Standing autonomously amid a sea of contemporary vintage racing venues, the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix (PVGP) presented by “SHOP ‘n SAVE”, has consistently remained a refreshing anachronism reflecting road racing‘s rudimentary roots. For over two decades, the event organizers, while transforming the pedestrian arteries of one of Pittsburgh‘s foremost outdoor oases, Schenley Park, into a formidable race layout, have moreover succeeded in elevating this unique event to one of the country‘s premier vintage outings. Considered by many as 2.33–miles of very demanding and the most exhilarating (and dangerous by some) circuit they have ever tested, the PVGP resides as the country‘s sole vintage race contested on public thoroughfares, too.
Sanctioned since its inception by the Vintage Sports Car Club of America (VSCCA), the 2007 edition, deemed the “Year of the Volunteer,” marked its “Silver Anniversary” with a record number of participants in attendance this past July 14–15. Joining this energetic cast of pilots were many alumni from the inaugural class of ‘83, some still actively racing (see the Class of 1983 below), and former 1986 Indy 500 winner, Bobby Rahal, serving as the event‘'s Honorary Race Director. Mercedes was the event‘'s featured marque.
On Friday evening, the drivers were treated to a delightful reception under the beautifully restored Victorian glass canopies of the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens located within Schenley Park. Noteworthy, were several of the original PVGP founders, Alan Patterson (the event‘s first Race Director and still an active competitor), and Mary Beth & Tony Phelps, who joined the night‘s festivities.
By Saturday morning, the park‘s metamorphosis into a provisional racecourse was complete. Two miles of crowd–control snow fencing, nearly 250 tons of Jersey barriers, and 1700 hay bales strategically placed either fronting or marking the park‘s variety of immovable and other potential hazards lining the race route, were once again all installed by the army of volunteers led by Race Director, Mike Connolly, and Jim “Rocky” Farrar.
With picture–perfect weather in chorus over the “City of Bridges,” six groups of vintage machinery were up to speed for Saturday morning‘s practice sessions, and an afternoon of heated qualifying races. Seemingly, the only problem was finding time to peruse the temporary city of vendors, food purveyors (I can still taste those grilled Johnsonville brats), and numerous car shows dotting Schenley‘s turf.
Following past scripts, Saturday evening‘s social was once again held in the park. Current VSCCA PVGP Event Chairman, David L. George‘s effort for taking the event to the next level was honored by VSCCA. George quickly acknowledged Molly Higgins and Barbara McLaughlin, as the dynamic duo behind “his” success. VSCCA Vice President, Jerry Greaves, presented the club‘s second annual Spirit Award to George Vapaa for demonstrating exceptional enthusiasm and spirit for the event.
With Sunday morning‘s practice sessions in the bag, focus turned to the opening ceremony of speeches, parade laps and the formal dedication of the “Year of the Volunteer” plaque placed near the official start/finish line by Pittsburgh Mayor, Luke Ravenstahl; Rahal; Executive Director of the PVGP Association, Dan DelBianco; Connolly; and vintage racer and Pittsburgher, Mike Zappa. Delbianco and Zappa were instrumental in getting this permanent tribute off the drawing board.
With herds of spectators in position along the race route, the Crown Royal feature contests took center stage with a full afternoon of great racing as exemplified by Manley Ford leading the charge of MG TDs to the checkered in the Group 4 Under 2–Litre race, and fan favorite, Tivvy Shenton, proving once again his XK140 “Cat” is still the Over 2–Litre top dog. Following another PVGP custom, the first and second place winners were joined by the “Best Ride” chosen by former VSCCA Event Chairman, John “Jake” Jacobsen. The official list of winners can be found at “www.pvgp.org”
Evolved from modest beginnings as just a one–day gathering, today‘s PVGP total celebration has grown to a 10–day festival of car shows, cruises, a Black Tie and Tailpipes Gala, and even includes Historic Races sanctioned by Vintage Racer Group (VRG) held at BeaveRun Motorsports Complex, Wampum, Pennsylvania, contested the previous week. Still, the actual high–speed dance through Schenley categorically remains the foremost highlight among “all” the planned festivities.
Powered by over 1000 volunteers, the event remains free to the public, and thanks to groups like the Thunder Run motorcycle ride sponsored by “citi smith barney” (who solely raised over $10K this year), the event has collectively raised and donated over two million dollars to the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Valley School since 1983. The PVGP is not only a great partner for the charities, but the silver lining for anyone who wants to experience “classic” road racing as it was over a half century ago.....Walter Pietrowicz
OK, each participant no longer receives a $25 gas allowance for towing, or for that matter, a special event room rate of $42/night at the Holiday Inn University Center located within waking distance of Schenley Park. The entry fee was $50 in 1983, and the first race ended prematurely around 3:00PM when the military personnel, who were on hand to supply spectator security, left a tad early. It was speculated that they hadn't eaten. Add the pure logistic and safety concerns of holding your “everyday” (smile) road race contested through municipality‘s public arteries, and you get the idea of the nightmarish tasks that faced the race founders.
No wonder current and original participants; Greg Prehodka, remembered, the earlier events as “iffy at times,” and John Schieffelin commented, “to have this event take place 25 years ago, was a miracle, but to have it go 25 years, is beyond anything I could imagine.”
Interestingly, Prehodka is one of a handful of original drivers wheeling the same car he did in the initial contest, his 1953 MG TD. Another alumnus from ‘83 and very frequent PVGP participant, Jim Donick, returned with his thundering ‘83 entry as well, 1951 Allard K2.
Yeah, many things have changes over the last 25 years, but today‘s PVGP through Schenley Park still remains uncompromising, dangerous, lined with throngs of cheering spectators, dotted with hundreds of hay bales, and of course, home to many of the same race cars and drivers from the class of ‘83 who are still competing. Simply put, “is just a wonderful occasion and reason to come back to Pittsburgh,” noted vintage racer, Jim Carson.
Photo Left to Right: John “Jake” Jacobson, Alan Patterson, Barry Prehodka, Greg Prehodka, Jerry Morici, Oliver Collins, Jim Carson, Jerry Greaves, Howarth Gilmore, Bob Deull, Evans Hunt, John Schieffelin, Dorien Berteletti, Tony Carroll, Jim Donick, and John Risch......Walter Pietrowicz