FUN AND GAMES BEGIN AT V.I.R (from NC Region SCCA Bulletin)
In the rolling hills of Southern Virginia there exists a rolling course known as V.I.R., and thereby hangs a tale. Virginia International Raceway twists, turns, climbs, and drops between two long straight-aways over a distance of 3.2 miles, and offers a unique challenge to both car and driver (if he doesn't get carsick).
Great gobs of brave troops decided to make the Journey to the hinterlands for the first National in the N.E. Division put on by the slightly informal (where are my shoes?) N.C. Region during the week-end of April 10 and 11. Nearly 140 sporty cars (and a few not so sporty) made up the entry list. Although some classes were a mite thin, the racing was pretty thick, and there was no lack of interesting cars, drivers, racing, or extracurricular activities.
Some of the more interesting sights at V.I.R. were the well prepared cars set up and maintained by the likes of Group 44 (Tullius, Fuerstanau, etc.), and many new teams such as the MGB, Volvo P. 1800, and Sprite 1100 of the Picard Racing Team, the Sunbeams entered by Sports Car Forum, an Alpine for Dan Carmichael and a Tiger for Don Sesslar, and Don Yenko and Ben Moore racing under the banner of the Keystone Corvette Team. Looks like an interesting season ahead.
Saturday morning and the early part of the afternoon was spent in practice and qualification runs. Many drivers were seen taking excursions into the boonies, probably to shake loose the off-season rust, and many cars showed the effects of hurried preparation. Relatively speaking, however, things went along very smoothly with little interruption, thanks mainly to the new traffic bridge over the track.
The first race of the weekend took place Saturday afternoon and brought together all Formula cars, what few there were around. Two people make a race though, and these five were just dandy. Warren Shamlian held the pole in a Lotus 21 and made over to fit the new S.C.C.A. Formula A. On the outside sat Roger Barr, 2nd at the Riverside run-offs in a FV Autodynamics. Next was Whit Tharin, 2nd in last year's National standings, in a Formcar. Beside Whit was the Formcar of James Miller, 2nd in the N.E. Division and 3rd Nationally. The last car on the grid was the new Bobsy Vangard of Gerald Mong. Down came the flag and up came Tharin to show his pipes to all and sundry, for a few feet at least. By the end of the first lap, it was Shamliah going away while Barr was slowly pulling away from the fighting Formcars. Evidently Shamliah got a little lonesome so far out in front as he very sportingly gave out of gas on the 10th lap of the 15 lap race, and Barr inherited the lead. Miller led
Tharin by various small amounts in their ding-dong battle for second until Whit got by on the 14th lap. At the finish, it was Barr with a new class record followed 3.6 seconds later by Tharin and Miller 3rd by another 0.1. Then came Mong with the Bobsy that was having a little trouble pulling its greatly oversize tires, but handling beautiful, and last, but not least, was a very dejected Shamliah, although he had made up 2 laps after finding some more go-juice. And that was it for Saturday.
Most folks had a BALL at the Saturday night party as it was clearly evident on Sunday morning that a few were being mighty quiet. The bad cases of "fuzzy mouth", however, were cleared away in time for the short practice session to start with heavy clouds overhead. No rain--just the cool, cloudy weather that was to last through the day.
The first of the 15 lap races on Sunday was for Sedans, and what a show.' The field was made up of Jake McLaughlin in a Cortina, Fred Eggers in the Mustang that ran at Sebring, Don Yenko in Eggers' Mini Cooper, Dick Beuter in a Mini-Cooper, and John Norwood in a Renault. Both the Dave Roethel Corvair and the Pat Mernone/Pinky Rollo Peugeot had engine trouble and didn't make it to the line. The flag came down and the Mustang headed for the lst turn only to be out-braked by the Cortina and left behind. The communications system went out on the 2nd lap so the race was stopped and restarted. This time the Cortina pulled the Mustang off the line and outdragged it down the straight never to be headed. The Mustang was having its troubles on the twisty course in spite of the long straights (maybe it's a gelding?) and was passed by the flying Minis on the 2nd lap. Beuter's car was faster, but Yenko's was handling better, and around they went swapping positions several times a lap. If Yenko shook up the West Coast boys with the Corvette there is no telling what he could do with a Mini. The technique, it seems, is to set the little box up on three wheels, and just before it turns over, stand on it! It looked like an absolute panic, at least from a safe distance. At the flag, McLaughlin had lapped everyone and established a new class record while Beuter led Yenko across the line. Oh well, the Mustang beat the Renault to give the NASCAR types something to cheer about. Yea?
The EP and FP go brought 28 starters to the line, but the outside first row position didn't do Ron Grable any good as he fouled his plugs at the start and was the last car off by half a lap. Bert Everette took the lead on the 3rd lap, after George Frey went out, and ran off from everyone. Around the 7th lap, Everette got two wheels off the pavement on the front straight and spent a good deal of time looking sideways at a fast approaching pole, but got back O.K. with no time lost. What fun! Bruce Jennings was holding down second place until he blew his engine coming off of the back straight letting Dan Carmichael in a flying Alpine into that spot with a new FP class record. Someone asked Jennings about the Chaparrals after he pulled off the track. His answer was something to the effect that they go, handle and stop in large amounts, but that he didn't know about that transmission. Meanwhile, Brian Fuerstenau, Tullius' mechanic, was giving the TR-3 a fine drive from the 19th on the grid to 4th at the finish. Who finished 3rd? Why Ron Grable, after shattering the EP record by nearly seven seconds. Shazam!
Now about the GP and HP race, Dick Gilmartin led the 22 starters for the first two laps. Then up came Fred Darling in the Picard Sprite to take the lead he was never to lose. Meanwhile, back in the pack, Pat Mernone had her Morgan as high as 2nd, but the clutch went bad. Howard Hanna took the strange looking Rene Bonnet (Moved over from HM) as high as third while Dick Staples was moving his Spitfire through the ranks. Also moving through the ranks was Pinky Rollo, who had her Spitfire as high at 7th until the gears gave up. Pretty good drive in an almost-street car. The HP boys were well represented in the GP fight by R.L. Rentzell in a Sprite and Pete Feistmann in a Fiat Abarth. At the finish, Darling had a new class record of 2:42.6. Staples was 2nd, and in 3rd, and Ist in HP, was Rentzell with a new class record of 2:42.6. Yes, you read right! Save those Mk.1 Sprites, Boys, they aren't TC bait yet!
The 26 cars in the CP and All-Modified bash produced some weird sights. A.M. Forsyth in the CM Stingray (it's lightened) had some engine trouble and decided not to run. No DM cars entered and no EM cars elected to run. So the FM, GM, and HM boys had to slug it out with the CP modified cars. Well, Alan Friedland in a FM Elva Mk.7 led all the way except for the 2nd lap with Ed Diamond in very close company. Dick Young had a chance with his Mk.7, but three cars going side by side through the turns is sure to put someone in the bullrushes, and he just dropped out of sight (literally) on the 2nd lap. There was some fear that the Swamp Beasts had gotten him but he walked out unharmed. By the 2nd lap, Warren Shamliah had worked what must be one of the-oldest Elva chassis still running into third over-all and Ist in GM, but half way through the race he lost a wheel coming off the back straight to end a fine drive. This just wasn't Warren's weekend. Fighting it out for lst in CP and 3rd overall was perennial favorite. National Champ., Bruce Jennings in the Porsche Carrera and Phil Groggins' beautiful Lotus Elan. Groggins was running for the lst time in this car and it evidently took a little getting used to. After a spin on the 2nd lap, however, everything clicked and he pulled out a good margin on the Porsche. The Lotus was really something to behold. No fuss, no dramatics, just fast... like, how you see it, now you don't. Gordon Heald split up the rest of the CP cars to finish 4th after a really fast drive in his GM Elva 7, while John Gordon circulated very swiftly in the Osca to win HM with Ilth overall. This car has been for sale for quite awhile now, but I doubt if anyone can stay ahead of the newer cars with it like Gordon can. New CP record? You bet, and a great insight into a very real class contender and possible run away choice for the most beautiful and exciting car in Production racing today.
The last race of the weekend was the feature event and 15 AP, BP, and DP cars were in the running for the VIR National Cup in one of the wildest races yet. Mike Goth had his Cobra on the pole with Don Yenko on the outside with his '57 BP Corvette. The second row was made up of Don Sesslar in a Sunbeam Tiger, the first of its type to run at VIR, and Ben Moore in his '61 BP Corvette. Next came Graham Shaw in his Cobra with a NASCAR type roll-cage (after Lake Garnett), and Wilton Jowett in an almost-stock Stingray. Actually, Shaw was lucky to be in the race. Other than a minor tune-up and the addition of some brake fluid, nothing had been done to the "Orange Snake" that he and co-driver Dick Thompson had taken to 4th in class at Sebring behind three Cobra coupes. So it was that Graham found his transmission subnormal during practice with no spare in sight. A SOS went out to the gathered throng and up stepped a brave, sporting soul with a handy 4-speed box connected to a 1964 Ford Galaxie. The deal was made and a few hours later the box reposed in the Cobra, and the good Tombstone had a ride after all. Now comes the wild part. At the start, Goth took off with Yenko right on his tail. At the end of the lst lap, Yenko was still on his tail! They were being followed at a respectful distance by Sesslar and Shaw. Slow Cobra? Nope, swift Corvette. Tis whispered that Yenko was actually pushing the Cobra through some of the turns! Fantastic! This madness went on until the 4th lap when Goth came into the pits with a broken ignition wire. This left Yenko in lst followed closely by Shaw, who had decided to get moving. Yenko led three more laps, until he came into the pits, looking like his car was powered by steam, ending a fine drive to say the least. Don't go away yet. Shaw had a long lead, but somehow Sesslar had gotten into bad company in the form of the BP Corvettes driven by Moore and Frank Dominianni. These three had the fans hanging from the rafters. They would shuffle around and come down the back straight, three abreast, and play Chicken to get into the downhill turns first! The usual order by the Start/Finish was Sesslar, Moore, Dominianni, then Dominianni, Moore, Sesslar, then Dominianni, Sesslar, Moore, and finally, Sesslar, Moore, and Dominianni (after a spin). The DP cars were having their own troubles except for Tullius, who got far ahead and was circulating within 3 seconds of the same time on each lap. Brad Picard was right behind the TR 4 with his MGB, but couldn't get close. Donna Mae Mims was having gearbox trouble, and Bob Bright broke a pushrod in his Van der Vate prepared MGB. John Williams was running a far-back 3rd in class, but put together one good lap to take a class record as consolation. When the checkered flag dropped at the end of the 15 laps, Shaw cooled it across the line followed 1.5 seconds later by Sesslar after he lost Moore and Dominianni, who finished 3rd and 4th respectively. Any more records? Well, Yenko wiped out his old record only to have it shaded by Sesslar in the "blanket race".
Did the National at VIR have any significance as far as the future National Races are concerned? You'd better believe it. There were few walk-aways as far as class competition was concerned, but the many new driver/car combinations certainly showed that the former favorites are in for a tough season. Also, the fact that nine new class new class records were written into the books shows that the troops are "loaded for bear", even at the first race of the season, I hate to think what will happen when the drivers and cars are finally sorted out! Look Out, N. E. Division, here they come!
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