Heacock Classic Gold Cup
by Walter Pietrowicz
A Hot Ticket in Town
Despite its official start still weeks away, summer’s oven high temps and humidity were in full attendance baking SVRA’s hardy band of entrants while in town for the annual Heacock Classic Gold Cup this past June 3-6. Enjoying only its second year as the sanctioning body, SVRA and its speedy gang once again seemed to be the perfect match for the Virginia International Raceway (Alton, Virginia) signature event, and the Gold Cup presented by Heacock Classic Collection Car Insurance is undoubtedly, quickly becoming one of the organization’s favorites as well. So with cool suits at work and plenty of umbrellas employed to block the sun, SVRA’s brand of “Safe, Fair and Fun” racing began with testing on Thursday, and a full array of qualifying rounds on Friday.
As usual, the weekend’s schedule included the standard menu of Optima Batteries Sprint Series Races and a pair of Mike Stott|UBS Financial Enduro Series Races. Also added to the outing’s official lineup were the 3rd Annual Ryan Handy One Lap walk, Elva-Lotus Challenge, and another leg of the IMSA RS 2.5L Challenge for sedans. Additionally, vintage go-karts raced throughout the weekend as well.
Kicking off Friday’s initial formal contest were the contestants for the first of two lengthy shootouts, the 60-minute race for slower cars. Bookended by the front running 914-6GT of Gregg Frey and Ron Zitza (repeating last year’s performance) , and the third-place Porsche 914-6GT of Dave Gussack, second place was claimed by Andre Herke’s BMW 2002, the same BMW Andre’s dad, Peter, raced at Sears Point in 1972.
The second one-hour enduro for faster machines completed the on-track action with Travis Engen, no stranger to the winners’ circle, capturing the top spoils wheeling his Lola T97/20. With an early, but brief, cooling rain the catalyst for some changing to rain tires, Engen’s bold decision to continue to run on slicks just might have given Travis the needed grip for victory. Travis also posted the fastest lap of 1:52.680 (104.473mph)
Following a Gold Cup tradition, the ever popular “Black & White” party presented by Heacock Classic Car Collector Insurance and Vintage Motorsport Magazine, was the perfect detour from the blacktop to eat, drink, socialize, and even “twist and shout” to the band as night slowly eroded the light of day. The evening also saw track manager, Josh Lief, bestow the 4th Annual VIR Gold Cup Trophy to event Grand Marshall, George Follmer.
Follmer, known as a driver’s driver, has not only successfully raced in F1, NASCAR, Indy Cars, and on the world stage with endurance machinery, but won SCCA, Trans Am (twice) and Cam Am Championships, too.
Rodney Keith Clonts of Bear Essentials Auto Restoration was posthumously awarded the other traditional accolade, the Vintage Spirit award at Friday evening’s dinner. He passed away suddenly at VIR on Friday while preparing Larry Wilson’s vintage race car for combat. Rodney, better known as “Bear” by friends in the vintage community, was one of those special characters who was around when vintage racing was simply a sport, not a business. Bear was also a bit of an anachronism, his booming voice espousing colorful stories from the past, and his skills in preparing a racecar, simply impeccable. Survived by his wife, Hazel C. Clonts, Bear will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
Saturday saw more heat, a large crowd on hand, an abundance of more qualifying sessions and qualifying races, and the featured IMSA RS 2.5L Challenge, closing the blacktop action for race cars. Unfortunately, in the concluding feature race, the Olds Achiva “rocket ship” of Ed Magner was penalized 60-seconds for technically not completing his mandatory time in the pit. What seemed a brilliant strategy by pitting on lap 19, was fundamentally doomed when he had no choice than to take the checkered, ending the race while on pit lane, and a few yards short of the official “pit out” cone (the infraction). Robert Leitzinger (Datsun 510) technically took the win.
Walkers took to the track for their 3.27-mile hike for the Ryan Handy Memorial One Lap, concluding yet another day of vintage auto racing.
Sun block and light clothing were again the order of business on Sunday as Group 7 and Group 2 began formal blacktop skirmishes. With Lee Brahin’s Lola T296 exiting after three laps, the S2000 machine of Jeff Wright wasted no time filling the void for the Group 7victory, while top qualifier, Dave Handy ran flag-to-flag capturing the Group 2 top prize.
Lunch served, opening ceremonies began with songstress, Anna Lemmon, igniting our national pride with her rendition of the Star Spangle Banner, and the Lotus/Elva entries taking the green in the post lunch feature race. While Bill Luken’s Lotus 23b led a nine Loti freight train for the overall win, Mark Gobble’s 11th place Elva Courier was the first “she goes” marque across the finish line.
Dennis Olthoff ‘s Ford GT40 was top banana over a pair of Lola T70s in Group 5,6; Travis Engen’s Audi R8 LMP easily outran a herd of tattooed NASCAR machines in Group 10; Shelby Mershon’s Lola T97/20 open wheeled missile was first in Group 9; and the V8 MG’s of Les Gonda blasted to a Group 8 win. Followed were victories by Butch McKenzie (MGB) and Ben Sinnott (Beach Mk4b) in Group 3/4 and 1, respectively. Please check the website for all winners.
As the mold for an ideal vintage auto race weekend can never be exactly casted, the Gold Cup and curvy VIR circuit undisputedly continues to be the “hot ticket in town” and a great venue to enjoy a safe, fair, and especially fun gathering of vintage race cars at speed. I hope to see you at next year’s installment and at Mid-Ohio in a couple of weeks. Drive and play safe!