Just like that, with a bang and a runaway victory in Sunday’s late-afternoon East/West Challenge by young Canadian James Lindsay, the FF50th Anniversary event at Road America — in the planning stages for nearly two years — was over.
It was a bang and not a whimper, although by the EWC’s start time of 4:30 p.m., most of the Vintage, Club and Slick-tire group runners were packed and many were already trailering south toward Sheboygan, Milwaukee and Chicago, final destination almost every corner of the U.S.
A hardy few, though, stayed on Sunday night for one final (spectacular!) meal at Siebkins, a few more Formula Ford truths and lies to swap before letting go and hitting the road.
Over a five-day span, organizer Steve Beeler had delivered on his 2018 promise: an event celebrating 50 years of FF racing in the U.S. that would have no peer, even in a summer with several other groups celebrating the same anniversary. Truthfully, by the time we arrived at Road America on Sept. 11 via FF anniversary events at Willow Springs, Summit Point, Mid-Ohio, Laguna Seca, Indianapolis, Lime Rock and Watkins Glen, we were beginning to suffer from “50th Celebration” fatigue. But, by Thursday afternoon, fatigue was replaced by adrenaline as trucks and trailers streamed in through Road America’s Gate 6 virtually non-stop, and the mile-long paddock area began to swell with Formula Fords — ancient Lotus 51s, Titans and Winkelmanns through to modern Swifts, Van Diemens and Pipers, plus everything in between (including an abundance of sturdy and quick Crossles).
Wandering around, it was hard not to bump into an American Formula Ford hero: Bruce MacInnes and Tim Evans, stars of the ’70s, who were appointed to the drivers committee and were everywhere on their golf cart putting out fires (and small flames) all weekend long; four-time FF champion Dave Weitzenhof; two-time champ Keith Nunes; plus those with single titles: Jim Harrell, Dennis Firestone, and Jackson Yonge. Craig Taylor, William “Fox” Henderson, and many more FF race- and title-winning drivers who, 30-40 years on, I may have walked right past and not recognized (with apologies).
In the end, five days simply was not enough to spend time with or even offer a “hello” to the many hundred FF veterans on hand, most with cars to drive and/or wrench on, though several popped in just to be reminded of what the Formula Ford fuss was all about.
Start to finish, there were reminders — spectacular, enjoyable feature races in both the Walter Hayes Vintage FF and Henry Taylor Club FF classes. Runaway winners in both the Len Pounds FF (slick tire) and East/West Challenge groups — reminders because FF history includes a fair measure of runaway victories and they needed celebrating too.
Unfortunately, the slick-tire Group 13 seemed to be snake bitten, living up to its unlucky number. Thursday practice was all but lost due to rain (few had packed rain tires); Friday qualifying was shortened to two laps (for all intents and purposes) by spins, accidents and a safety vehicle parked in Turn 5; and then both the Saturday sprint race and Sunday feature were marred by crashes, a broken leg being the worst of the resulting injuries (following a five-car wreck approaching Canada Corner) — but much anger, many broken cars and a drivers committee kept scrambling were just some of the results.
The over-aggression evident in that group stained the weekend’s copy book but did serve to remind that talent eventually wins out — law student Reid Hazelton and his maroon Van Diemen RF92 handily won both Len Pounds races, the seven-lap sprint race by a whopping 25.651s margin.