How To Get Into Vintage Racing
Vintage Racing is Exciting, Challenging and Fun!
All around the world thousands of competitors are finding, restoring, preserving, driving and racing cars from every era of history. In North America there are more than 170 vintage racing events organized by over 30 vintage racing organizations. There are thousands of other vintage track events sanctioned by thousands of car enthusiast clubs. Vintage racing events range in size, from mega events attracting as many as 600 entrants, with 20,000 to 200,000 spectators while the small club races attract around 50 to 300 entrants and are often closed to spectators.
The rasping whine of a race car at-speed, the visual and physical treat of a highly tuned and stressed car enjoyed in an atmosphere of sportsmanship and competition, is truly exciting. Pride in owning a race car from the past and appreciation of its history, and the history of its times, is a part of the sport. That, combined with the setting of North America’s great tracks, associated social events, crew and friends, is what makes vintage racing.
It’s easy to get involved; it’s a friendly, low key family endeavor. Vintage racing is the lowest cost “adventure sport” according to the Association of Adventure Sports. There are also many associated racing events which welcome the vintage race car: hill climbs, autocross, rallies, rally tours, concours, car shows, car meets and marque and special interest club meets. There are also oval track showcases and road racing circuit exhibitions for less intense on-track sessions. The vintage car is truly a chariot to adventure and fun.
Selecting a Vintage or Historic Race Car
“Makes Types, Classes and Categories”
Cars competing in vintage racing and competition span the years from the dawn of the automobile age in the late 1800s to historic, obsolete contemporary race cars only a few years old. The car types include Production Sports Cars, Sports Racing Cars, Grand Prix Cars, Champ/Indy Cars, many types of Formula Cars, GTP Cars, Grand Touring Cars, Trans-Am Cars, Stock Cars and Sedans. Some of the cars have actual racing history and some are performance production sports and sedan cars that could have been raced in their respective periods but are seeing actual competition for the first time in vintage racing. It is important to check with the organizations that you might race with to determine acceptable types, ages and preparation. These vintage racing organizations have advertisements in this issue of Victory Lane Magazine. Many people who decide to enter vintage competition have a car such as an Austin Healey Sprite, an MG or Triumph which, with a bit of preparation, can go racing. Others have or are seeking a car with a race history for both its collector value as well as its suitability for vintage competition.
For practice sessions and races during a vintage weekend, the racing organizations organize several classes and groups together to form a racing grid. These are usually of similar size and performance potential for fun and safety. Typical classes include:
• Pre-War Cars – pre WWII, rare enough that many ages and types may be grouped together to fill a grid.
• Small Production Sports Cars – these make up the bulk of the fields; MGAs, Sprites, Minis, Triumphs, etc. Beginner friendly.
• Medium Production Sports Cars – slightly faster but still inexpensive to prepare and race; Austin Healeys, Sunbeams, Triumphs, Porsches.
• Large Production Sports Cars – the heavyweights of production racing; Corvettes, Mustangs, Jaguars, later Porsches.
• Historic Stock Cars, Sedans and Trans-Am Cars – An important part of racing history: fast, safe and straightforward.
• FIA World Championship and GTP Cars – the big fast prototypes that ran LeMans, Monza, Daytona, from Ferrari, Porsche, Ford, Mazda, Maserati, McLaren, Jaguar.
• Sports Racing Cars (large) – purpose built, two seat, usually open, race cars from the 1950s 450S Maserati to Lola Can-Am cars of the 1960s. These competed in great series including the Canadian American Challenge Cup (Can-Am) Series and the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC). Fast and expensive then, fast and expensive now. Such cars were built by Lola, Lotus, McLaren, Ferrari, March, etc.
• Sports Racing Cars (small) – the fast but friendly two seat race car; Lotus Eleven, Lotus 23, Elva 7, Porsche 550. These competed in amateur races and the USRRC.
• Formula Cars – open wheel cars built to a strict formula; F-Vee, FC, FB, F2, F Atlantic, F-5000, and F Jr. There were both pro and amateur series. Each Formula is unique. They range from expensive, F-5000, to inexpensive, F-Vee.
• Grand Prix or Formula One and Historic Champ/Indy – the ultimate open-wheel, single seat racers. Most F1 cars are expensive to buy, expensive to race and require an experienced driver. The Champ/Indy Cars range from very early, 1905, to recent, with every aspect varying greatly – from expense to speed and skill required.
Each car and category has its advantages. The built for racing cars are usually easier to maintain but more expensive to buy and less suitable for street events. We strongly recommend talking to a vintage race preparation shop about their recommendation on cars. There are many special interest groups such as Historic Can-Am, Historic Trans-Am, Pre-War Racing Group, Historic Grand Prix, F5000 Association, Vintage Formula Vee Association and Marque Registries and Associations that can help. Call Victory Lane at 650-321-1411 for more info.
Most vintage racing organizations stress preserving vintage race cars in the form they were raced in their most famous period or the eligibility period designated by the club. Many top invitational events require period-authentic cars with period-correct preparation, even extending to the paint and decals. In addition to the cars with actual racing history, cars that could have raced are eligible with many clubs. Production Sports Cars’ preparation for vintage racing is very straightforward and simpler than for almost any type of racing. At the most basic level, a very well-prepared, vintage-era, restored street Sports Car with a few safety and reliability modifications can qualify and compete at a beginning level. However, for added performance, the cost of both labor and parts can add up, especially labor.
In the vintage era of the 50s and early 60s many Production Sports Cars were driven during the week and raced on weekends. As racing became more competitive in the U.S. and factory teams appeared, more preparation and special modifications were allowed; many for safety which also enhanced performance. This leads to the contemporary SCCA Production Car racer, heavily modified, very expensive and suitable only for racing. The late 60s and early 70s eligibility cutoff of most clubs means that period-authentically prepared cars are slightly modified street cars, not tube-framed, fiberglass bodied look-alikes that became the norm from the mid-1970s onward. Some clubs are beginning to accept the later cars. Period-authentic preparation means doing the research. If your car had a racing history, you’ll be preparing it to the specs in accord with the era it was raced. If you have your eye on a Formula or Sports Racing Car, the rule is still period-authentic and pre-1973 for most Formula cars and clubs, but there are exceptions. That may mean stripping off those wide wheels, tires, big wings and spoilers that were added later as modern modifications. A car prepared for reliability and predictable handling rather than all-out speed will be much more enjoyable in vintage racing, give you more track time rather than garage time, and certainly give you more time for the parties that are so much a part of the vintage scene. There are several guidelines (we strongly recommend consulting with a vintage race prep shop).
1) Chassis: Prepare it so it doesn’t break. Disassemble and crack-check if possible; at least clean it thoroughly and inspect the stress points and welds. Replace excessively worn parts. Do the research on the weak links in the system that broke “in-period.” Use your head on anticipating weak points and get advice from others racing similar cars or shops specializing in race prep, especially in vintage racing; they will keep it period authentic – safe yet quick.
2) Engine and Drivetrain: There is more than one story about dragging that old car out of the barn and racing it for five years with no maintenance, but … the safe path is to completely check out and probably rebuild the whole drivetrain-replace the stress and wear points like U-joint crosses and stub axles.
3) Suspension and Brakes: After you have prepared all the components so they do not break, have it set up by a professional/vintage race car shop. Very good street-performance brake linings and high boiling point fresh fluid are a must.
4) Safety: The minimum requirements are a rollover bar, seat belts, shoulder harness and an in-car fire extinguisher. Check with the clubs you plan to race with for their requirements, and on type and age of equipment. Recommended is a fuel cell and an in-car fire system with multi-extinguisher nozzles with automatic and manual triggers. Driver equipment is considered elsewhere in this article.
5) Appearance: Last but not least, make it look good. Not new. Good! Some of the best vintage cars are raced in the 20-year-old livery in which they originally found glory.
Car and Personal Safety Equipment
How much are you worth? That’s the tough part when we get into safety equipment. It’s no secret that one can go racing with a full set of personal equipment costing less than $500 or one can spend over $5,000. There are a wide range of helmet styles and weights. Look for wide eye openings if you wear glasses. Super light carbon fiber helmets reduce neck loads and fatigue, but are expensive. Racing suits also vary, from inexpensive to F1, breathable, stretchable, expensive types.
Similarly, the safety equipment in the car can be simple or complex. Most clubs require seat belts and shoulder harness plus a fire extinguisher or fire suppression system. All have expiration dates. A roll over bar is usually required. There are minimum requirements by the organizing clubs for both driver and car equipment. Check with them before buying for specifications. It’s both a budget and an application choice, but buy the best you can afford. An in-car fire suppression system is always recommended. Rollover bars are required on most cars and by most, but not all, clubs.
Victory Lane Magazine is a good source for dealers who are helpful and knowledgeable. The usual safety kit consists of: Snell-approved helmet, rated SA-05 or later, fire resistant suit, shoes, underwear, and gloves. Car: seat, roll over bar, seat belt system, safety padding, and fuel cell.
Clubs & Tracks
Vintage road races are organized by over 25 independent clubs and organizations at over three dozen tracks across the U.S. and Canada. There is also extensive vintage racing in Asia and Europe. These organizations set their own individual rules, class structures and licensing requirements. Most North American vintage racing clubs and organizations belong to “The Vintage Motorsport Council,” a schedule coordinating and rules advisory group. The VMC also issues an advanced National Vintage Racing License which allows racers to race as guests with VMC member clubs. Clubs advertise schedules and events in Victory Lane Magazine which also presents a national events schedule each month.
Outside the U.S., the international clubs operate under the FIA which sets rigid rules and requirements.
It is important to contact the various clubs in your area and obtain a copy of their requirements. Most advertise in Victory Lane Magazine. They have different rules on car acceptability with regard to age, race history, makes and models, restoration and race preparation. Licensing rules and driver school requirements may vary.
Driver Schools & Training
To go racing, most vintage organizations require a vintage-racing license. Some clubs issue a license, some use only a medical card as evidence of having met the requirements. To obtain the license requires past racing experience or attending a club or commercial racing school, and a racing physical exam. Renewals require a medical exam every one or two years and a specific type of exam including a regular or stress EKG after a certain age. As always we recommend contacting the proposed club you plan to race with for details.
Racing school costs range from about $200 to $4,000 depending on several factors: whether they are one day or multiple days, beginner or advanced, whether the student or the school supplies the race car, and whether it’s a club school or a commercial school. Past racing experience, type of car, talent and the club license requirements are all factors in selecting a school. Most clubs offer an inexpensive driving school immediately preceding an event or even on the first day of a race weekend. A vintage prepared car is required, either your own or a rented one. This may be Thursday, Friday or even Saturday morning. Some are taught by experienced members and some are taught by driving school professionals. They stress basic racing skills, the spirit of vintage racing and safety. It is important to check with the local race club to see what their requirements are for beginners. For the latest list call Victory Lane Magazine at 650-321-1411.
For more extensive training, it is useful to consider a personal racing coach or an advanced course in a commercial school. Commercial racing schools are staffed with permanent employees who know how to help clients learn but they focus on the serious racer or corporate clients. Almost none have vintage programs. Most personal vintage racing coaches are racers or ex-racers, but most important, they know how to transfer their accumulated racing knowledge and skill. Many use an on-board electronic system in place to improve the instruction. Vintage knowledgeable coaches are available for all types of racing and race cars, as well as levels of aspiration for the student at most tracks around the country.
Commercial schools have their own cars and offer a short introductory course to enable the student to get the feel of a race car. A full two-or three-day course that qualifies the racer for a vintage or contemporary license usually costs $2,000 to $4,000, including car and loan of all driving equipment. The student has no, or limited, financial responsibility for car damage at this level. Advanced days or sessions are available for “Spring Training” or honing skills to a near professional level. Private coaching at the commercial school or with you at the race track, including car setup, is also available.
Need Information on Vintage Racing?
Almost every vintage racing club advertises in Victory Lane Magazine, complete with phone numbers and Web sites. Victory Lane Magazine advertisers including race prep shops, race resources, race cars for sale, etc. Victory Lane Magazine staff members are always happy to help. Most staffers currently vintage race, and some have international experience.
If you’ve got questions about car selection, equipment, parts suppliers, clubs and organizations, or you-name it, give us a call at Victory Lane Magazine (650) 321-1411 or visit our web site: www.victorylane.com.
The preceding article was developed by Victory Lane magazine and is reprinted with their permission.