SVRA New Jersey Vintage Races
by Angelo Lisuzzo * SVRA Photojournalist and Reporter
Thunderbolt Raceway at New Jersey Motorsports Park, opened in 2008, is over 2.25 miles with 14 challenging turns, a one-half mile straightaway, and approximately 40 acres of paddock space. The smooth track surface and the shiny steel guardrails give the appearance it was built just before we arrived.
The track has a split personality. Since SVRA did not use the chicanes, the west end became three fast corners. Then the cars blast over a hill, on the back straight, causing the racers to go light and then settle before the braking zone and a right hand turn. Drivers now enter the technical east end with a combination of kinks and corners before a section that challenges drivers and machines. The next two corners are long switchbacks with multiple ever-tightening apexes. This leads to the last three fast sweeping turns, which exit under the bridge before heading down the long front straight.
Event garages along the pit lane are roomy with VIP Suites. The roof of the three-story timing/scoring and officials’ tower has a vantage point to see most of the track and paddock. Behind the tower are many more garages.
Housed in a separate building with a balcony overlooking the back straight is the Officers’ Club banquet center, large enough to host a good size party as was experienced Saturday evening. The food is excellent and the people are friendly. As you walk in and up the stairway, you cannot but stop to admire the large paintings depicting historic racing action framed in elaborately carved gold frames. In the same building is Driving Impressions, a track merchandise store that carries track apparel, race driver clothing, and equipment.
Thunderbolt, the sister Lightning Raceway, and F1 Karting track are all located on over 700 acres next to the Millville Airport. The tracks derived there names from the aircraft that trained nearly 1,500 pilots for WWII in the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt with the 361st Fighter Group. The airport was dedicated on August 2, 1941. A special treat on Saturday was seeing two WWII fighter aircraft, one a Corsair, take off and flying over the track facility against the white, puffy clouds, gleaming under the sun.
After Friday qualifying, the day concluded with the Handicap Enduro. Twenty-two cars took the green flag for a 60-minute race with a mandatory five-minute pit stop on this warm, autumn day. There was plenty of action with a mix of Groups 1, 3, 4, 5A, and 8. At the end, #54 Melvin Andrews and the Group 3 1970 Porsche 914/4 topped the #06 1969 Porsche 911 driven by Skott Burkland by 40.889 seconds, followed by #17 Paul Stinson’s 1963 Lotus Super 7 to round out the podium.
On Saturday in the Group 8 Qualifying Race, #20 Kent Bain in a 1972 Porsche 914/6 just beat #94 Tom Grudovich in his 1966 Ginetta G4 by 0.253 seconds, followed by #3 Terry Wolters in the 1970 Porsche 914/6.
During the Group 5, Race 1, Doc Bundy showed how he had mastered both the fast west end and technical eastern section of the track as he took his 1964 Lotus 23 to a 21.267 second victory and also set fast race lap at 1:29.565 with a speed of 90.437 mph. Second place was Henry Payne IV in his orange 1966 Porsche 906 followed by Ken Mennella in the Chevrolet Corvette GS.
I made my way down to turn one and witnessed some good out braking battles in the Group 3 and 4 combined. The #38 George Wright in a 1961 Triumph TR4 finally got the upper hand on the #79 Michael Kusch in the 1964 MGB. Farther back was the #71 Dick Stockton 1963 Triumph TR4 beating out the #7 of Denny Wilson in his 1962 Lotus Super 7 for eleventh and twelfth places, respectively. Ross Bremer in his #63 1968 European Ford Escort MKI took the victory by 3.545 seconds over the second place car of #155 Bill Schwacke in his Group 4 1955 Chevrolet Corvette followed by #53 Melvin Andrews in the 1970 Porsche 911/4.
Sunday events started out with a Group 1 Race 2 with nine participants starting at 8:49, completing nine laps, won by #98. All right so it was not 99, but Ralph Salomon in his 1960 Elva 200F/J would not have cared after taking the victory. Chuck Pitt in a 1968 MG Midget followed and trailing him the 1958 Elva Courier driven by Hervey Parke.
Group 2 Race 2 had the fast race lap time of the top three competitors’ being less than 1.4 seconds apart at the end. Driving from third to the win was the #0 of Brian Rechtiene in a 1972 GRD F/3 beating the 1967 #18 Brabham BT21 driven by Will Thomas to the finish line with Bob Lima in the #19 1967 Brabham BT21 taking third.
Just before lunch, there was a 90-minute Enduro, with two mandatory pit stops and fourteen starters. It was going to be a challenge for many to keep there eyes in the mirrors for the Travis Engen #2 2005 Audi R8 Group 11GTP3. He completed three laps over the second placed #52, 1999 Carbir CS2 of Brian Pickering, Group 7B/SR. Third overall, running in Group 7, was David Porter and the 1985 #16 Swift DB2.
All the way from Dallas, Texas, Nathan Thompson took his 1997 Van Diemen RF-97 to victory in the Group 9 Race 2 over Joe Blacker in a 1994 Reynard RP94 and David Porter driving a 1979 March 79B.
A few of the competitors from New Jersey this weekend were William Timpson, Steve Schultz, Louis Casazza, Carl Schwab, Lee Brahin, Thomas Leavy, Jim O’Connor, Dick Stockton, Michael Kusch, Butch O’Connor, Stevie Hynes, Gene Kirschner, Joe Tauro, Steve Minghenelli, Rib Regna, Guy Lamon Sr. and David Hay.
A special event gave us a look at a gathering of Fords in the European Ford Feature Touring Event. Led by a pace car, Ross Bremer brought a collection of eight Fords spanning several years of the manufacturers auto history. Some that raced during the weekend included a beautiful 1966 Anglia 105 Super #56, painted in an off-white color, finishing third in Race 1 for Group 1. Then the duet of a 1969 Escort MKI #55 in a two-tone blue/white paint scheme, with a sister 1968 Escort MKI #63 in a two-tone white/black paint combination, both right-hand drive.
Impressive they all were, but my favorite was the 1973 Capri RS 2600 #2, which ran in Group 6. It sported a chin and rear deck spoiler, and appeared to be on rails in the corners. The two-tone blue/white was intermixed in a wrap pattern up the C-pillar and along the roofline. In the combined Group Race 1, it finished first in class and fourth overall. A 1972 Escort MKI #2 ran in Group 8 was right-hand drive and finished fourth in Race 1.
Now with the SVRA season over, many will be reflecting on the exciting 2011 year of racing. Plans will soon turn to 2012. Some will be rebuilt over the winter months, hopefully in heated garages, so it may not be so harsh to hold a steel wrench with bare hands. All this is in preparation for the upcoming events that start before you know it early next year.
For anyone who has never attended an SVRA event they are in for a fun experience. A general admission ticket gets you all the action. First, there is a mix of cars, representing many manufactures such as Lotus, McLaren, Porsche, Austin Healey, Alfa Romeo, Brabham, March, MG, Triumph, Chevrolet, Ford just to name a few. The 12 Groups have cars spanning many years. There are special manufacturer oriented Feature Races and Enduro events throughout the weekend.
Second, cruise the paddock and garages to take a good look at your favorite cars being carefully attended to by the teams and owners. There, the bodywork may be off to reveal the internal workings of the marvelous machinery. Ask questions, the competitors are glad to talk about the origin and history of their pride and joys. Then check out the grandstands around the different parts of the circuit, where you may not need a ticket for a seat, with a view that at many places includes larger sections of the track than can be seen from the spectator fences at ground level.
We are looking forward to seeing all our old and new friends next year. Share the excitement of the SVRA with someone you know. Have your friend take a picture of you next to your favorite car.
Have a fun and a safe holiday season.