2016 Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival: The Land of "AM"
TLP headed down to Sonoma Raceway last weekend to check out the 2016 Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival put on by the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) www.svra.com. Looking at our archives, we figure that one or both of us has been going to this event (or its equivalent) for 20 years now. True to past performance, it was a great event all around and delivered automotive amazement suitable for all. This invitational event hosted over 300 entries and featured the cars, people and history of the Canadian-American Challenge Cup (Can-AM) and Trans-American Sedan Championships (Trans-AM). Racing Legend George Follmer served as the event's Grand Marshall.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Can-AM and Trans-Am, these series were grand displays of power....big power....huge power...hurt you in the chest and make your ears bleed power, Between them, world automakers and smaller organizations (some with factory assistance) battled on North America's racetracks with everything from modified stock cars to the wildly inventive (nee, BONKERS) Can-Am giants that dabbled in the aerodynamic and aspirational dark arts to a level that has not been revisited since Can-AM ended in 1987.
The Trans-Am Series began in 1966 and still runs today. It has been an enduring showcase for modified production cars and those featured a this event covered a huge time period for the series. If we're honest though, the highlight of this event, and a lot of events of this kind, are the cars of the late 60s and early 70s. We always advise first-timers to head over to the paddock when these cars are warming up and getting ready for practice, qualifying or a race. There is nothing in the world quite like dozens of vintage Trans-Am cars coming to life. If you like classic V8 American muscle cars, this is nothing short of an eargasm. Boss Mustangs, Z/28 Camaros, AAR Cudas, and AMC Javelins make beautiful (albeit potentially deafening) music. But the cars at this event weren't confined to that golden era. There were more modern cars from the series and lots of the of vintage European and Asian models too. In recent years, more of these smaller displacement cars have been showing up at vintage events broadening the appeal of vintage events and giving attendees a variety of vehicles to oogle. These cars from the likes of Nissan/Datsun, Alfa Romeo and Porsche are finally getting their moment(s) in the sun.
The Can-Am Series, which also began in 1966, is basically colloquially discussed as the stuff of legend. Until its end in 1987, it was more or less the wild wild west of auto racing. The rule book was....well...shall we say, "small," the wings and horsepower were anything but, and by the end of run for the series, the cost of adapting to the "bigger is better" model of oneupsmanship proved too much for many teams. Much of what we see in modern carbon fiber and titanium based sportscar and prototype racing today began in Can-Am in fiberglass and steel. From the early days, the series featured slippery body shapes and rudimentary aerodynamics. Fast forward to the waning years of Can-Am, and the aero applications had become more sophisticated and the era of turbos and other more modern/recognizable technological trickery had dawned on/in racing. Can-Am gave the world (among many things) 1000+hp engines, and venues for the exploits of drivers like Andretti, Donohue, McLaren, Hulme, in fantastical cars made by some of the most innovative and interesting people and builders the world as known. We were delighted to see the Chevrons, McLarens, Lolas and Shadows on hand for the weekend.
And if the cars of Can-AM and Trans-Am aren't your speed, this event had a lot of other cars on offer. The paddock was alive (and quite warm) all weekend with sights and sounds covering almost 80 years of automotive history. The participating cars were arranged into 13 groups based on their age, engine size and what type of racing they'd done in their heyday. Just to give you an idea of how broad the field of cars is, Group 1 (the oldest cars) cars are Pre-1941 Sport & Touring/1925-1941 Racing Cars, and Group 13 (the "newest") cars are 1982-1991 Historic IMSA GTO/SCCA Trans AM Cars. They were all there to race, and some so pristine that you'd assume they'd never seen action (and you'd be dead wrong). All of the drivers were there for fun, some for a little glory perhaps, but none for sure, for the money.
On that note, it's worth noting that the owners, drivers, spouses, families and teams that "do" vintage racing, do it at their costs in dollars time and sweat...and we're incredibly grateful that they do. New cars are all fine and good, but vintage racing is really the heart and backbone of auto racing. There is politics in vintage racing, for sure, but not like the mess in big time new car racing. The pits are mostly a casual affair. The SVRA and the participants put on one of the most inviting, family friendly open, and diverse events we've ever attended. Both of us took our kids (and one of us, his wife) and were especially impressed that each driver had a trading card for his/her car which promoted engagement between fans drivers and the cars. Our kids got more seat time and photo ops than we could count. It's always appreciated and notable when promoters for any event go the extra mile to accommodate attendees and add elements to the program that add value to the experience for all involved. For the first time in a long time, we didn't face the normal barrage of complaints, nagging and incessant requests to go to the souvenir stands, as is the norm. (Frankly, we might be a little jealous at just how easy it was for little ones to get behind the wheel of some of these beasts.)
Take it from some veterans, if you're going to try a race event for the first time, or plan to invite a noob, we strongly suggest this event would be an incredible first start that might help nurture a healthy octane addiction. If you need a little more convincing, take a look at the gallery (below) and see if it looks like something you're into.
For a little more on the subject, please see our write up and pictures of last year's event: http://www.theloudpedalblog.com/the-loud-pedal-news/2015/5/31/2015-sonoma-historic-motorsports-festival?rq=sonoma