Anthony Wang - 1958 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa ©2021 Dennis Gray

Velocity Invitational 2021: A Smashing Success

By Dennis Gray, Bill Wagenblatt, & Rex McAfee

On my way home from the Velocity Invitational held at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca, I have a few thoughts I would like to share. Event organizer Jeff O’Neill and his band of jolly pranksters have brought European-style vintage racing to America, period. For example, cars in the paddock are situated by run groups under large tents. In other words, no modern semi-trucks parked behind pre-war grand-prix cars which detract from the vintage nature of the event. This also allows spectators to easily walk between the cars and get a close look.

There were display cars I haven’t seen in years, including Eagle F1 and Indy cars, and a Mercedes 300SLR driven by Derik Hill on demonstration laps. Between vintage race sessions, McLaren had street cars running giving demonstration rides to spectators. Additionally, Porsche had a lineup of 917s (more below). Walking the pits, I stumbled on a Ferrari 166 Barchetta and a 1952 340 Mexico originally driven by Phil Hill. And the list goes on…

Cars under tents at the 2021 Velocity Invitational
Similar to England’s “Goodwood Revival”, cars are garaged under tents by their run group giving fans a better view of everything. © Rex McAfee

Back to McLaren, Sports Car Digest was honored to have one of the few interviews granted this weekend with McLaren CEO’s Zak Brown (stay tuned for an exclusive article later this week). Zak has an interesting insight into vintage racing and the future of the Velocity Invitational. Zak and his McLaren Racing brought four Formula 1 cars which were driven in demonstration laps by Charles Nearburg, Zak Brown and Mika Häkkinen.

The cars were a MP4/98T, MP4/13, MP4/26 and a MP4/27. This last the MP4/27 is the very chassis that Lewis Hamilton drove to his last victory for McLaren. Watching Charles Nearburg pop the MP4/27 over the turn one hill at full chat then at the last second jump on the binders to bring the car down to cornering speed is to be marveled at. And the sound simply cannot be described; it’s worth the price of tickets to next year’s event.

Charles Nearburg driving in his McLaren F1
Charles Nearburg enjoys a few laps in his McLaren F1 car.. Photo © Rex McAfee
Zak Brown CEO of McLaren
Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren, was gracious to give Sports Car Digest a one-on-one interview. Photo © Rex McAfee

Then we have the legendary Porsche 917s. Porsche supported the weekend with a display of no less than six 917s. There were two 917K racers in the blue Gulf Oil colors that were on the cars when they won the World Sports Car Championships for Porsche in 1970 and 1971. There were also three of the 917/10s that raced in the SCCA Can-Am and European Interseries in 1972 and 1973. Last in the lineup was a 917/30 similar to the car that Mark Donohue dominated the 1973 Can Am series with.

The 917s were on-track multiple times throughout the weekend providing the fans with a glimpse of these stunning cars on track, versus just a static display. The Porsche display “lounge” also included a Carrera 6 and 914/6 from the collection of Jeff Zwart’s, along with two simulators where enthusiasts could drive a virtual RS Spyder.

Porsche 917/10
Porsche 917/10 Demonstration – This was the 1972 CanAm championship car driven by George Folmer – Copyright 2021 Bill Wagenblatt

Friday night was the Petersen Automobile’s “The Future of Motorsports” dinner. Besides patrons being wined and dined, the highlight of the evening was twofold. Out on the terrace overlooking turn 1, attendees were able to watch the Mini vs. Mustang endurance race; night racing at Laguna! Six Mustangs against twenty Minis; what could possibly go wrong? It was a gas to see angry little wasps shod in driving lights across their front bumper battle American V8 iron.

The second highlight was the panel discussion of several high-profile figures in the motorsport’s world, including Jim Farley, CEO of Ford; Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing; Richard Varner, CFO of MotoAmerica and chairman of the Board of Directors at the Petersen Museum; Jay Frye, President of INDYCAR and Jacob Hawksworth, Founder and CEO of Hypercraft. The discussion on the future of racing focused on hybrid and full electric race cars was more than interesting. As for how future electric-powered races can evoke emotion without traditional engine sound is still up for debate.

Mark Hamilton Peters driving 1932 Bugatti T-59
Mark Hamilton Peters, Group 1, 1932 Bugatti T-59, grabs a bit of brake before entering the Corkscrew. Photo © Rex McAfee

Event organizer Jeff O’Neill has seemed to take into consideration all who attended. For us photographers, he placed the same run groups at different times each day. This way drivers (and photographers) race under differing light each day which makes it more interesting for everyone. As for the spectators, Jeff’s team has curated a wonderful group of cars, many of which have not been seen locally for many years. To give credit where credit is due, this is largely due to the working of Steve Earle, America’s “Patron Saint” of vintage racing.

In an interview a few weeks before the event, Steve explained Jeff’s goal was to simply seek out the best cars possible, and strive to make this like a world-class event at Goodwood or Silverstone. In other words, quality over quantity. With Steve’s connections, some truly special automobiles were brought out by their owners. Some specific examples from this weekend include a Gulf Mirage M6 that won the 1972 Spa race. Mk.1 Chaparral Mk.1 that actually debut at Laguna Seca in 1961. Or how about two Ferrari 250 GTO.

Derik Hill driving a Mercedes 300SLR
Derik Hill in the 300SLR Saturday.

And lastly if you just needed a little trackside “R & R”, there was the Sip and Savor Pavilion. Sixteen wineries offering samples of their wine. Opening Friday night these wineries offered samples of their wines for a modest cost. Believe me there is nothing like a glass of good red to enhance your track lunch.

If you were at this Velocity Invitational weekend, let us know what you thought of the event. If you missed it…shame on you. I have heard rumors it will be held in October so keep your ears open and be ready to make plans soon.

Velocity Invitational 2021 Photo Gallery