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SVRA Formula Car Festival 2006
at Virginia International Raceway
2006 SVRA Formula Car Festival

With early fall and late summer vying for supremacy, Sportscar Vintage Racing Association’s (SVRA) second leg of its final three races (dubbed SVRA’s “triple crown” in my Zippo Vintage GP coverage), the Formula Car Festival presented by MotorCheck On–Site Analyzer took the green flag at VIRginia International Raceway (VIR) this past September 28–October 1.

In total, over 200 mechanical steeds and their pilots enjoyed a full menu of various open–wheel specific races, final battle for the North American Sports 2000 Racing Car Club’s (NA-SRCC) series, normal gamut of Michael Stott–UBS group sprint races and two MotorCheck one-hour endurance contests. For many, this outing represented their last dance before a winter’s hibernation of off-season preparations under the garage droplight.

First up, the 60–minute challenge for production and GT racecars. Exploding to an impressive lead through lap 13, Shelby GT350 jockey, Doug Richmond parked his new toy, a 1986 Roush Trans–Am Mustang (restored back to its 1990 configuration) halfway through the race, elevating Ken Fitzgerald’s Lotus Esprit X180R as the car to beat. No one did! Richmond reported later “that he was just interested in getting in a few shakedown laps and was extremely happy with the car’s performance.” ”I love my Shelby GT350 dearly, but this thing is like a fighter jet after flying a Cessna,” he added.

The traditional welcome get–together hosted by Erica and Dave Handy at their on–track SascoSports’ facility was the final pit stop on Friday.

Saturday was basically a repeat of Friday’s schedule, ending with the second lengthy shootout of the event. In this protracted race though, a handful of open-wheel rockets were up front and dicing it out throughout the 60–minute nail biter. On lap 27, young gun, 18–year old Shelby Mershon grabbed a late race lead from 2004 SVRA “Driver of the Year,” Travis Engen, for the win. The margin of victory between the two Lola T97/20 Indy Lights was 00:00.741. Shelby’s dad, Dan, took third. Subsequently, the SVRA’s evening party at the VIR Gallery was the final pit stop of the day.

The quiet encampment slowly awoke as Sunday’s warm–ups yielded the playing field to a sparse grid for the Formula C/Formula3/Formula Vee/Formula Junior feature race. Despite only seven contestants seeing the green flag, a tight battle for top honors ensued between the two FJs in the race and the chasing Zink FV of home–track gun, Randall Yow. After swapping leads several times, Robert McClenagan’s Lotus 20/22 FJ took the checkered. Lunch was served!

As usual, the scheduled lunch break always seems too short, as I hurriedly downed my last French fry just moments before Anna Lemmon belted out an all–inspiring rendition of the National Anthem. What had basically been a serene landscape moments ago erupted to life as vintage iron abruptly growled and the Group 7 machinery burst from the gate. In this, the afternoon’s first official duel, Peter Gulick’s Chevron B23 might have been the ultimate winner, but I could have listened to Dino Crescentini’s Wolf Dallara’s pushrod sing all day.

This was just the beginning, as the balance of the entrants whether competing for position, points, pride or just fun, kept the adrenalin spiked, the volume at max, and the earplugs in full use until the last checkered dropped. And while a list of individual winners can be found on the SVRA’s websites, Group Two produced a very thrilling exchange between Mark Harmer’s Brabham BT–21 and Travis Engen’s Chevron B17B, and Mark earning the victory by a stingy 00:00.090. Group Three’s Alan Tosler grabbed a second place podium and the VIR Founder’s Cup Trophy.

Additionally, the Group Nine battle between the two F1 Williams’ battlewagons unfortunately ended all too quickly when Hamish Somerville’s sleek FW07 retired on lap one. Gulick’s William’s FW08 took the win. Penned by Patrick Head, the FW07 was a small, yet powerful ground effect F1 platform driven by Alan Jones in 1979, amassing five poles and four wins out of six GPs appearances. Recently converted to a fixed skirt configuration by Lee Chapman Racing, “it’s still a wonderful handling machine,” said, Somerville.

With the second leg of my self–entitled “triple crown” in the bag, Harry Gentry’s Group One victory might have put him one step closer to the SVRA overall point’s champion, but that was just the tip of the iceberg of another exciting SVRA outing heavily sprinkled with vehement enthusiasm and engaging contests. When it came to show time, the dogs definitely ran from the porch in full stride for three wonderful days, resting just enough, I hope, to run for the final time in 2006 at SVRA’s “triple crown” season closer at Road Atlanta......Walter Pietrowicz