This past April, I had the good fortune to be involved with the Historic Grand Prix group that ran as one of the support races for the Long Beach Grand Prix. As I was mulling about the garage area – shooting the breeze with the drivers and crew – I bumped into an old friend. Since I don’t want to embarrass him, I won’t mention his name, but he is someone who was a very influential, behind-the-pitwall player in ’60s sports car racing. Anyway, we started chatting about the event and the drivers, when somehow the conversation turned to one of the drivers who is in his mid-30s.
It was at this point that my legendary friend bowled me over. “That guy has no business being out there,” he said, dead serious. “In fact, I don’t think anyone under 50 should be vintage racing. If a young guy wants to race, he should join the SCCA,” he added. “Vintage racing should be solely for older guys.”
At first, I was utterly shocked. Even for my legendary friend, this took the term “crusty” to an all-new level. After I had a moment to gather my thoughts (in my late-30s brain), I asked him, “So what becomes of the sport and the cars you love when you old farts die? Who of the next generation is going to carry the torch, if they haven’t grown up loving these cars like you did?” This question gave both him and I pause for thought.
I think what shocked me the most about his myopic statement was the fact that I knew, in my core, that he was so totally wrong. In fact, not just a week before, I had spent a weekend that would have convinced even him of how misguided a notion this was.
I had driven out to a local historic race to do some work on an article, for a club publication that we produce, on second-generation vintage drivers. Now certainly father/son and father/daughter teams are nothing new to the sport. However, what was particularly interesting about this story was the fact that within this club there was no less than seven youngsters, who had literally grown up in the club and were now starting their own racing lives in vintage racing. These were homegrown vintage racers, who went from being kids riding bicycles and skateboards in the paddock, to young adults who chose to start racing in vintage – side by side with their parents – rather than the SCCA or pro routes.
So, I spent the better part of the weekend interviewing each of these “kids” and learning not only what they liked and disliked about racing with their parents, but also how growing up at the track influenced their life. What I found particularly fascinating about these conversations was the fact that nearly every one of them felt that some of their strongest and most fond childhood memories were of time spent at the track with their families, and in particular, their fathers. However, if you think about it a minute, this shouldn’t be surprising. Go to any vintage race in any part of the country – Lime Rock, Phoenix, Road Atlanta, Portland – and what do you see? Motorhomes and families. In fact many clubs have had to create special rules to govern and control what kids can and can’t ride or do in the paddock – if for no other reason than there are so many of them! So if kids are at the track on the weekend having fun with their parent–who are also having fun–aren’t these memories going to logically be some of the fondest and strongest memories of their lives? And if that is true, when they’re old enough, aren’t they going to want to recapture that feeling in their own adult lives?
On the whole, the vintage racing movement in the United States is still pretty young… maybe only 30 years? And really it seems that it has only been the last 15 years or so where we have seen a large number of participants making the race weekend a full family event. So it makes sense that now would be about the right time for us to be experiencing a vintage racing “Baby Boom” of sorts. Kids who grew up immersed in the sport are now old enough themselves to become drivers, corner workers, mechanics, photographers, and yes, even magazine publishers!
Back in Long Beach, I relayed my recent experiences with the “next generation” of vintage racers to my legendary curmudgeon, who upon hearing it, paused for a moment, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Hmmph, maybe you’re right.”