The growth of American vintage auto racing over the past five years is a welcome phenomenon for a motorsports industry in transition. Long-established gatherings like the Monterey Motorsports Reunion continue as marquee events, but Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) is leading the surge of new interest. The 40-year-old organization experienced a rebirth since entrepreneur and corporate turnaround artist Tony Parella retired from the telecommunications industry to acquire it in 2012.
Parella recognized opportunities to develop new revenue streams from partnerships and ticket sales. The strategy is based on leveraging the value of high net worth car owners to premium brands, creating marquee events, developing associations with legendary drivers, and knitting together a national platform at top road racing venues.
Fans longing for diversity of racecar design and engine sounds rejoice in machines spanning more than a century. Weekends transcend the traditional older age demographic of spectators to include millennials with their phones sharing images on Instagram. Ticket sales have steadily increased as fans see the sport in a new light.
SVRA gained momentum with its Golden Bell Racing Champions Helmet for the national championships at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas in 2014. That event is an invitational that includes entries from outside the SVRA membership. It attracts professionals like James Hinchcliffe, Ana Beatriz, and Geoff Brabham to have a go at the home of the United States Grand Prix.
Another breakthrough event that draws tons of attention is the Brickyard Invitational at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Launched in 2014, it attracted over 700 racecars and featured veterans of the Indianapolis 500. Among them was Al Unser, Jr., who co-drove Velocity TV personality Peter Klutt’s 1969 Corvette to victory in the first Indy Legends Charity Pro-Am.
Dozens of Indy 500 veterans have competed in the Pro-am. Past winners include Paul Tracy, Max Papis, Robby Unser and Sarah Fisher, and young gun Matt Brabham stormed to victory at this year’s race.
Premier venues like Road America, Road Atlanta, Mid-Ohio, Portland and Watkins Glen naturally appeal to racers like Lyn St. James, Boris Said, Elliott Forbes-Robinson and Dennis Firestone. Many are huge events that earn the support of the surrounding community. A prime example is the U.S. Vintage Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. Organizers in Village of Watkins Glen work with SVRA to integrate the vintage races at the track with their Watkins Glen Grand Prix Festival, an annual celebration of the first sports car races on public roads in 1948.
Despite sponsor investment and fan growth, SVRA is diligent about protecting the culture of vintage racing. Its Gold Medallion Program rewards owners who prepare collector cars with adherence to the highest standards of authenticity. The racing is intense, but as Parella stresses in drivers’ meetings, it stops short of fender rubbing. Violators are sent home. The culture is about fellowship and a relaxed atmosphere.
Jay Creech embraces that atmosphere. He owns Creech Motorsports, a prep shop garage for vintage racers in Avon, Indiana. He is a former senior mechanic with the Forsythe and Hemelgarn Indy car teams.
“First and last place pays the same here,” he says. “We help each other out, even direct competitors. I like answering questions fans have, and at the end of the day, I enjoy sitting around with other racers and maybe having a beer or two. It’s the way racing used to be.”
THE GOLD STANDARD
SVRA’s Gold Medallion certification recognizes owners who have painstakingly preserved significant racecars to original condition. Appreciation for history and authenticity is the culture of vintage racing.
Many owners describe themselves as caretakers. For most, the seriousness of the matter is understandable. Many machines have a market value of tens of millions of dollars. Owners don’t talk specifics unless you’re serious about negotiating in a private room.
Champions like Denny Hulme, Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, and Tazio Nuvolari drove some of the cars. Still, the Gold Medallion program is more about authentic preparation. Car owners are issued a logbook. Here they record the history of ownership and details of construction.
SVRA Gold Medallion classes are wholly different from standard vintage racers. Gold Medallion cars are truly historic machines with records of accomplishment and faithful restoration. Find regulations and application forms online at svra.com/gold-medallion.