2017 Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival
The racing gods were smiling on me this past weekend as the weather for the 2017 Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival was 100% beautiful! Our hosts, the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association svra.com, continue to impress me with their annual display of some of the finest historic racing cars in the world. On Sunday morning (just after zero-dark-thirty) I packed up the urban assault van with snacks, plenty of water and ear protection and my 10 year old son and we made it down to Sonoma Raceway in record time. We were greeted to one of the sweetest sounds we could possibly want to hear...the rumble of vintage V8s. The cars of Group 5, 1963-1972 Grand National stock cars, were coming to life in the paddock. These creatures from NASCAR's distant past greeted us by proudly displaying their engine displacement and horsepower tallies on their sprawling hoods. Yes, GOOD MORNING THE LOUD PEDAL, today is brought to by AMERICAN HORSEPOWER and CUBIC INCHES! It goes without saying that there is almost no better way for a gearhead to begin his/her day (so there, I said it!)!
But there was one car I saw just before the queue of Grand Nationals that stopped me in my tracks. It was a car I'd never seen or heard of...something called a 1935 Pirrung Special. It was bold and blue and nothing less than a perfectly prepared rolling masterpiece of automotive design. It hit me like a ton of bricks in 2017, so I can't even imagine what adjectives people used to describe it over 80 years ago. I don't purport to be an expert on anything to do with the Indy 500, let alone the race from 1935, but this thing oozed "special," not to mention it has the word in its name. It came in 2nd in the 1935 running of the 500, and was co driven by one of the only drivers I've heard of from that era, Wilbur Shaw. This car alone was worth the trip. Props to Phil Reilly and Ron Duwe and company on their restoration.
On the whole, the event was quite a bit smaller than in years past. I'm not sure if there was just less participation than past events, or maybe some of the cars and drivers had gone home after running Saturday (which would be a bit unusual). Having said that, I don't want you to think that had any deleterious effect on the event. On the contrary, we weren't in a hurry to try to take it all in, as is the norm. The Paddock can be so packed that you might not feel like you have time to linger and strike up a conversation with one of the drivers, their spouse or one of the more well moneyed team's mechanics.
On that note, I had the opportunity to have a great chat and tour with one of the mechanics (so sorry I didn't get his name) who took me on a journey through late 60s and early 70s Porsche racing history by walking me through some of the inner workings of an ex Vic Elford/Hans Herrmann 1970 908/3, raced in the 1970 Targa Florio (unfortunately crashed out), a 1967 910 driven by Jo Siffert and Hans Herrmann, and a 1967 910. Every question I asked was answered, and I'm now armed with enough knowledge about obscure FiA homologation requirements to bore an entire army (and all of my non-gearhead friends and relatives). My guide's knowledge was so extensive that he even convinced me that some of the FiA homologation requirements were actually pretty practical (who knew?) It was mind expanding!
As our reports from events like this always overstate, there is something for everyone at historic racing events. I gravitate to all things Porsche/racing. The event ALWAYS draws the crowds when the Trans Am cars come to life. (If those big block monsters don't "do anything" for you, I'm not sure can ever be friends). Aside from all things familiar, the real value of an event like this is learning about things that are completely foreign to you. If you attended this event, you could have learned, among other things, what auto racing looked and smelled like at the turn of the century, why Porsche racing prototype frames in the 60s and 70s had a Schrader valve welded on them and what exactly is a Sorrell/Larkin Special (hell, nobody even does "Special" anymore)?
The takeaway: The takeaway is that this event reminds me how lucky I am to live in Northern California. I sometimes take for granted that I live a short drive from 2 world class racetracks that continue to feature events that bring together machines and people from all over the world to celebrate the racing arts. The Loud Pedal is incredibly grateful for everyone who puts these events on and who keep these magnificent machines on the road and the tack. As we always mention, events like this are good for all, from kids to grandparents. They are equal parts history, adrenaline, engineering and art. If you haven't been to one because you prefer shiny high tech stuff of NASCAR. IndyCar andFormula 1, you need to see what happens at a vintage race to see understand the DNA of the sport you love. We've been doing it for more than 20 years. Trust us, you should get this event, or one near you, on your calendar.
If my words are not enough to tempted you into going, perhaps one of these pictures from last weekend will: