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HSR 30th Annual Walter Mitty Challenge 2007
at Road Atlanta
30th Walter Mitty Challenge

Generated from a fundamental desire to provide the Atlanta Jaguar Society (AJS) members a safe, yet challenging arena to exercise their passion, automobile enthusiasts, Howard Turner and Steve Simpson teamed with original partner, John Steen, to organize what would become the inaugural Walter Mitty Challenge (WMC) at Road Atlanta (RA) in 1978. Joined by the Aston Martin and Ferrari car clubs, the instant success dubbed “The Great Walter Mitty Challenge” by Howard Turner’s wife, Martha, held another gathering in the fall. Revised to an annual meeting in ’79, the rest is history as the 2007 WMC edition, sanctioned by the Historic Sportscar Racing, Ltd. (HSR), and presented by Classic Motorsports Magazine, commemorated its 30th Anniversary this past April 26–29.

However, the initial premise of providing a safe–harbor for a little vehicular workout remained back in the 70s with leisure suits, platform shoes and disco, evolving into a strongly contested affair. Although some enthusiasts headed for the exits years ago, displeased with the racing environment and/or the inclusion of numerous entries that “stretch” the purist definition of “historic,” those who were willing to accept the competitive atmosphere, just pushed “the pedal to the metal” to find the fastest line around RA’s 12–turns and 2.50–plus miles of new blacktop.

Sponsored by Mazda, the Mitty presented a full package of vintage auto clashes that included three one–hour Rolex enduros, eight Dash Series races, and a deuce of feature races, the Anglo–American GT Challenge pitting American iron against Britain’s GT cars, and the traditional Klub Sport “All Porsche” Challenge.

Marking HSR’s inaugural “International Motor Sports Association Reunion” (IMSA), IMSA founders, John and Peggy Bishop (see PotL) were in attendance as the event’s Grand Marshalls. Joining the Bishops, racing legends, Derek Bell, Jim Mullen, Walt Bohren, Wayne Brown, Phil Currin, Elliot Forbes Robinson (EFR), Gene Fenton, Jack Baldwin, Terry Wolters, John O’steen, John Maffuci, Jim Downing, Charles Mendez, and many other members of the IMSA (and HSR) family, paid homage to John and Peggy with plenty of their personal IMSA stories (mostly humorous) during the formal “IMSA Family Reunion” lunch–time gathering on Sunday.

Moreover, many of these former IMSA alumni punctuated their walk down memory lane verbiage by tightening their safety harnesses and joining the foray on the Peach State’s asphalt. One standout example, 1992 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year (first woman to ever win the prestigious honor), Lyn St. James, buckled into a great piece of IMSA’s race history, Ralph Thomas’ 1986 Argo JM19 chassis #107 GTP. This workhorse won three IMSA Lights championships (1985–87) with Downing/Maffuci in its seat.

Sadly, the occasion also reminded us of the fragility of life as we remembered two vintage racing participants, the late, Bob Akin, who lost his life several years ago at RA, and Robert F. “Bob” Snodgrass, who at a young 64 years old, passed away only several days prior to this year’s Mitty on April 24th.

Following convention, Friday’s practice sessions concluded with the Klub Sport Shootout and the Welcome Party sponsored by vintage racer, Juan Gonzalez/Mission Foods.

Blessed with more continuing great weather, Saturday’s speedy activities included loads of qualifying races, the event’s first protracted challenge, the Rolex Classic GT enduro, and Race #1 for the Historic NASCAR boys. In the former contest, Eric Bretzel enjoyed another trip to the podium as top dog, while another “podium frequent flyer,” Dale Phelon, won his battle among the loud barking herd of tattooed–skinned stockers.

The official HSR party put a period on another wonderful day of vintage auto racing. At this time, the “Corner Workers’ Choice Award” (a signed checkered flag) was presented to Jim Roberts (1966 Lotus Type 47 Europa).

Sun shinning, the balance of the planned contests kept the volume turned up high throughout Sunday, and ending with the Anglo–American Challenge (please check www.hsrrace.com for the official list of all winners).

Noteworthy, several special honors were bestowed over the weekend: Seeley Award – Lauren Ligas, Walter Mitty Award – Larry Hoffman, and Bishop Award – John & Peggy Bishop. Yeah, WMC veterans like Court Whitlock, who has attended every Mitty since its inception, might have a sentimental bias for the good ol’ days when many more exotics slow–danced around RA, but don’t dare turn back the clock for racers like neophyte, 18–year old, Colbi Bradley. Besides, it’s the spirit of racing, not time, that has slowly converted this initial casual concept into an exciting array of apex–jumping antics on turn three, breathtaking green flag funneling into turn one, and gusty out–braking maneuvers into ten. The Walter Mitty Challenge has always been the perfect sandbox that reflects the mandates of the current era and today, remains a world–class vintage racing spectacle not to be missed......Walter Pietrowicz

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