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SVRA Season Finale & Awards Banquet 2005
at Road Atlanta
Dave Handy SVRA Driver of the Year

It’s hard to believe 25 quick years have passed since a few “car nuts” formally formed the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA). Preliminarily branded the “Southeast” Vintage Racing Association, it was the formal outcrop of an idea originally incubated by Porsche enthusiast, Gerry Sutterfield, who gathered a group of historic sports and racing cars to support the 12 Hours of Sebring race in 1976 (a date many believe is the group’s actual birthday). For the next few years, numerous other racing aficionados boarded the train, elevating Sutterfield’s initial vision by spawning the formation of the Southeast Vintage Racing Association by founders, Ford Heacock, III, Jackie and Mark Andrews, and Mike Swaine in 1980 (see Art Eastman’s extensive SVRA history outlined in our Commentary section). The more generic “Sportscar” moniker replaced “Southeast” in 1985.

With SVRA’s first official race held at Road Atlanta in September 1980 (a support race for Can-Am), it was fitting that they returned once again this past October 20-23 to its Southeast birthplace (absent since “97) to celebrate not only the Season Finale and Awards Banquet, but to commemorate the organization’s 25th Anniversary as well.

Unfortunately, I was mildly disappointed at the turnout for such a milestone. Expecting a much larger crowd, especially since SVRA’s previous gathering at VIR saw lower entries as well (see report in this issue), my theory that many drivers skipped VIR in lieu of the upcoming Atlanta gala was obviously way off base. Still, like most outings, the barking of race motors erased any peripheral concerns, and refocused our attention to the adrenalin-pumping reason we were there in the first place, to enjoy plain old vintage auto racing.

Friday kicked off the weekend party with a full day of heated qualifying sessions, and concluded with the event’s first of two lengthy scheduled battles. A trio of sports racers representing the 60s grabbed the top spots: Paul Flowers’ ’63 Elva Mk VIIs, Robert McClenagan’s ’65 Brabham BT8 and Travis Engen’s ’62 Lotus 23b finishing first, second and third, respectively. The Mission Foods/Car Amigo Welcome Party hosted by vintage racer, Juan Gonzalez, turned out the lights.

Saturday basically repeated Friday’s format, and ended with the second protracted MotorCheck On-Site Analyzer shootout. In that race, it was an exciting potpourri of racing platforms spanning nearly 30 years, concluding with Dale Phelon’s youthful Ford Mustang T/A victorious over Peter McLaughlin’s F2 Ralt RT1, the team of Robert Carlino and Dave Handy’s Gropa Chevron and nearly two dozen others.

Finally, I got a chance to wear my “good clothes”, as we migrated to the Georgia Mountains Center in Gainesville for the Annual Year-End Awards Celebration, and SVRA 25th Anniversary, A Founder’s Banquet. After a few short speeches, VM’s Michael Silverman honored long-time SVRA member (instrumental to the organization’s success), Henry Payne, III with the Vintage Motorsport Magazine Award. Next up, VM.s Chairman of the Board, Syd Silverman introduced SVRA founder and member “#0”, Ford Heacock, III, presenting him with the Founder’s Award. Unfortunately, the absence of the other founders was a little disappointing.

The normal array of race winners in each category followed (several groups still needed Sunday’s feature race results to determine the winners). Too numerous to list, they can be found on the SVRA website. Worth mentioning though were the most prestigious annual awards as follows: Rookie of the Year-Ron Branon; Amateur Mechanic of the Year-Larry Shaffer; Professional Mechanic of the Year-Dale Phelon’s Team, Tim Schmidt/Carl Wright/Mitch Jarrett; Most Improved Driver-Harry Gentry; Tom Yeager Sports Racer Award-Bob Wagner; and the Driver of the Year went to a very well-deserving, Dave Handy (see above image).

With more cars broken or just tired, Sunday’s formal contests got up to speed nevertheless with smaller grids, but no lack of large spirits generating plenty of great vintage auto racing putting a period on SVRA’s first 25 years in existence. Noteworthy, SVRA’s current president, Howard Turner, not only drove a beautiful race taking his Lister-Jaguar to a popular Group Four win, but had scored his only other victory in the Lister 25 years ago at the inaugural meet---nice way to bookend SVRA’s 25-year history.

I must admit, by 1980, I wasn’t too much of an auto racing buff any longer, with my interests peeking near the entrance of the 70s with trips to Bridgehampton, Watkins Glen, Lime Rock Park, usually shuttling a boatload of friends filling my dad’s massive Olds. So as I and thousands of other enthusiasts enjoyed decades of yesterday’s racing machinery that time could have easily just rusted away, I give a standing ovation to Carl Jensen, Peter McLaughlin, Alex Quattlebaum, Miles Collier, Pat Ryan, Bob Williams, Ralph Whaley, Howard Turner, the late Robert Fergus, Charles Gibson and Bob Akin, and especially, “Member #0”, Ford Heacock, and countless, countless others who had the foresight and energy to establish SVRA as a home for many of motorsport’s innumerable treasures. Happy Anniversary SVRA!