Racers Reflect on Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion; Plan Now for August 13-16, 2015
As it had for three days prior, an early morning marine layer gave way to brilliant sunshine for Sunday’s final rounds of racing at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, illuminating the “museum in motion” that has become a cornerstone of Monterey’s annual Classic Car Week. The event, which featured Maserati, did not hold back on delivering countless surprises associated with the special marque, including drivers, their collections, and the finest of models unveiled and taking to the track, but it was a 1964 Ford Falcon and its owner Mike Eddy (Gardena, Calif.) who drove it in Group 7A (for 1966-1972 Trans Am) that claimed the ultimate recognition after two days of practice and a weekend of back-to-back racing for nearly 550 authentic and historic automobiles that were hand-selected to compete.
“My dad worked for Carroll Shelby, and the Ford Falcon belonged to our next door neighbor,” said an emotional Eddy, who organizers said “excelled in the spirit of the weekend” to earn the highest accolade: the Spirit of Monterey honor coupled with the awarding of a specially engraved 18k stainless steel and gold Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona. “After work, my dad would go and work on it, and we have pictures of me sitting in it when I was seven years old. As you can imagine, that’s a soft spot for me.”
Eddy, who has worked for Vic Edelbrock for the last 28 years, has been coming to this event since 1977, the same year he acquired the car next door. “Because I was always working on other people’s cars, this car took a back seat, but the original owner of the car passed away two years ago and my dad’s health is not good, so I knew that I had to do this for him.
“I wish this car could talk,” he continued, explaining that it was the first SCCA A Sedan race car in Southern California, and the A Sedan group evolved into the Trans Am race series in 1966. “The car did well that year in Trans Am, and for the last race of the year, Ford was somewhat behind in points to Chrysler Plymouth, so Carroll Shelby called and arranged to pay for the race entry, knowing that this car would help load the deck. The car scored points for Ford, and Ford ended up winning the Championship. The car qualified for the SCCA runoffs every year from 1966 to 1973 and also had many races all over Europe.”
Rolex Awards of Excellence were awarded in each of 15 race categories, as well, but also in the spirit of the weekend they were not reserved for those with the fastest times. They went instead to individual drivers who were determined by an independent panel to be “most deserving.”
The Lady is a Champ
Lyn St. James (Phoenix, Ariz.) says she experienced all of the same sensory feelings that she had at Le Mans and Indy and Daytona when she drove a Lotus 23B and, later, a 72 March Formula Atlantic at this year’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. A true champion, she has won the Rolex 24 At Daytona twice and raced in the Indy 500 15 times, taking home Rookie of the Year in 1992; appropriately, she left this event with one of the Rolex Awards of Excellence.
“Regardless of what I’m racing, I always get excited, even after 40 years of doing this,” said St. James. “When I get suited up and jump into the race car I think about preparation, the racing line and generally keeping my head on straight. It’s all about the process, being in the moment and being prepared. I look at each race as the best thing in my life at that time.“
She added that because of the “amazing difference” in every vintage car she races, it requires a certain amount of mental adjustment. “After I raced the Lotus 23, I had to readjust my mind set before l got into the March Formula Atlantic, because the speed difference is at least 30 mph faster as I approach a corner, and braking points and downshifting are totally different; there is actually a 12-second difference between these two cars in lap times.”
When St. James started racing in the 1970s, things were a lot different than they are today: women had to fight aggressively for everything they endeavored to do. “I learned from Billie Jean King when she beat Bobbie Riggs in 1973 that it wasn’t just a tennis match; it was about culture and society,” said St. James, who is also a motivational speaker. “When I qualified for the Indy 500 I thought ‘this is my platform” and became more vocal about women in racing.”
Fast and Furious
After he crossed the finish line before all others in the ground-shaking Can Am race at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, Craig Bennett (Wixom, Mich.) climbed out of his magnificent 1974 Shadow DN4-1P, and said excitedly, “This car is awesome, possibly the best Can Am car ever. George Follmer was the original driver of the car, and he will tell you he liked this car even more than the Porsche 917.”
In the 1960s and ‘70s, Formula 1 was sprouting wings and slicks, Indy cars were thriving in the U.S., Trans Am was creating huge interest with Pony Car enthusiasts, and NASCAR was broadening its appeal, but nothing came close to the magic of Can Am.
The Canadian-American Challenge Cup was an SCCA/CASC sports car racing series which ran from 1966 to 1974. The series’ roots were derived from the FIA Group 7 Category but were altered to virtually unrestricted aerodynamics and unlimited engine sizes. As long as the cars had body work covering the wheels and proper safety equipment it was run what you brung. The cars were extraordinarily fast and some of the sport’s greatest drivers, including Jackie Stewart, Mark Donohue, Phil Hill, Jacky Ickx and Bruce McLaren, came to race these outrageous machines. Certain chassis dominated the series for a period of time: first Lola, then McLaren, followed by Porsche, and at the end of the series in 1974, it was Shadow.
Bennett said he was lucky to have raced go-carts at a very young age before moving on to road racing. “When I met the man who would become my father-in-law, I was 18 years old. He owned a Can Am car, and I began racing that, so I guess you can say I have been doing this for a long time. I’ve been racing at this event for many years, but this is my first ever win here so I am incredibly excited.”
Caretaker of Treasures
Epitomizing the overwhelming passion radiated here by those who partake in vintage automobile racing was driver David Olson (Tiburon, Calif./Lake Tahoe, Nevada), who entered his March 79 B Formula Atlantic and has restored and raced everything from pre-war cars to more “modern” cars, among them a Jaguar XK120, which he still keeps, sometimes to race on the same weekend as his Formula Atlantic.
His appetite for old cars, however, might be outmatched by his love for restoring classic yachts such as the 136’ Motor Yacht Acania, built in 1930 and once owned by notorious gangster Al Capone. Olson lived on the stunning masterpiece of a yacht this weekend after bringing it to Pacific Grove from Canada where it was cruising.
“Restoring Acania was a project much like restoring a vintage race car,” says Olson, adding that his interest in preservation of significant items makes him think he might have been reincarnated from the 1930s. “I seem to be stuck in that era, having found around 20 classic wooden boats to restore. Since I’m not really a collector, these boats are now in museums or other people’s hands for them to enjoy. I’m just happy that I had a small part in saving those pieces of our American heritage. The same is true for me and cars. I feel I am just a caretaker of these treasures for a certain period of time.”
The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is an annual tradition held the third week in August during the Monterey Peninsula’s wildly popular Classic Car Week.
Rolex enjoys an historic and privileged bond with motor sport and has been Title Sponsor of the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion since it was renamed in 2010.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was established in 1957 by the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP), a not-for-profit 501C(4) corporation. Each race season, SCRAMP donates its net proceeds to the volunteer groups that help put on the races.