Successful Brickyard Invitational Vintage Race Meet Plays to Strong Crowd
Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Al Unser Jr. returned to the winner’s circle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) today and was joined by co-driver Peter Klutt in the “Indy Legends” Pro-Am – the feature event of the Brickyard Invitational. The two piloted Klutt’s 1969 Corvette to victory over a field 23 other Pro-Am driver combinations in American muscle cars from 1963 through 1972. Indy car winner Eliseo Salazar and Canadian amateur Gary Moore chased the winners across the iconic yard of bricks. The second-place finishers were the Mustang in a Corvette sandwich as the final spot on the podium was captured by former Trans-Am superstar Willy T. Ribbs and his co-driver Ed Sevadjian who shared driving duties in Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) CEO Tony Parella’s red 1972 Corvette. The contest took place on the Speedway’s 2.43-mile Grand Prix road course.
“Any time you win at Indy is a great day,” said Unser. “Our strategy was to do the driver change on the first yellow so I hope Peter doesn’t feel cheated because we weren’t out there very long before that happened.”
The yellow flag flew on lap four when the blue 1965 Ford Mustang of former Daytona 24 Hours winner Rocky Moran and James Rogerson stalled on the front stretch. The flag consumed several minutes before the car was towed off the running surface, triggering a flurry of driver changes as many embraced the eventual winner’s strategy.
Klutt, a full-on “car guy” is widely respected for his driving prowess and passion. Currently the host of Velocity’s “Legendary Motorcar” television series he is a high-end car restorer. “If you are going to turn your car over to anybody it should be a great champion like Al – a legend and one of the greatest of all time.”
Ribbs’ effort was particularly impressive as issues developed with his original ride and he was forced to jump into Parella’s Corvette without any practice. “Right before the race Al gave me a little tip and I am here to tell you it was absolutely spot on. It really helped a lot.”
Ribbs also generated a round of laughter when he unzipped of his uniform to reveal a bare chest. In his hurry to get to the grid he skipped putting on his Nomex underwear. “I went commando today,” he announced.
Lyn St. James co-driver Curt Vogt turned fast lap of the race at 1 minute, 42.08 seconds – just a fraction speedier than Unser’s best time. Their blue Mustang was in the thick of things for much of the race, eventually finishing tenth. Scott Goodyear and co-driver Stephen Seitz led briefly in their Ford Mustang before fading. Still, Unser and Klutt seemed to have the car to beat and the result bore that out.
“That was a very, very classy podium,” said SVRA CEO Tony Parella as he looked upward at the trio of professional champions and their co-drivers joyfully pouring bottles of milk over one another’s heads. “I am thrilled for all of them to experience the victory podium at Indy.”
While the Pro-Am, a charity event where the entry fees benefit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Foundation, carried the luster of Indy 500 superstars the racing all weekend had a glorious feel to it as cars spanning 100 years of history were highly accessible to fans and active on both the road course and the world-famous 2.5-mile oval. Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser led the Indy cars into a high-speed experience on the oval. Grand Marshal Parnelli Jones was visible throughout the weekend stopping to greet fans, posing for pictures and autographs. His energized command for the drivers to start their engines received a burst of applause and shouts from a strong crowd of enthusiasts.
Outstanding weather on Saturday enhanced the experience of a very healthy turnout of race fans. Thick rows of people clamored along Gasoline Alley leading to the pit entrance to catch a glimpse of the wide variety of car classes that included exquisite examples of select pre-war machines, classic sports cars, Formula One and Le Mans prototypes as current as 2009. The crowd-favorite 1950’s-vintage Indianapolis 500 “roadsters” elicited exceptional applause and cheers. In all there were 712 race cars on hand organized into 12 groups that staged exciting racing and displays of high-speed from 8 a.m. to track close at 6 p.m.
Another feature of the weekend was the presentation of special trophies for the best examples of specific cars: Indy roadsters, pre-war racers, Brabhams and Best-of-Show. Long-time car roadster collector Bill Aiken won the first “A.J. Watson Tribute Trophy” for his black 1953 Kurtis-Kraft front-engine machine best known for finishing third in the hands of driver Jimmy Davies in 1955. The pre-war category trophy was captured by another car with exceptional history – owner Peter Giddings’ 1931 Alfa-Romeo. The best drivers of 1930’s Europe drove the car: Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi and Rudolf Caracciola. The Sir Jack Brabham Commemorative Trophy was won by Bob Lima for his 1967 Brabham BT21 while Wil Painter’s 1966 Alfa Romeo GTV was named “Best-of-Show.”