SVRA Returns Racing to Fernandina Beach Airport March 17-20
The Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) today announced that two military airplane pilots who have different but equally amazing, larger-than-life stories will be honored for their courage by being named co-grand marshals for the March 17-20 Amelia Island Gran Prix. America’s premier vintage racing organization will bring racing back to the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport for the first time in decades just days after the world-famous Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance.
Jack Hallett, a 94-year-old World War II veteran who is one of the event grand marshals, served with the 367th Fighter Squadron of the 9th Air Force. He is a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in destroying 100 enemy vehicles in a single mission. Hallett’s career spanned decades starting with Stearman biplanes and ended flying T-37 Jet trainers with the rank of Major.
Orestes Lorenzo, the other event grand marshal, is a naturalized US citizen originally from Cuba. His story is one any dedicated family man can salute. Lorenzo, a pilot in the Cuban Air Force, rejected the oppressive Castro regime and defected to the United States by flying his Russian MiG-23 to Florida in 1991. He was permitted to land and granted asylum. After several denied pleas for the Cuban government to release his wife and two sons to join him he took matters into his own hands. With financial assistance from friends as well as the Valladares Foundation he was able to purchase a 1961 twin-engine Cessna and plot a plan to reunite with his family. In the manner of an implausible action movie thriller, Lorenzo landed his craft on a Cuban highway, swept up his family and successfully returned to America where they have lived since.
“When I heard the stories of these two brave men I wanted to honor them,” said SVRA President and CEO Tony Parella. “Given that we are celebrating the heritage of sports car racing on an airport this is especially appropriate. Flyovers have been a huge part of racing events throughout history and our events are about giving fans a diverse array of sights and sounds, especially relevant to motorsports.”
The Amelia Island Gran Prix will deliver a colorful array of varied car designs and engine noises rarely found in one setting today. The invitational event will include 140 vintage race cars as well as a field of 20 or more entries for the Stuttgart and Maranello Cups of the International GT series that is running its six-event season within the longer SVRA schedule.
Among the SVRA entries will be Bill Warner, founder and chairman of The Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance and Foundation in his 1971 Triumph TR6 for Group 8 competition. This is not Warner’s first effort at vintage racing; he has competed with SVRA and in other historic events in the past. Other notables include Simon Gregg of the current Trans Am series who is entered in a 2008 Corvette C7. The pre-war run group should prove popular in this context with a 1929 Stutz Blackhawk, a 1928 Riley Brooklands special and a 1933 Plymouth “Indy car” among the entries.
The addition of motorcycle racing to the program will be the SVRA’s foray into the realm of vintage bike competition. Names as diverse as Triumph, Ducati, Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki will be at speed. Among the most interesting should be Keith Campbell’s 1938 Indian hand-shift, Harley Davidson XR-750 Road Racer.
One runway of the airport will be open for use by vintage aircraft that will deliver a thematic and compelling dimension to the weekend. Several award-winning airplanes will be on display and in action. Among the most rare is a Yellow 1930s N3n, one of just six in the world. Others include a 1941 N2n Stearman bi-plane, a 1959 Grumman Mohawk OV-1 used in Desert Storm and a 1945 L4J that flew over Germany in World War II.
Adding to the diverse sights and sounds will be another edition of the SVRA “Shine & Show” car shows. These events showcasing collector, classic and performance vehicles are becoming a staple of the burgeoning motorsports-themed festivals that make up the content of an SVRA weekend.
Part of Parella’s vision for the revival of racing at Fernandina is to stage the SVRA races with the trappings of classic mid-twentieth century sports car racing, hay bales and all. Officials will dress in period apparel.
About the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance – Now in its third decade, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is among the top automotive events in the world. Always held the second full weekend in March, “Amelia” draws over 250 rare vehicles from collections around the world to The Golf Club of Amelia Island and The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island for a celebration of the automobile like no other. Since 1996 the show’s foundation has donated over $2.75 million to Community Hospice of Northeast Florida, Inc., Spina Bifida of Jacksonville, The Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, Shop with Cops, Micah’s Place (for abused women) and other deserving charities. The 21st annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is scheduled for March 11-13, 2016. For more information, visit www.ameliaconcours.org or call 904-636-0027.