Al Unser Jr., famously said from the 1992 Indianapolis 500 victory circle, “You just don’t know what Indy means!” Some 30,000 spectators and participants who witnessed the multi-faceted motorized speed festival that is the Brickyard Invitational at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past weekend might insist that they do, indeed, know what Indy means. In four years the SportsCar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) Brickyard Invitational has established itself as part industry convention, part party, and a massively diverse array of racing machines owned and driven by skilled people determined to have fun and go very fast.
Old acquaintances are remembered and new ones are formed – many times creating business or sporting opportunities. People in the industry inevitably encounter friends or colleagues they worked with in the past, and fans suddenly have access to great drivers and amazing cars they usually only see in old photographs and video.
Click on the thumbnails below to view larger images:
The Father’s Day weekend served up three solid days of on-track action supported by a robust midway of sponsor displays led by Jaguar, Mazda, Land Rover and the newest series investor, the official motorcycle of the SVRA, Harley-Davidson. There were nearly 500 racing vehicles on the grounds, including 13 classes of vintage racers, and, for the first time in Speedway history, the contemporary Trans Am series, the Mazda MX-5 Cup, and vintage motorcycles from Historic MotoGP competed at the track.
Ernie Francis Jr., the 19-year-old prodigy, won his fourth consecutive Trans Am race in the top class on Saturday and Gar Robinson made it two in a row for the big TA 2 feature on Sunday. It’s worth noting that Curt Vogt, who won the B Production Indy Legends Pro-Am on Saturday with Max Papis, finished a strong seventh in TA2 – substantiating Papis’ post race praise of his racecraft and speed.
Loni Unser (pictured), the 19-year-old daughter of five-time Indy 500 veteran Johnny, made a nice statement while gaining valuable seat time when she picked up a class win in Sunday morning’s 60-minute “Enduro.” She drove owner Marcus Pillion’s 1960 Porsche 360B while father Johnny was on the radio and in her ear, spotting from the top step of the south end of the Tower Terrace seats. It was a wonderful Father’s Day image, and another Unser triumph at the old Brickyard.
With Loni’s parents and other family members surrounding her in victory circle at the Speedway, the emotion among them was palpable. It was a big Instagram moment as family and friends whipped out their cell phones to join orange-vested media photographers capturing the accomplishment. It was her first auto race triumph.
“Loni gave me the best Father’s Day gift a dad could have,” said Johnny, whose father Jerry lost his life at the Speedway in 1959. “This is her first win, and it happened at the greatest track in the world!”
Johnny had received some good news hours earlier when officials assigned yellow flag penalties and corrected a scoring error to move him from fourth place up into the runner-up finishing spot in Saturday’s Indy Legends Pro-Am B Production class. It was a feel-good morning all around for that branch of the Unser clan as Johnny’s co-driver in the Pro-Am, Shannon Ivey, won the 60-minute contest overall in his 1967 Camaro SS.
Increasingly, the Indy 500 veterans are making paddock connections and venturing into other categories of SVRA racing. Dennis Firestone is a regular competitor with his 1976 Crossle Formula Ford. This weekend he scored two top-fives in a field of 21 Group 2 cars. He was second in class in both contests.
Scott Harrington, who now coaches drivers, is also no stranger to SVRA paddocks. He was working with client Howie Liebengood, and his 1990 Dodge Shelby Can-Am sports racer. The car is exactly the same type Harrington used to win the 1992 SCCA Can-Am series championship. The two had planned to share driving duties in the 90-minute Enduro, but the engine failed while it was driven to the starting grid.
Alex Lloyd raced Dave Roberts’ 1956 Corvette to third place overall in Saturday’s feature race for Groups 1, 3, and 4. Lloyd’s competitive fire still rages, as evident by his comments after the race.
“We raced from last to third in the ’56 Corvette,” said Lloyd who started at the back after sitting in for owner Dave Roberts, his Pro-Am co-driver. “We suffered some major carburetor issues, but still had fun. I’m convinced if the car was running properly it couldn’t be touched.”
Lyn St. James once again teamed with standout vintage racer Bruce Hamilton in the Sunday morning 90-minute Enduro. The two shared Hamilton’s blue and white 2008 Dallara Infiniti Indy Lights racer and finished on the podium. Both were seen donning their special SVRA red ball caps reserved for those ascending to the podium while celebrating that evening at Big Woods pub on Main Street in Speedway.
Roberto Guerrero was at the same establishment having dinner with the Jaguar team and took a moment to explain the mystery of why co-driver Jody O’Donnell failed to pit for a driver exchange during the Indy Legends Pro-Am on Saturday. Many in the stands and paddock were confused by his failure to stop as it forced immediate disqualification of the entry. The fast black Corvette had been in the hunt throughout the race. In fact, O’Donnell dominated the Saturday and Sunday Group 6 feature races in the same machine.
“Jody wanted to win, of course. We were planning to pit when Willy’s (Willy T. Ribbs) engine blew,” Guerrero explained. “We just got caught out by the yellow because the rules don’t allow yellow-flag pit stops. By the time it went green, it was the last lap of the race so we never did our switch. Now I really want to win this thing. I will be back next year for sure.”
SVRA Podiums by Run Group – Overall Results
Vintage/Classic 60-Minute Enduro
1. Shannon Ivey, 1967 Camaro SS
2. Cliff White, 1991 Spec Racer Ford
3. Richard Baldwin, 2005 Spec Racer Ford
Historic 90-Minute Enduro
1. Peter McLaughlin/Dave Handy, 1983 March 832
2. John & Ryan Harrold, 1978 Chevron B36
3. Bruce Hamilton/Lyn St. James, 2008 Dallara Infiniti
1. Greg Wold, 1964 Austin Cooper S
2. Charles Darrow, 1967 Triumph Spitfire
3. Richard Bateman, 1979 Datsun B210
1. Bob Hatle, 1989 Swift DB-3
2. Dan Cowdrey, 1970 Titan Mk6
3. Quinn Posner, 1977 Crossle 32F
1. Michael Leveque, 1966 Yenko Stinger
2. Steve Nichols, 1966 MGB
3. Allen Goode, 1967 Triumph TR4
1. Tony Parella, 1958 Corvette
2. Andrew Cannon, 1964 Alfa Romeo TZ1
3. Steve Davison, 1962 Jaguar E-Type
1. Chris MacAllister, 1972 Gulf Mirage
2. Dan Cowdrey, 1966 Lola T70 MkII
3. Cliff White, 1991 Spec Racer Ford
1. Jody O’Donnell, 1969 Corvette
2. Peter Klutt, 1969 Corvette
3. Larry Ligas, 1961 Jaguar XKE
1. John Harrold, 1978 Chevron B36
2. Peter McLaughlin, 1983 March 832
3. Tom Lehmkuhl, 2002 Cabir CS2
1. Tom Clarke, 1967 Porsche 911
2. Tom Briest, 1970 Porsche 914
3. Taz Harvey, 1969 Datsun 510
1. Bruce Hamilton, 2008 Dallara Infiniti
2. Jim Johnston, 2004 Pro Forma Mazda
3. Brett Johnston, 2004 Pro Forma Mazda
1. Sam LeComte, 2006 Chevy Monte Carlo
2. Taz Harvey, 2007 Mazda Rx-8
3. John Vining, 2002 Chevy Monte Carlo
1. Jacek Mucha, 2006 Swift
2. Steve Forrer, 1994 Ralt
3. Casey Putsch, 1996 March Bennett MkII
1. Steve Walker, 1973 BMW CSL
2. Ron Pawley, 1994 Toyota Supra
3. Kevin Ruble, 1993 BMW M3
Group 12 b
1. Jonathan Pfeffer, 1990 Corvette
2. Jerry Robinson, 2010 Dodge Viper
3. Alan Davison, 2000, Panoz GTS