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SVRA Zippo United States Vintage GP 2005
at Watkins Glen International
Zippo US Vintage GP 2005

If Disney wanted to capture the aura of road racing’s former glory, it would need to spend millions to recreate the look, feel and essence. Superficially, the Disney magic would no doubt look the part, but the manufactured facade could never emulate such a fantastic era when desire, skill, and pure guts all met on the starting grid of Franklin Street (original GP straightaway), Watkins Glen, New York.

The year was 1948, and the unpretentious dream that ignited the rebirth of road racing in the country has grown into a grand celebration of its legacy with the Chemung Canal Trust Grand Prix (downtown) Festival and Sportscar Vintage Racing Association’s (SVRA) sanctioned Zippo United States Vintage Grand Prix contested at Watkins Glen International (WGI). This year’s pair of venues was no exception this past September 8–11, as the historic racing weekend was no Disney illusion, but the real deal etching new chapters to the American road racing annals, while honoring its illustrious heritage forged by the sport’s greats over the last 50–plus years.

As in the past, I was faced with the decision, should I enjoy Friday’s qualifying and racing action at WGI or hang out at the downtown street festival? For me, my choice was simple, but not without sacrifice, as I did miss out on the Klub Sport Porsche Challenge and first of a pair of 75–minute On–Site Motor Check Analyzer endurance match–ups, won by Tim Lewis, Jr. (’70 Porsche 914–6) and Dave Handy’s ’68 McLaren M6B), respectively.

Actually, with approximately 500 entrants enjoying the great late summer weather (and unfortunately keeping the course crew fairly busy) and 10 Mike Stott/UBS Financial sprint races, another enduro, the 20th Annual SVRA Collier Cup for MGs, New York Governor’s Cup featuring IMSA GT classes, and inaugural “Dick Davenport Memorial Alfa Romeo Race”, I felt extremely confident that the aforementioned schedule would more than satisfy any vintage racing aficionado’s appetite for speedy blacktop conflicts, so I chose to attend the downtown happening.

Inclusive in the event’s near record number of entries were approximately 50 Alfa entrants present to celebrate “Alfas at the Glen 2005” (AATG05) as the events featured marque.

Following protocol, the downtown festival began with the mock tech inspection at Smalley’s garage, and continued with its typical outdoor gala along Franklin Street which included a Concours d’Elegance, “The Legends Speak” open forum, and induction of Chris Amon, Denny Hulmes, Bruce McLaren, Thomas Hoan, and the GP’s special guest of honor, Vic Eflord, into the downtown’s “Walk of Fame.”

After a quick stop at Mr. Chicken for lunch, I soon found myself at the far end of town watching the influx of vintage machinery arriving for the highly anticipated late day reenactment tour over the original 6.6–mile street race circuit (1948–1952). My choice seat was the northern entry point, affectionately branded “Milliken Corner” after racer, Bill Milliken, overturned his Bugatti there in ’48. Surrounded by hundreds of very vocal spectators, especially one in particular enthusiastically bugling the arrival of each and everyone of the 150 vintage chariots, the sometimes deafening shenanigans were a glimpse into what it must have been like to witness the original street contests decades ago.

Following past performances, qualifying took center stage all day Saturday, ending with the SVRA/U.S. Grand Prix social sponsored by Knucklehead Racing and CDOC, while Sunday’s AM action commenced with the second protracted match up, several group races, and Collier Cup Race for MGs. MG race winner, Jerry Richards received the “Cornett Trophy”, while the North American MGA Register (NAMGAR) presented the “Bucher–Decker Trophy” to Dave Smith (first MGA to finish) and Frank Filangeri (first “T” series to finish) was awarded the “T–Cup.” The prestigious “Collier Cup” honor went to Dan Leonard.

Vic Elford’s vocals of “ladies and gentlemen, start your engines” officially ended lunch and launched the N.Y. Governor’s Cup/IMSA GT Challenge race. Remarkably, with Eric Bretzel and Jim Scott’s 911s igniting the afternoon’s crowd with their heated battle for second fiddle, Steve Cohen sped to an impressive start to finish victory in his Chevrolet Dekon–Monza that before this outing laid idle for the past five years. “We basically only changed all the fluids and went racing”, noted, Cohen.

The all–Alfa race contestants struck next (Like MG, the Alfa gang also presented several “Paesano Spirit” awards: Tazio Nuvolari Cup–Willem van Huystee; Bob Akin Cup–Chuck Woodward; Horst Kwech Cup–Rob Davenport; and Californian, Will Painter the Dick Davenport Award), trailed by the remainder of the sprint races to conclude the very successful event.

No doubt, with the abundance of individual and special races, a duce of enduros, a wonderful street festival, and much, much more, the venue was exhausting. Who’s complaining though, as the weekend experience offered every enthusiast not only thrilling vintage competition, but a unique opportunity to bathe in the Glen’s rich motor racing heritage as well. Disney it’s not, as Watkins Glen remains the real McCoy for anyone who is willing to take that spiritual shower commemorating yesteryear. As one of the country’s premier vintage gatherings, don’t miss next year’s Zippo Vintage GP and downtown festival!.....Walter Pietrowicz