It hasn’t been that many years since we have become addicted to watching and enjoying old car racing. As a matter of fact it has only been the past thirty five or so that we have been calling it vintage racing. But now, this area of motorsports has taken off like a rocket across the Americas as well as all over the world. Magazines are devoted entirely to the sport. Television has given us wonderful coverage for many years now for those who are not able to attend the races live. All in all, it has become a segment of motorsports that is now so important that it commands our attention.
Each year on the California Peninsula known as Monterey, Rolex sponsors an event that surely has to be the biggest in the USA and one of the most important gatherings of classic racers in the world. Now known as the Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion, this event brings to life staggering numbers of cars that in one way or another have been graced with legendary drivers and racing venues and results. Well over 400 cars each year fill the legendary Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca paddock covering about every square inch of available space. As a matter of fact, some entrants have to be turned away as there just isn’t room for them all. And this is an event by invitation!
As part of the huge week in mid August that encompasses everything from auctions to concours to racing to fine food and wine, this event is a four day blowout. And you really can’t get enough of it either. From Thursday through Sunday the cars take to the track and don’t be fooled, these drivers put these classics through their paces with anger. No babying the old metal here. No no. Vintage racing is very much racing at full throttle and the crowds love every minute of it.
BMW was kind enough to loan us a 2011 535i with a six speed manual to tour around in. Very much in style and right there in high class. There was never a moment where I had to be concerned that the car I was driving was too mundane. What a great car. From its power to its comfort to its capacity to hold all our photo gear and luggage, this was a blessing I can’t thank BMW enough for. It made the week that much smoother and no matter where we traveled to or from an event, we felt perfectly in tune, and received plenty of compliments.
But back to the racing itself here for a moment. When one attends an event like this it is almost too much to comprehend. As is the case with all the major events during this long week, they all boggle the mind. First off the track is a world class facility that has some of the most demanding turns in motorsport and hosts everything from sports car to Indy Car to motorcycles and this the vintage event of the year anywhere. There are a few grandstands along the front straight, but the thrill of this track is being able to meander wherever you wish on any hillside and stand there and watch the racing alongside and beneath your eyes. There is no one perfect place. The entire 11 turn, 2.238 mile circuit is filled with driver challenges. Probably the most famous turn in North America is the near 1000 foot plunge known to all as the Corkscrew. The track is laid out in a counterclockwise direction with only one set of esses and has multiple areas that require tremendous skill at the wheel of a speeding vehicle either old or new. Viewing for the public is better than average as I said above, with ample places to stand or sit and enjoy the racing all day long. Originally constructed in 1957 during the era when sporty cars became the rage across America, the track is situated within the Laguna Seca Recreation area which is operated by the Monterey County Parks Department. The name Laguna Seca is Spanish for “dry lake”. The area where the track now is originally was a lake and the course once surrounded this real lake which has long since dried out. An artificial pond was added for effect years later in the lower paddock area, which lends a bit of historic feeling if nothing else.
Each year Rolex, the title sponsor of this event and basically all the major events of the week on the Peninsula does an outstanding job. They recruit the finest vintage cars and help to create an atmosphere that remains in everyone’s mind for a lifetime of memories.
Once again this year they created a large area that is called the Drivers Lounge and served as both a respite for the drivers and car owners as well as a top drawer hospitality area for Rolex. As well, they constructed a miniature Rolex jewelry store right next to the lounge where photos of other Rolex sponsored events graced the walls. The finest Rolex watches were in stunning wooden cases for all to view and inspect, along with knowledgeable sales people to answer any and all your questions.
The Jaguar XKE, one of the most outstanding vehicles of all time was celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and so the track paid special tribute to it and the Jaguar marque in general. A huge tent held celebrated Jags from the famous C Type that took the overall win on its maiden voyage at the 24 hours du Mans 60 years ago right through to the modern Jags that also swept LeMans in the 1980’s and just about every other important model in between. An awesome sight for any racing buff indeed!
For those who wished to get up close and personal with these cars, they are free to stroll the paddock and stop and chat with the owners and drivers. The latter are more than willing to spend time discussing the attitudes and specs and memories of their vehicles with the general public. That is what makes this event so special. It is on an equal level for everyone.
Cars from the earliest years to the mid 2000’s graced the facility for four full days. And if one wanted to they could spend a little time in the lower paddock ares and meet the great Jaguar driver and race team owner and founder of the Group 44 cars, Bob Tullius. Bob spent a couple of informative hours meeting and talking to so many fans I think he was totally exhausted from the experience afterwards. Of course everyone loves Bob and he loves to tell stories, so it worked very well for everyone.
Ferrari as well was celebrating a special year. The 50th anniversary of the famous Ferrari 250 GTO model. Some 30 pristine examples were at the track to make impressions on everyone’s mind as they roared with full V12 engine music blaring in unison as packs of cars went past. It was said that at one time, more than $300 million worth of one model was seen at the same time on the same tarmack during their race times. Wow!
Vendor alley was the busiest I have ever seen. Hordes of fans walking, eating, stopping in each of the little tented makeshift shops spending their well earned money on shirts, trinkets, posters, clothing and what not; there is nothing like having a life long souvenir from an event like this.
This is a wonderful event that never fails to deliver. And the key reason is memories. From the grandfather relating stories of many of these cars in one fashion or another to his grandson, or a father sharing a special moment with his son or daughter as a particular car or group of cars rekindles special memories of that era with fabulous stories that get passed down from one generation to the next throughout the four days. This is heaven on earth for the car racer. And for many of the younger folk it is their first chance to experience these incredible machines that they have either only seen in photographs or heard about from their parents or grandparents. Now not only do they see them up close and personal, but they hear the varied songs each engine sings, they smell the exhaust of the cars from 10, 20 40, 50 or even 90 years ago and they see them actually run at speeds most would never conceive possible. And to experience the intense speed and handling of the more modern race car is just as thrilling as witnessing that old big piece of loud metal as it roars around this circuit.
The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is really something else. August 2012 come and see it for yourself when the great Cobra will celebrate 50 years on the Monterey Peninsula and you can witness a part of history. History, that will live within your soul your entire life, and if you are lucky enough, you might want to pass this amazing sensation on to your offspring and keep the feelings going strong for many more generations to come.