Lon Walters Elva Courier #119
I attended my first Monterey Historics in 1980, ironically another “Year of the Porsche” like 2009. In spite of securing an outrageously expensive speeding ticket wheeling to the event almost thirty years ago, nothing could ruin that show for me. It was only one whole day then, a Saturday so heavy hitters could presumably attend Sunday’s Pebble Beach Concours without guilt. Cars of the Monterey race were dazzling as I salivated on the spectator’s chainlink fence like a rabid dog. By the time I shuffled through thick California dust to the crest of the famous Corkscrew, I vowed to do this someday.
As a lifelong slow starter, it wasn’t until early 2000 I located a car, specifically searching for an eligible vehicle for the Monterey Historics. It was reputed to be complete and ready to roll, but as anyone who has purchased a previously opened Revell model kit knows, critical parts are not likely in the same jurisdiction as the car in question. None the less, after a bit of patching and gum paste application on a newly acquired Elva Courier, my first vintage race was in 2000 at Las Vegas. On the up side it was all I imagined it to be, however, it clearly confirmed racing was not a valid career option.
For number of years I ran dozens of other events, but dutifully sent an entry into the Monterey Historics. Eight years in a row, a gracious letter of being “over subscribed” landed in my mailbox. Undeterred, it was on the ninth year the creator of the event, Steve Earle, rewarded my nagging persistence, or simply threw up a white flag, and I received a notable letter welcoming me to Monterey. Stunned, thrilled and apprehensive, my wife and I prepared for this three-decade old dream. The Historics was decidedly different from all other events for any number of reasons, and we soon realized a few unexpected items took on more importance at Monterey.
Pit Parking - Fitting into a spot with all our equipment was tight as my high school shorts. We were dutifully warned pre planning was a must and overloading car trailers a necessity. We also understood support vehicles were good for one trip in so ours was packed with the essentials, various electrical parts that haven’t seen use in 30 years, newspapers to pick up oil, jack stands to look cool, and enough tools to disassemble an oil tanker. Fortunately, a few years ago my supportive wife insisted we use a very talented engine builder after hemorrhaging a few engines. She was right, and lets me know it when we observe others taking apart their own oil tanker during the weekend. As a lender of tools vs. a borrower for the last few years, life was good and we had everything we needed.
Tech Inspection - Every vintage racer knows this is an important step on the journey to the track. That doesn’t make it any less stressful in a weekend already binding intestines like a lariat. Anxious enough about the weekend, I determined it was best to get it over quickly. Actually too quickly. Confidently wheeling into Tech on Thursday morning, I was it. There wasn’t another car within a Wyoming Ranch neighbor. Four hundred and fifty entrants and this new kid was soloing with 11 Techs looking for a task. Fortunately, they were in amazingly good spirits at that hour of the morning and amused themselves inspecting every plumbing line and potential fluid leak an English car could muster. As anyone owning a sports car from the Isles will attest, it’s very difficult to run out of items to scrutinize in the realm of leaks. The obvious answer is to drain all the fluids and tow the car to Tech. At the time it seemed like a valid option. However, professional and reasonable, I cleared the gauntlet of smiling orange hatted inspectors, Tech Sticker proudly illuminating the wind screen like a movie marquee. My chariot left a few extra drops to mark its territory and we were ready for race day.
Toilet Facilities - Often ignored until needed, and then maybe too belated, there are few things as essential on this weekend than a lightly occupied restroom. New to the Laguna Seca, I only found one restroom in the middle of the track also chanced upon by every one of the 30,000 spectators on hand. Anxiety does strange things to an upstart racer’s digestive system, so negotiating for a rare seat in the packed lavatory was not an option. It was one of these anxious moments before practice, dancing in a line of thirty focused users, I stumbled upon a dozen unmarked, unoccupied, portable johns next to the building. It is difficult to express the relief knowing of this alternative for the critical minutes leading up to strapping into a race car. A never-ending quest for lost car keys pales in comparison.
Expensive Machinery - The first indication of the effort some put forth for the Historics, shiny trailers longer than my skid marks in turn two weave through pit lane disgorging exotic cars only seen in magazines or unaffordable auctions. A single heavy awning may cover a dozen race cars or more, but still not shaded enough to knock down gleaming reds, greens and blues of their immaculate paint. Teams of mechanics in color matching single piece suits, caterers with tables, chairs, planted flowers and starch stiff linen, plus a gleaming assortments of Rube Goldberg garage tools are all at the ready waiting for a countdown to launch. I glanced at my Elva under a $198 EZ-UP held down with bungee cords and buckets of water, next to a ten-year old scuffed trailer loaded with used parts accumulated by trial and error and wondered if this is where we should be. It never should have been questioned, everyone was as gracious and welcoming as hosts of a child’s birthday party, giving up valuable time describing everything from track strategy to ice-cream stand location. A giant fraternity of honorable souls enjoying the weekend just like our many smaller events.
Food - While race cars are always topped off with their own version of nourishment, rarely did I ever have an opportunity to sit and chat with my peers for breakfast or lunch during a weekend. There are a couple of reasons; one, track food generally wasn’t fit for unproblematic digestion, and two, there wasn’t a place to sit together. Mercifully, Monterey was different. In the comfort of a quiet, air conditioned, immaculate building overlooking the track, catered lunch served buffet style was there for all drivers and guests. Quality and variety were as good as it gets, and the banter among drivers was worth the price of admission. I met an amazing mix of talent and fame sharing the same peaceful hour or so. Normally, I am good for two healthy trips through a food line. Add in the factor of terminal anxiety for a first time Historic participant and you get the picture. With nerves colliding like a Mid West thunderstorm, it was only half a trip. Maybe if I do this again I can demonstrate what a real food hound could do
Track Time - And this is what it all comes to. Interestingly, my class was mostly made of very quick cars. So quick, my goal was simple, not to get lapped twice in the same race. As a very good friend and longtime participant told me, the race is only 10 laps, but that’s for the leader. Getting passed two or three times makes for a very short race if one is sampling an ineffective strategy of turtle/hare. However, the Historics weekend folks thought this out too. On site Skip Barber School instructors held a terrific session for first timers on Thursday. With an hour of lead and follow, it took the edge off an already intimidating weekend and unusual track. I got faster and smarter, loved the course and finished mid-pack on Friday’s Practice session. Don’t think I’ve ever been so thrilled at only being lapped once by a few leaders. If there was a deficiency in my driving style, it was probably one of extreme caution, not wanting to look like the court jester in my group with an awe-inspiring stupid move. Yes, I did see a couple of incidents where testosterone maddingly overtook common sense, but there were few of any consequence. Race day was the same, clean, fast, fun, and I was very satisfied with another mid-pack performance with faster cars. My friends in the stands didn’t have to conceal their enthusiasm for my drive, nor slink off in shame supporting an on- track idiot.
There were other wonderful surprises, a Driver’s Meeting where we were all treated like mature adults vs. adolescents hellbent for a weekend of destruction derby activity, enough concession tents to satisfy the most compulsive shoppers, wonderfully enthusiastic crowds loving the idea of sharing pit talk and track action, and most of all, the history. Ah, the history. Meeting folks who knew the designer of my car, drivers of vintage events from the 1950's and mechanics who serviced these early efforts breaking European domination.
To be a part and share this weekend was beyond merriment, it fulfilled an aspiration to be part of our own history. Every vintage racer should be so lucky.