VARA AT Fontana's CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY

OCTOBER 13TH & 14TH 2001

By Randall Richardson

The Vintage Automobile Racing Association’s (VARA) inaugural event at California Speedway in Fontana, California featured the BMW-Lotus Challenge & Enduro sponsored by Dunkel Brothers & Brecht Motorsports. This was VARA’s maiden event on the interior road course of the massive California Speedway, home of Southern California's Indy Racing. California Speedway is located on over 500 acres with a two-mile D-shaped oval track surrounded by 250,000 lbs. of aluminum grandstands that seat over 90,000 fans. It would be an understatement to say the facility is imposing. Driving pass the immense grandstands and traveling through the access tunnel you reach the Speedway interior that encompasses 130 acres. You are immediately aware of the immensity of the Speedway once you have entered the infield area and look upward toward the grandstands.

VARA’s inaugural event was greeted by participates with both anticipation and quandary, depending on what type of vintage vehicle they raced. The small bore, more agile racecars, looked upon the course configuration with the expectation of frolic with the short straightaways and twenty-one turns in a confined 1.5-mile circuit. The big bore racecars, looked upon the circuit with uncertainty. Saturday’s practice and qualifying left the large bore racecars frustrated. The lack of wide open straightaways, enabling the big bores to stretch their legs and reach significant triple digit speeds, was exasperating. Many felt that they were involved in a short drag race from one 90-degree turn to the next with the essential trouncing on the brakes in between.

Much to VARA’s credit, they changed the course circuit after Saturday’s one-hour Formula Car Enduro just in time for Sunday’s race, eliminating the bus stops on the back straight. Chic Vandagriff explained that utilization of portions of the oval were considered however he pointed out that some of the racecars were faster than the potential of the drivers which could lead to some problems at the higher speeds. This maybe a consideration in the future depending on the endorsement of the interior track configuration by the drivers.

That meant that practice and qualifying on Saturday didn’t give the drivers much aptitude on the freshly altered course, but a more diverse collection of participants was grateful due to the opportunity to reach higher speeds on the back straightaway. What appeared on a course map as 90-degree right and left turns in actuality transformed into a playful and exciting sequence of switchbacks, challenging the skill and craft of the drivers. The faster cars were able to reach 115 MPH before having to brake hard into the 90-degree right hand Turn One.

Alan Bolte once again provided both the colorful background and rich history of the seven run groups with the addition of the Formula Car One-Hour Enduro on Saturday and the BMW-Lotus Challenge Race on Sunday.

The Group One race consisted of twenty Formula Fords from 1967 to 1972 that included Mallock, Lola, Royale, Lotus, Hawke and Titan’s. Immediately from the start a group of nine Formula Fords sprinted to the front leaving the remainder of the pack behind. Michael Fazzi, Case Bor, Tim Morgan, Jeff Robin and Ronald Enlow then began to stretch the lead as they fought amongst themselves for the podium positions. The temperatures began to rise and the tires were getting a little slippery as the asphalt began to develop some heat and the driver’s pressed the limitations of the modest Formula Fords. Michael Fazzi in his Hawke DL2A finished in first, Case Bor in his Lola T204 in second and Tom Morgan in his Lotus 51 finished in third.

The Group Two race consisted of a large group of thirty-seven F, G and H Production racecars from 1958 to 1972 that included MG, Austin Healey, Fiat, Mini Cooper, Triumph, Morgan, Volvo and Abarth. Alan Berry and Scott Crawford in their 1964 Mini Cooper’s, Efrain Olivares Jr. in his Austin Healey Sprite and Daniel Martinez in his 1964 Triumph Spitfire took off at the drop of the green flag. The cars were thrown side by side into Turn One with orange traffic cones flying as the rest of the pack vigilantly threaded their way into Turn Two. The skirmish continued during the first lap with dirt and gravel soaring in the air as they rounded Turn Seven. Attrition struck quickly with emergency tow trucks on course to remove the participants as the Mini Coopers fought for the lead. In lap six Martinez in his Spitfire passed Berry’s Mini Cooper on the outside of Turn Four as he moved into third place, first sliding on the outside then making the pass as he maneuvered toward the inside. Crawford kept after Martinez, lifting the inside tires of his Mini Cooper as he pushed every drop of performance out of the little English marque as he regained the lead. Martinez took the opportunity to pass Crawford in the outside of Turn Eleven but then dropped a tire into the dirt as Crawford’s momentum inched him back into first. Scott Crawford eventually finished in first place in his Yellow/Black Mini Cooper with Daniel Martinez’s White Spitfire second and Efrain Olivares Jr. in his Red Spitfire in third.

The Group Three race consisted of twenty Formula A, B, SV, CSR, RSR and Formula 5000 from 1961 to 1985 that included Lola, McLaren, Lotus, Ralt, March, Chevron, Tiga, Renault, Daren, Swift, Anson and Zink. HSR West event promoter Ed Swart in his 1978 Chevron B45 and Todd Gerstenberger in his 1974 Lola T332 took off first leading into Turn One with Jeff Holladay in his 1983 Chevron B60 and Richard Wilkinson in his black John Player Special Ralt RT5 close behind. Ed Swart quickly established his dominance, beginning to lap slower cars by the 5th lap. Wayne Gross looked toward second place in his 1981 Ralt RT4 as he moved in behind Gerstenberger. An unfortunate mishap occurred as Holladay collided with Doug Turner’s 1969 Brabham BT29 in Turn One as he was lapping slower traffic. Holladay had the inside line entering the corner and Turner crossed over in front of him spinning them both into the infield. By the end of the race Ed Swart had lapped the third place of Paul Lisec as Swart skated to first place with Wayne Gross finishing in second.

The Group Four race consisted of forty-five C and D Production and Sports Racers from 1954 (Ol Yeller) to 1999 (Caterham 7) that included Porsche (356, 912, 911, 914), Lotus, Austin Healey, Corvette, Datsun, LeGrand, Dolphin, Ginetta, Volvo, BMW. Leonard Scott in his 1967 Porsche 911S, Joe Kelly in his 1999 Caterham 7 and Mark Minkoff in his 1967 Porsche 911R jumped toward the front with Kelly locking up his brakes as they entered Turn One. Ron Mistak began moving through the pack in his Yellow Porsche 914-4. The back markers were also impressive with their display of talent led by Larry Lim in his 1954 Ol Yeller, Robert Heiman in his Red/White 1963 Porsche 356, Ron Harris in his Yellow 1965 Porsche 356, John Samson in his 1967 A/R GTV and Robert Drennan in his 1956 Corvette. Drennan’s V8 Corvette lumbered through the corners as the lighter 4 cylinder racecars out-maneuvered him as he attempted to stay out of their way. Mistak’s 914-4, with it’s large whale tail spoiler and fender flares, challenged the nimble Caterham 7 of Kelly as they pulled away from the pack. Kelly wiggled the Caterham on the exit to Turn One as Mistak passed him on the inside of the corner, while the third place car of Leonard Scott was no where in sight. Mistak finished first, Kelly in second with Leonard Scott in third and Mark Scott in fourth place in his Red 1967 Porsche 911S.

The Group Five race consisted of twenty Formula V from 1963 to 1972 that included Caldwell, Bandido, Zink, RCA, Beach, Autodynamics and Formcar. Misfortune struck quickly as Pat Kneip, Patrick Maynard and Rex Linde impacted on the first lap in Turn Two, sending all three of them off into the infield. Other than egos and some bent parts the drivers were okay but they spent the remainder of the race as spectators. Chris Campbell in his 1969 Zink C4 got off to a early lead with Peter Hampson in his 1972 Caldwell D13 and Murray Chalmers in his 1971 RCA following. As they pulled away there was a six-car race in mid-pack with David Tabata, Harold Lovejoy, Jon Wong, Don Readinger, Ron Statton and Michelle Linde. At times the mid-pack group were three abreast through several corners, testing the abilities of the drivers. Blue puffs of smoke would emit from the tiny exhaust pipes as they lifted off the throttle entering the curves, grabbing the steering and scrubbing off speed as they turned into the corners. Chris Campbell ran away from the field and finished in first with Murray Chalmers in second and Thomas Rocke in third.

The Group Six race consisted of thirty A & B Production and Sedan racecars and Nascar from 1964 to 1992 that included Ford Cortina, BMW, Mustang, Shelby, Tiger, Porsche, T-Bird, Corvette, and Falcon. Dan Walters in his Yellow 1965 Sunbeam 289 Tiger was ahead in the B Production points with Brad Long in his 1965 327 Corvette in a close second. Walters commented before the race that as long as he finished in front of Long he would clinch the title for 2001. At the drop of the green flag Walters got a jump on the field and led the group out of Turn One after they entered four abreast. Breathing down Walter’s back was Philip Magistro in his 914-6 Porsche, Alan Fasnacht in his 1972 White 911RS Porsche, Tim Brecht in his 1967 BMW 2001 and then Brad Long in his open-air Corvette. The thunder echoed as thirty-six vintage high horsepower racecars roared out of the first turn. Tommy Thompson moved up seven positions in the first lap in his beautiful 1972 Greenwood Corvette replica, powered by an all aluminum 510 C.I. big block that puts out 748 horsepower. Magistro got by Walters with Long in third and Fasnacht in fourth position. Ron Huber was pushing toward the front in his 1992 Nascar Thunderbird, shredding the rubber off his Goodyears as he exited each corner. Unfortunately Mark Shoen in his 1965 big block Corvette spun in Turn One collecting Allen Denson in his 1966 Sunbeam Tiger taking both of them out of contention. Long continued to chase Walters in a classic Tiger vs. Corvette altercation with Long pitching the Corvette sideways as he pushed the Stingray to the limit. In the mid pack Dan Westland in his 1964 Sunbeam Tiger, Les Nimmo in his 1967 Mustang and John Russell in his 1968 Shelby GT350 were chasing each other in their Ford powered racecars. Huber caught Magistro’s 914-6 and pasted him for first and then proceeded to spread the distance between them as Tommy Thompson continued to push ahead. Huber finished in first place with Philip Magistro in second, Alan Fasnacht placed third and Tim Brecht in fourth. Dan Walters’ Tiger edged out Long for fifth place and secured the B Production title but not without a fight from Brad Long in his Corvette who finished in sixth place after being within less than a car length away from Walters the entire race.

The Group Seven race consisted of over forty E Production and Sports Racers from 1957 to 1975 that included Triumph, MG, BMW, Austin Healey, Datsun, Porsche, Elva and Turner. Todd Lippiatt in his 1966 BMW 2002, John Wilkins in his 1966 Triumph Spitfire, Jordan D’Alessio in his 1972 BMW 2002, Joseph Siam in his 1963 Turner 1500, Alan Bryan in his 1965 Triumph Spitfire and Keith Lippiatt in his 1966 BMW 2002 took off from the first lap and pulled away from the field. The leaders quickly commenced to establish the pace and began lapping slower traffic. Todd Lippiatt had too much exit speed in Turn One and he almost drove up the back of Fredrick Kalman in his 1960 Austin Healey 3000 as he and D’Alessio in their BMW’s tussled for the lead. On the fourth lap they were four abreast going into Turn One as they sorted themselves out heading instantly into Turn Two. Siam and Bryan were fighting for position with Siam making a pass on the exit of Turn Five as he moved in behind D’Alessio. Going into Turn One Siam moved to the inside and then suddenly pitched his car to the outside of the corner as he exited, allowing him to make the pass on D’Alessio going into Turn Two. Siam immediately put his sights on Lippiatt’s Yellow BMW as they entered Turn Four. On the 10th lap Lippiatt slid on the exit of Turn One giving Siam the advantage as he headed for the inside of the corner to slip by. Joseph Siam then pulled away from the field leaving Todd Lippiatt in second place and Jordan D’Alessio in third.

VARA’s inaugural event at California Speedway will hopefully proceed toward a flourishing future. The venue has the potential for success as a leading facility in Southern California providing a track for an array of events from 200 MPH CART Racing, NASCAR, AMA/Chevy Trucks, Historic Sports Car Racing, Drag Racing and even parking lot slalom racing. Southern California’s rich hot rod history that was incredibly influential during the development of racing should bask in the excitement of having a prime facility in its back yard.

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