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"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ Enjoying the Monterey Historics

by Gordon Kirby
Ah Laguna Seca! A fine place in all ways. I hadn't visited the Monterey Peninsula and its fine old road course in the peninsula's inland hill country for six or seven years so it was a great pleasure to spend last weekend at the Monterey Historics. I've covered many races at Laguna Seca over the years, starting with a Formula 5000 race in 1973 and continuing for many years through F5000 and Can-Am races and CART's nineteen-year run of successful Indy car races from 1984-2002.

Opened in 1957 Laguna Seca stands with Road America and Watkins Glen as one of America's finest road courses and the many delights of the surrounding Monterey Peninsula provide an extremely attractive and pleasant setting. It's particularly appealing during the Monterey Historic weekend with concours events and auctions at both nearby Pebble Beach and Quail Hollow in Carmel Valley. With so much going on the local roads and highways are packed with classic and contemporary sports cars and for any aficionado, it's sports car heaven.

This was the 36th edition of the Monterey Historics. The early years were nothing like today as both the races at Laguna and the Pebble Beach concours struggled to find the right path. But for many years the weekend on the Monterey peninsula has stood as the crown jewel of American historic motor sports. This year, no fewer than 400 cars competed at Laguna Seca and ticket sales at the track were up forty percent over last year. On Saturday in particular the place was packed with crowds approaching those that turned out through the late eighties and nineties during CART's Laguna Seca heydays.

© Marc Sproule
Porsche was the featured marque at Laguna Seca this year and the place was full of Porsches of all types, including a bunch of 550s and the only F1 cars Porsche raced back in 1961 and '62 with Dan Gurney as the team's number one driver. On the track, a fantastic collection of 906s, 908s, 911s 917s, 935s, 956s and 962s took part in the wide variety of fifteen, ten-lap races, eight on Saturday and seven on Sunday.

Driving the Collier Museum's Gulf-liveried 1971 Porsche 908/3, Brian Redman won Saturday's race for late sixties/early seventies FIA world championship sportscars. Brian started third but whistled past Derek Bell's ailing Gulf 917K--losing oil pressure fast and about to blow up--on the opening lap, then pased polesitter Gijs van Lennep after the Dutchman got wide in the fast right-hander going into the uphill section that leads to the Corkscrew.

"He bobbled a bit in turn four," Brian said. "I don't know if he braked a bit too late or missed a gear. It wasn't a big drama for me. I was just able to slot inside him and pull away."

Despite making a couple of mistakes Redman was able to hold off Bruce Canepa's pursuing Gulf 917K.

"I made two big mistakes," Brian shrugged. "The first was I missed a shift coming out of the last turn. I think I may have hurt the engine a little because it lost a few revs and he got very close to me.

"A few laps later, coming down the hill from the Corkscrew, there were two 911s in front of me and I was anxious to get by them. The 911 on the right went to the right, which is the normal line, and there was room in between them. So I shot in there and as I did there was a tremendous bang on my left rear as the guy on my left turned to go right. He probably never even saw me. I got sideways and caught it but the collision had broken the left rear wheel. So I was extremely lucky to finish."

© Marc Sproule
Brian contemplated for a moment, then grinned a recalled a comment Jim Hall made after Redman won a Formula 5000 race for Haas/Hall Racing during his reign as the USA's three-time F5000 champion.

"I remember when I won a Formula 5000 in 1976 with an engine that was about to blow up," Brian remarked. "After he looked at it Jim Hall said, 'Brian I've never had a driver who could drag a dead car over the line. Either you're very good or very lucky!'

"As you know," Redman added, grinning widely. "In motor racing, you need a little luck."

Before the race Brian had worried that his aging neck might not stand up to the challenge of ten hard laps around Laguna Seca. But there were no signs of any aches after the checkered flag as old friends and admirers came up to warmly shake his hand and congratulate him.

Down at Quail Hollow the previous day I bumped in Martin Birrane, owner and savior of Lola Cars. An accumulation of injuries from racing and sky-diving have finally conspired to end Birrane's long racing career but he remains as enthusiastic as ever and proudly showed me 'round his superb recreation of the Lola T70 in which John Surtees won the inaugural Can-Am championship in 1966. The car could not be more beautiful in every detail and Martin is delighted with the Childress Chevrolet engine he had RCR build specigically for the car.

Birrane says he might sell the car to the right person, but he's most likely to put it on display at Mondello Park, the Irish track he owns and has redeveloped. I'm sure when that happens Martin won't be able to resist taking the T70 out for a few gentle laps.

I was surprised to hear at Laguna Seca how many fans are enthusiastic Motor Sport magazine readers. It was also encouraging to hear from the magazine's marketing team how happy thet were with the number of subscriptions and decade-by-decade DVD collections they were able to sell during their weekend at the track and elsewhere.

© John Zimmermann
From Laguna Seca to Quail Hollow I bumped into many longtime fans and Motor Sport readers who were enjoying themselves immensely, chasing autographs, buying books and magazines and ogling the incredible variety of cars. People were beaming over this or that Testa Rossa, Aston-Martin or birdcage Maserati or Cobra or McLaren or Lola Can-Am car. Time after time conversation came 'round to their love for the many different shapes, sounds and solutions, and the rich variety that was always at the heart of motor racing.

And time and again, our conversations turned briefly to contemporary racing and how little enthusiasm so many people have for both the IRL and Grand-Am's aesthetically unappealing spec car-like formula. Invariably, people at Laguna Seca and Quail Hollow told me they have no interest in these forms of racing. A handful told me they lived near Sonoma or Petaluma and loved coming down to the Monterey Historics but wouldn't be going to Infinenon Raceway next weekend for the IRL race. The disdain so many longtime race fans have for the IRL and Grand-Am series should give the organizers of those series ample room for pause and reflection.

The message is this: It's not about a bunch of cars jammed together as closely as possible aping the spectacle of NASCAR restrictor plate racing. It's about the aesthetics of the cars and having as much variety as possible. That is the spirit of the sport. But the IRL and Grand-Am have deserted this spirit and failed the sport's vast fan base. Were they to look at the crowds and enthusiasm at the Monterey Historics and other vintage events across the country, they might begin to absorb the message.

Meanwhile, sad to report, the future of the Monterey Historics is very much up in the air. After years of disagreements, Steve Earle, the event's founder and longtime promoter has come to a parting of the ways with Laguna Seca and SCRAMP (Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula). After 36 years, Earle's run at Laguna has come to an end and we can only hope that this great event will not stumble. It would be a terribly sad turn for the sport. Here's hoping SCRAMP finds the best way forward.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2009 ~ All Rights Reserved

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