The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion

Posted by Denis L. Tanney on Mar 3, 2014 6:15:01 AM

The 1913 Mercer Raceabout of George Wingate sits next to John Kent’s 1917 ford Model T in the paddock. Note the antique pickup truck and the touring car in the background. Typical of what you see here.

There are very few places in America that rival the beauty of the Monterey Peninsula in Northern California. And Rolex has chosen this area to showcase several events that take place each year during the middle of August. Right now I want to tell you about the Monterey Motorsports Reunion.

This event seems to be the largest gathering of vintage race cars in America and it happens but once a year at the famous Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The track is an 11 turn, 2.238 mile circuit, made up of 1 esse curve, 4 right and 6 left hand turns and considered by most everyone to be one of the top five race tracks in the United States. Founded back in November of 1957, it has hosted all types of race cars from Indy cars to sports cars, to motorcycles to go-carts to Trans Am to F 5000 open wheeled cars to vintage racing. The track is located high on a mountain in the Laguna Seca recreational park in Monterey. The circuit itself climbs even higher with lots of elevation changes. The most severe of which is a drop off turn that is world famous - known as The Corkscrew. It drops some 59 feet, the equivalent of a 5 ½ story drop, in only 450 feet of track space. It has been known to cause many a driver to lose his stomach as he heads down this fast left hand turn which immediately becomes a right hander before it straightens out and heads for the next left hander. Ask any driver and they will tell you that they absolutely love to race here; it is that much fun and that much of a challenge.

The annual group shot of the featured marque. This year it was celebrating the 60 years of Chevrolet’s Corvette.

A huge representation of cars indicative of a wide range of lifestyles, is apparent during this week. All can be viewed from the title sponsor Rolex right down to the individual exhibitors and retailers that line vendor alley in the midfield. This year the track helped to celebrate 60 years of the wonderful Corvette, America’s only true sports car. Along with a huge crowd, the enormous entry list of race cars included over 530 cars. The list seems to grow each year although the track says they constantly are cutting back because there just isn’t enough room in the paddock for all those wanting to attend. The owners are from all over the world and their cars are from as early as 1911 right up to the modern machines of the mid 1980’s - everything from a Ford to a Ferrari.

A new addition to the daily activities came on Thursday with many of the Pebble Beach Concours cars taking a few laps at slow speed around the circuit showing off their beauty and giving the crowd a small preview of what they might see on Sunday at the Concours. It turned out to be a very impressive couple of laps for most of us. Not often do we get to see a Duesenberg or a prized prewar Mercedes or early Packard take a lap on any race course, no less this one. It was an eye opener for many who would not get the chance to see these cars anywhere else.

David Duthu manhandling his 1949 Talbot Lago T26C DA Grand Prix car in which he won his group race (Group 2A: 1927-1951 Racing Cars).

In the paddock sat row upon row of the entrants’ cars along with other cars that did not run but were parked next to race cars. All were part of the enormous gathering of great race cars. A special exhibit celebrating the 60 years of Corvette was set up with examples of many older Vettes as well as a selection of those that have raced and are still racing. A celebration of the 50 years of Porsche 911 was also held. One of the featured races was for these Porsche 911s. Rolex, the title sponsor, had their drivers’ club tent with many Rolex sponsored sporting event photos displayed, but the emphasis was on race cars of course.

A popular area within this tent was a coffee corner where lovely ladies dispensed any kind of coffee you wished from a cappuccino to a decaf and everything in between. Several rows of long tables showcased a large selection of culinary delights for the drivers and their families. The regular eating area within the compound was filled with drivers and friends chowing down on the fine food Rolex offered. For those who were Rolex guests, the Red Bull hospitality room, overlooking the front straight, served an equally abundant amount of fine tastings and had a terrace for those wishing to watch the racing while dining.

Greg Mitchell in his 1967 custom Shelby Can Am Cobra.

Since the Corvette was the featured marque this year, there was an unusually large following of owners who brought their own cars. At one point I got caught in my golf cart waiting to cross the road as literally hundreds of Corvettes, one by one, streamed in front of me making their way to the track for their parade lap. There were so many cars that the parade lap looked more like a traffic jam on the Long Island Expressway or the California 401. I felt like I was at a railroad crossing watching one of those forever long freight trains passing by, just creeping through at very slow speeds. Someone said this was the largest gathering of Corvette owners at any race track ever. I don’t doubt it. One thing was for sure - this author has never seen so many gorgeously prepared privately owned Corvettes in one setting before.

The vendor alley was filled each day with shoppers and lookers both. The food stands were doing a brisk business offering everything from the norm to the semi strange and in between. And the crowd seemed very pleased with all the offerings from food to merchandise. This area was far from a bargain center though. Books, clothing, racing school sign ups, posters, tons and tons of miniature cars from very inexpensive to over a thousand dollars were all selling. It looked as though everyone was having a wonderful time even if they were only window shopping.

And of course at noon time there was the annual “Picnic in the Park” where this year’s special guests were three time world Formula One Champion Sir Jackie Stewart, and sports car racer and now announcer Tommy Milner. They were peppered with questions and in turn related wonderful memories of their days racing. This segment was moderated by vintage racer Murray Smith. Crowds built around a makeshift stage and rows and rows of chairs were set up for the fans. Of course there is always standing room only once the seating is filled on a first come first served basis. The track accounted for almost 62,000 paid attendance, which was a 12% increase over last year. The track claims this event draws the second biggest crowd each year, the AMA motorcycle race being the biggest.

Vintage racing is very popular in this country as it is all over the world. This California venue has hosted vintage racers for over thirty years now and each year the crowds increase as do the participants. The selection of those who are invited is a very hard task for the committee. There are so many cars out there and so many drivers who want to participate and yet there is only so much room in the paddocks. It is a fantastic time for everyone involved. Watching these wonderful cars roar around this wonderful track is something that needs to be seen to be appreciated, even if you are not a race fan. Once you hear these engines sing their songs and watch the drivers power their machines at speeds rivaling those of yesteryear you too will be a convert. And, if you are already a fan of racing then the Monterey Motorsports Reunion will make your heart skip a beat. It is one of those events that bring you back year after year. A word to those thinking of going next year: book your hotels now, as almost all are sold out by the start of January! Expect to have fun!

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Topics: Sports, featured, Rolex, Monterey Motorsports

Author:Denis L. Tanney

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