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SVRA Zippo United States Vintage GP 2006
at Watkins Glen International
2006 Zippo Vintage GP

With the dog days of summer behind us, Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) began what I’d like to refer to as its “triple crown” of final outings, beginning with the Zippo Vintage Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International (WGI) this past September 7–10. And akin to horse–racing’s own “triple crown” commencing with the Kentucky Derby, the Zippo venue easily mimics the Derby’s passion by presenting an acoustical dessert of manmade horses, instead of the cadence of equine hooves.

The Zippo’s “huge” car count of approximately 500 entries has memorialized its success. Include the rich racing heritage permeating the hollows of Watkins Glen proper and WGI, and Friday’s 15th Annual Grand Prix “downtown” Festival presented by Chemung Canal Trust Company, and undisputedly, the Zippo VGP rises to the zenith as one of the country’s premier vintage outings, if not “top dog” among its peers.

Scheduled was the normal array of 10 Michael Stott–UBS group sprint races and two 60–minute contests presented by MotorCheck On–Site Analyzer. Exclusive to the race though were the 21st Annual SVRA Collier Cup Race for MGs, a Pre–War race, and the event’s New York Governor’s Cup celebrating the Fortieth Anniversary of the Canadian–American Championship series.

Furthermore, while the Trans–American Sedan Championship series’ 40th birthday was also recognized with its own feature race, and included nearly 30 West Coast entrants, the Vintage Sports Car Club of America (VSCCA) returned for its third year, fielding its healthiest number of entrants to date.

As usual, Friday’s action encompassed a full day of qualifying rounds at WGI, while the hamlet of Watkins Glen was ground zero for the traditional reenactment of tech inspection at Smalley’s Garage. Much has changed since the inaugural class of road racing’s finest was scrutinized between 1948–1952 at Smalley’s, but luckily, the simple repair shop remains an anachronism along Franklin Street (original straightaway) still wearing its weathered facade more identifiable with the past.

By 1pm, Franklin Street was closed to traffic and thousands of GP Festival visitors slowly populated the newly created pedestrian mall of exhibitors, vendors, a Concours d’Elegance and host of oasis stops for human consumables via local restaurants, gin mills and wine purveyors. Music filled the air as guest speakers officially announced the 2006 “Drivers Walk of Fame” inductees, Derek Bell (who served as event Grand Marshall), George Harris and Bob Holbert. Of course, the real highlight was the arrival of hundreds of racing machines from WGI that participated in the festival’s customary “fast cruise” along the 6.6–mile original street circuit. Fireworks over Watkins Glen State Park concluded the street party.

Meanwhile, back at WGI, Friday’s action came to a close with Howard Katz’ 1975 TOJ 205C victorious in the event’s first official act, the enduro for faster cars.

Saturday was basically a replay of Friday with more qualifying, no formal contests, but a delicious pit stop at SVRA’s evening party sponsored by Vintage Motorsport Magazine and the International Motor Racing Research Center.

Sunday set out with the event’s second enduro (for slower cars), followed by several formal group battles, and the All–MG race for the Collier Cup filling the AM hours. Despite being outnumbered by Porsches, Joe Riolo’s 240Z was the car to beat among the nearly three dozen endurance entries, while Jerry Richards’ V8 powered MGB GT outran buddy, Les Gonda’s eight cylinder “B” for MG’s “Cornett Cup.” Additionally, the coveted “Collier Cup” was presented to Dave Smith, the “Bucher–Decker Award” to Joe Tierno and “T–Cup” to Manley Ford.

With lunch hardly digested, John Burke entertained the nice size spectator crowd by wheeling his big–block McLaren M8F to victory in the N.Y. Governor’s Cup Can–Am reunion race. Competition Director, Carl Jensen was the catalyst behind the Can–Am race, while the legendary ambassador of Polish pride, ex–Can–Am jockey, Oscar Koveleski was on–hand dispensing plenty of assistance where needed, and presenting the “Pole” trophies to the individual class winners. The balance of race groups followed (for results, please visit the SVRA website), and was punctuated by the highly vocal Historic TA battle. East Coast pilot, Chris Liebenberg’s BOSS 302 took that win.

Admittedly, some drivers did get a little miffed at the reduced seat time unavoidably caused by the logistics of shuffling the healthy field of entries, but most took it in stride. Besides, the all–encompassing Zippo Vintage GP experience is more than just a race. It’s the celebration of the Glen’s rich road racing heritage established in 1948. And while “time” may be trying to cloud this legacy, the SVRA working in concert with Watkins Glen proper, has once again successfully bridged the glorious past with another thrilling show of the present.....Walter Pietrowicz

Editor’s Note: SVRA answered the less than ideal seat–time snagfu by extenting the 2007 edition of the Zippo to a four–day event (w/testing on Wednesday).