numbers may be important, but in vintage racing variety is often just as important. At Mid–Ohio the entry ran the gamut from Bugattis to Can–Am cars. Bob Paterson’s Corvette Grand Sport was one of the rarer cars and when he left the rest of his race group for dead, he clinched the “Too Damn Fast” award from the event’s sponsor Escort.

The Serengeti Vintage Drivers Cup reflected a change of sponsorship for SVRA’s September event at Watkins Glen. This year two vintage motorcycle races sanctioned by the Canadian–based Vintage Road Racing Association were added to the weekend’s schedule becoming the first motorcycles to race at Watkins Glen since the 1960s. The following month SVRA was again invited to organize an exhibition group for the IMSA race in Columbus, Ohio.

Then it was on to Road Atlanta in November where nearly 200 cars made the show. But this year it would not be SVRA’s final event of the season. Throughout the year there was growing expectation that SVRA would hold a vintage race in the Bahamas and at Road Atlanta it was announced the deal was done and the date set for early–December. It was a major organizational undertaking.

Grand Bahama had hosted a successful independent vintage race in 1984 and another was scheduled for 1985 but it was canceled at the last minute. Despite this embarrassing failure, there remained a strong desire to regroup and try again using the professional and proven organizational skills of SVRA. Consequently, The Grand Bahama Island Promotion Board and The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism began negotiations with Ford Heacock.

This was easily the most ambitious project ever undertaken by SVRA, essentially transforming a racing club into a travel agency. Realizing this, Heacock hired Susan Wright who was then employed by a local travel agency. Although staging an event of this magnitude required the efforts of many, a lions share of the credit must be given to SVRA’s Wright and Marva Munroe of the Bahamas, the dynamic duo that truly made the Grand Bahama Vintage Grand Prix a reality.

Nearly 100 cars departed Miami on Monday, December 1, and when the ship docked at Freeport, Grand Bahama, the party began in earnest. Just as the original Nassau Speed Weeks (1954–1966) had done before, SVRA ended its season with a week–long marathon of parties occasionally interrupted by racing. The races took place on a 1.3–mile course laid out on the streets of Freeport and a gymkhana and concours were held in nearby Lucaya on Thursday.

Among the several memorable stories of the 1986 GBVGP, perhaps the best to illustrate the true spirit of vintage racing involves Ralph Thomas and his Abarth Bialbero. Early in the week the Abarth’s engine had expired, leaving Thomas sidelined. Enter Jeff Brooks, the founder and chief protagonist of FIART (Funny Italian Auto Racing Team), who persuaded a subdued Thomas to compete in the gymkhana. With the assistance of fellow FIART members, Brooks managed to push Thomas and his dead Abarth through the entire course. Spirits buoyed, Thomas would later crash his truck on the way to a party.

The year–end awards previously given at Road Atlanta were incorporated into Sunday evening’s banquet. Brian MacEachern became SVRA's third recipient of the Driver of the Year award while the GBVGP’s top prize, the Prime Minister’s Cup, went to Bob Fergus and Charlie Shields who were tied in points. A popular success by any standard, SVRA would return to Grand Bahama annually through 1990......Art Eastman

Next week, Part 6: “Passing the Baton”

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