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HSR Walter Mitty Challenge 2006
at Road Atlanta
2006 Walter Mitty Challenge

Ah, another Mitty! It wasn’t that long ago when Ferraris, Jags, Allards, and Aston Martins ruled the Road Atlanta’s (RA) blacktop and the gathering dripped with the familiarity of more a huge family reunion. And depending what your opinions are regarding the parameters formulating the ideal vintage racing venue, there is no doubt that the 2006 Classic Motorsports Magazine Walter Mitty Challenge (WMC) presented by Mazda had no choice but to revise its previous existence and grow in a more competitive and exciting direction, now poised to create new and wonderful memories to be recollected decades from now.

Celebrating a remarkable 29th anniversary this past April 28–30, the Historic Sportscar Racing, Ltd. sanctioned Mitty exploded from the staring blocks with a nice size field of entrants for three (four, if you count Thursday’s test day) days of non–stop vintage racing action.

Appending its full array of normal scheduled series races that included the B.O.S.S. (Big Open Single Seat) Super Cup race, two Historic Stock Car shootouts, a Championship of Makes, Historic GTP/WSC and Anglo–American GT Challenge duels, an All–Porsche Klub Sport race, the Jo Bonnier Cup contested for 2–Liter Sports Racers, a trio of enduros and the normal array of individual group battles, this year’s event commemorated the Sports Cars of Japan with an All Mazda and All Japanese Car races as well.

Add the wonderful (and expanding) vendors’ encampment atop the hill, the numerous car–related attractions and well attended hands–on auto–cross presented by Lotus USA and Kumho Tires that collectively supplemented a full choirs of asphalt action, setting a new benchmark that was luckily enjoyed by the largest spectator turnout (especially on Saturday) I’ve seen in recent years.

Following past designs, Friday’s official parade of asphalt battles began with the event’s traditional Klub Sport race, followed by the event’s first scheduled one–hour shootout, the Rolex Historic Enduro. Tim Lewis, Jr.’s 914 took the All–Porsche accolades in a start–to–finish over nearly 50 other contestants, while the latter race recorded Donald Soenen’s ’95 Mustang T/A finishing where he started, on top, and ahead of Scott Neuman/David Hinton’s M3 and Howard Katz/“Mr. Camel Lights” Jim Downing’s Toj, respectively.

Action continued with Saturday’s full course of qualifying races seasoned nicely with several more formal contests: the Jo Bonnier Cup 2–Liter Sports Racer race sponsored by SascoSports and Lee Chapman Racing, the All–Mazda marque feature, Historic Stock Car Race #1 and the Rolex GT Endurance shutting the lights on the on–track activities. Veteran race driver, Joe Blacker showed plenty of patience working his way to the Jo Bonnier top prize wheeling his rosy Lola T296 sled, while Rich Grupp’s Mazda Kudzu, Scott Murphy’s Grand Prix Stocker and Eric Bretzel’s 911, all followed earning first-places in their respective races.

Interestingly, the 5th–place finisher in the hour–long GT challenge was the father and son team of Alan and Edward Sevadjian. This race was not only Edward’s inaugural view from their Duntov Lightweight Corvette, but the car is a painstakingly faultless repro (comprised of many original parts as well of the chassis £003 Grand Sport (GS), as it was dubbed by GM’s marketing department, which was purchased by Alan in early ’65. The £003 GS competed in the 1964 12 Hours of Sebring by A.J. Foyt and under Alan’s tenure, by Delmo Johnson again in ’65.

Additionally, a pair of immaculately B.F. Goodrich-livered Lola-Mazda T616s running in formation and headlights blazing made a spectacular appendage to the “Mazda Only” six–lap duel. Both restored to perfection in 2003, Rick Knoop was at the controls of the #67, the exact car he co–drove with Jim Busby and Boy Hayje to 12th O.A. and third in C2 Class in the 1984 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving the carbon–copy sibling (#68) was Phil Harris, the class winner in ’84 and 10th O.A. with Yoshimi Katayama/John O’Steen/John Morton at the helm of the #68 wind–cheating racecar. Noteworthy, both cars are not only identical twins, exquisitely detailed and prepped by the same gang that made the 1984 season such a success, but also “either of the race–ready machines would have no problem completing in any 24–Hour marathon today,” noted Knoop.

In Mitty tradition, several off–track and special awards were handed out, too. Drew Ewing received the most prestigious Walter Mitty Challenge Trophy, given to the person who illustrates the true spirit of the Walter Mitty; and Larry Smith presented the Jim Seeley Spirit Trophy for always unselfishly helping his fellow racers. After watching the painful lap–by–lap death of an orange marker during Thursday’s practice session, the corner workers created an impromptu way of honoring the 914’s driver who tortured the helpless conical passenger with the “Cone Killer” award. Wayne Beverly accepted.

Furthermore, Larry Connor (always one of quickest drivers to take to the asphalt) received the corner workers’ choice accolades with a signed checker flag. Fittingly, just a few weeks earlier, Larry’s son asked his speedy dad if he could bring him home a winning flag.

As usual, Sunday saw the normal attrition reduce the ranks slightly as the balance of the featured program got under way with a fury of great and hard fought vintage races starting with the Rolex Vintage Enduro and highly anticipated Anglo-American GT Challenge pitting American iron against England’s best. The prolonged contest was won by Roy Walzer’s Lotus 23B, while the All–American Corvette of Steve Collins secured the first of what would become two victories for the day (later won his Group 5 race), outrunning the ever so fast English “CAT” of Larry Ligas.

Dusting off and recently installing a motor that was seeing more shelf time than racing loads, Collins was pleasantly surprised that his newly transplanted and less powerful GM motor was producing faster lap times. “It was obvious, the small-block was producing less torque, thus less wheel spin that was simply translating into more speed”, mentioned the RA veteran.

Next up, Sunday’s mandatory two–hour quiet time seemed to end too quickly as the black ribbon was once again the focus of our attention as the All Japanese contestants took the green. Tom Turner’s Mazda RX7 took that victory followed by Theo Bean’s 1988 Nissan GTP missile in the subsequent Group 6 (Historic GTP/WSC) one–hour race.

Other winners were:
Group 2–Miles Whitlock’s 1983 Lola 644
Group 3a–Tim Lewis, Jr.’s 914
Group 3b–Jim Roberts’ 1966 Lotus 47 Europa
Group 4 (B.O.S.S)–John Burke’s !997 Reynard Champ Car
Group 5–Steve Collins’ 1966 Corvette
Group 7 (Championship of Makes)–Jonathan Clues’ 1972 Chevron B–23
Group 8 (Historic Stock Cars Race #2)–Dale Phelon’s 2000 Monte Carlo
Group 9–Donald Soenen’s 1995 Mustang T/A

While embracing today’s so–called changes, there is a part of me that wishes many aspects regarding the Mitty could have remained intact. Obviously, my list of what should move into the future and what should be canonized forever is a very subjective point of view that is also subjective to someone else’s ideas, too. No, history can’t be stopped, but should be celebrated all while we rewrite new chapters for future decades to ponder as well. Besides, the present crop of racers have obviously moved on when Astons, Ferraris and many others now deemed exotics were the norm, and just love the adrenalin rush today’s venue provides......Walter Pietrowicz