THE HAWK WITH BRIAN REDMAN classic, vintage & historic extravaganza at Road America - by Burt Levy

THE HAWK SOARS!

OK, time to roll out the superlatives. This year's THE HAWK WITH BRIAN REDMAN classic, vintage & historic extravaganza at Road America and the lovely and deliciously retro little nearby resort village of Elkhart Lake was absolutely, positively fabulous! Starting with the weather, which remained in the comfortable mid-to-high 70s with plenty of sunshine, cool, refreshing breezes, not too much humidity and not too many damn mosquitoes, either. Which stands in stark contrast to some of the sweltering, even suffocating July weekends we've spent up there in the past. Not to mention occasional torrential monsoons. And the show was pretty damn good, too! You can read the entire story, as experienced through my eyes, anyway, in a soon-to-be-upcoming issue of (trumpet fanfare, please!):

VINTAGE MOTORSPORT MAGAZINE

click to order a damn subscription, already!

so there's really no point in going into it here. Except to say that there were a lot of great cars, we saw a lot of great racing, the organization was exceptional throughout and even the barrel-chested, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals in Group 6 pretty much behaved themselves. Emphasis on "pretty much". Plus the Friday night race-car Concours d'Elegance in town (for which I am happily honored to serve as a judge) was off the effing hook. See north- and east-view pix below taken from the judges' stand shortly before the cars fired up for their "running of the bulls" stampede back to the track:

Lotsa folks, as you can see. There's well over a hundred racecars of all different types and ages hidden behind all those arms and legs and torsos and cleavages, too....

Mind you, I used to also judge for the somewhat tamer, Saturday-night concours for, you should pardon the expression, "street cars." But those folks seem to take it a little more seriously (okay, maybe more than a little) and then one year they gave me Porsche 911s and I quickly came to the realization that I was in over my head, way above my pay grade and not nearly anal enough for that sort of duty. Like my old publisher/boss Tim Suddard always used to say: "You've got the racers and you've got the waxers," and while I may never be able to pass myself off as a marvelous racing driver, I'm surely not one of the other types at all. For further elucidation on the subject, see my short story "Brilliant Chrome and Bug-Splat Radius" in the POTSIDE COMPANION anthology.

 

Anyhow, I was supposed to go to the always-excellent Judges' Dinner at Siebkens after the Friday-night judging was finished, but I got myself sucked into the madcap goings-on in the courtyard just outside and never quite made it. There was a monstrous, boisterous and well-lubricated crowd, multiple outdoor bars doing a "day-after-prohibition-ended" business and my very favorite Wisconsin dance band, "Caught in the Act," belting out one tune after another. They've got a great blonde lead singer with a huge voice, a hell of a brass section, super drumming, keyboards and guitars and a repertoire that goes all the way from Motown oldies to Justin Timberlake and beyond. As wife Carol was back home keeping our beloved Fox Terrier company, I proceeded to make a fool out of myself with a random collection of lovely (okay, and not-so-lovely) young/used-to-be-young/maybe-were-never-young ladies whose names I don't know (although one of them did buy a book the next day). All I can say is that I danced until I eventually and somewhat predictably pulled up lame (just got over the limp yesterday, in fact) and I'm glad there weren't any mirrors or tabloid photographers around. It was bad enough trying to purchase all the cell phones I saw brandished around the dance floor just to keep the horrific images off of Facebook and You-Tube....

 

For the Saturday-night concours, the entire VM delegation (me, the lovely and long-suffering Toni Cumbess and our peerless, gregarious, intermittently generous and sporadically clue-less leader Michael Silverman) hawked our books and magazine subscriptions on Mike Hall's front lawn just a few unsteady steps away from Siebken's famous tavern (see pic below...Toni's the one who doesn't look like a tragic old man...)

After packing up, I moseyed myself over to The Osthoff, where the Historic Race Circuits bunch was hosting a dinner (yeah, I paid for a ticket with my own damn money, can you believe it?) as my old racing pal/media raconteur par excellence Dorsey Schroeder was headlining as guest speaker. As always, Dorsey was funny, charming, off-the-cuff, thoroughly entertaining and dead-solid honest about what REALLY goes on in the world of professional motor racing. Good guy and a good time to boot.

The rest of the delights and details will be in my report, but I should mention (hell, I've got to brag to somebody!) that we had an outstanding, RECORD WEEKEND for book sales. No s***. Effing SOLD OUT of THE LAST OPEN ROAD and A POTSIDE COMPANION, and only had a couple copies of the first STEAMROLLER book left....

I can only assume that some of you out there are telling other folks about my books.

I thank you.

And keep it up now, y'hear....

 

Come Monday/Tuesday, it was off to Autobahn again to hang around and make a pest of myself at a Katech Engineering track day. Katech in in the business of making fast cars like Corvettes and Camaros and such even faster (click HERE for more info), and I must say it was very well run and they were about the best-behaved track-day bunch I've ever encountered.

Particularly considering that the South Track at Autobahn is a twisty, technical little devil without much in the way of straightaways, and hardly the place to unleash a 600 or 700 or 800 horsepower (or more) sports car with street-spec suspension, tires and brakes. But this new generation of Detroit musclecars is pretty damn good, and everybody seemed to behave and have a terrifically good time in the bargain.

Was also there to meet up with my old friends and Cadillac factory-team drivers Johnny O'Connel and Andy Pilgrim, who were attending as celebrity-guest instructors (see pic below: that's Andy in the black shirt and Johnny in the red bracketing the red Katech Corvette in the foreground).

I first met Andy at a vintage race in the Bahamas back in the mid-1980s, when he was just starting out and going like stink (at the front of the pack, no less) in somebody else's XK150 Jaguar coupe. He's gone on to have quite the successful pro career, and is deeply involved in finding and developing effective driver-training programs for kids these days (he's come to the conclusion that you really need to start with the parents...an observation that applies to so many other areas of life as well). Good for him. Johnny has also had a stellar pro career, and did thoroughly wonderful things for the Corvette factory program (including Le Mans, Sebring & Daytona wins plus several season championships) and, like Andy, has helped Caddy not only win races and season titles against the best of the Euro and domestic opposition, but also totally re-make their image (not to mention customer base and product lines!) over the past decade or so. To be honest, I never thought I'd see cars like their current crop of track-burners out of stodgy old Cadillac, but damn if they haven't gone and done it! Johnny has also been a real fan and great supporter of my books, and it's a genuine thrill to have a guy lwith a resume like his on the old bandwagon. Thanks, Johnny.

As the day progressed, I took the opportunity to ride around the South Track with Andy in a borrowed T2 Corvette, and although I teach at Autobahn regularly, you should never stop learning, and he showed me a few things about smoothness, line, economy of input and poise under pressure. See pic of Andy below with the Corvette he used to humble and humiliate me. Good ride, though!

Also on hand (running on the North Track with the Autobahn members) was the accomplished and redoubtable Lyn St. James, who was there to try out my friend Lisa Weinberger's Toyota Celica. Which, you should also know, was Janet Guthrie's very first racecar! Smell a story coming? I know I do. Only problem is Lyn couldn't fit, as while Lyn is surely petite, Lisa is tres petite (you could about measure her inseam with a ruler) and, even with the seat all the way back, there was just no way. But I got a nice lunchtime interview out of the deal, and you can bet there's a story or column about female racing drivers coming up. I've had the good fortune to known some of the very best (Denise McCluggage, Des Wilson, Divina Galica, Lyn herself, Janet Guthrie, Kathy Rude, Patty Moise, Simona DiSilvestro, etc.) and there's no question that my very best driving-school students have all been women. But, that said, it's historically a male-dominated sport and you rarely see a female driver with the sheer, vicious aggressiveness of the best of the men. And it doesn't help that they're usually treated as a novelty or a pleasant diversion. I'm pretty convinced that will change over time (or continue to change, more correctly) and Lyn is deeply involved with helping young female racing drivers to seek out and secure opportunities. Including our young A&TR favorite Natalie Fenaroli.

Now as a lifelong and moreover paid-up member of Team Testosterone, I'm not sure I'm going to enjoy that very much, but it's the wave of the future and we'd all just better get used to it!

 

The following Sunday, it was back to Autobahn again (I really need to get a room there!), where club & track president/CEO Mark Basso had kindly arranged for us to do a track test for an upcoming feature story on...wait for it...CHEETAHS!

Yeah, I've driven four of the gorgeous brutes now, and the Cheetah saga (both in period and continuing even today) is a real, four-hanky soap opera of good intentions, missed opportunities, might-have-beens, nasty reputations and occasional ugly legal entanglements.

 that's me on track above at Road America in Cheetah re-creationist Bob Auxier's car a few years back

In any case, the Cheetah has always been one of Everybody's Favorite Racing Cars (in spite of a well-publicized reputation for frame flex and intermittently vicious handling) and I was lucky enough to score some laps in Cheetah nutcase Ron Keck's car (usually ably handled and wrenched by fellow MCSCC veteran Brian Garcia) at Autobahn. It's arguably the quickest, best-developed and best-running Cheetah on the vintage scene and has been a habitual front-runner in its race group this season (that's Ron on the far right in the picture below and Brian tall and appropriately wearing black just behind me).

No question any Cheetah is a marvelous thing to look at, and they're both thrilling and intimidating to drive. But what do you expect with well under 2000 lbs to haul around, a terrifyingly short 90" wheelbase, all the weight right in the middle (can you say "spin like a top"?), a 650+ horsepower Chevy motor bursting through the hood like gym-rat muscles bulging out of a Banlon shirt and enough heat in the cockpit (the exhaust pipes go right over the effing footwells!) to roast your Christmas turkey.

But it was sure fun anyway (see pix below) and the crew was great to work with, and I can't hardly wait to sit down at the old keyboard and hammer out the story. Or to drive one again, come to that. If any of you have good period shots of racing Cheetahs from the sixties, please let me know! A very tiny bit of recognition and even less money may well be involved....

that's me again last Sunday, getting a wee taste of what rodeo bull riders face every weekend

Got home from Autobahn in time for Carol & I to enjoy our taped viewing of the Hungarian Grand Prix, and may I say it was one hell of a fantastic race (and on a track where you're not supposed to be able to pass!). If you saw it, you witnessed truly heroic drives (!!!) from all three podium finishers. Wow! And to all those sniffy purists who decry "contrived" movable DRS flaps to promote overtaking, let me remind you bozos that what it's really done is re-introduce your beloved slipstreaming in an aero era where it had heretofore disappeared. You just can't please some people.

For those of you who don't follow F1, don't understand its subtleties or technical complexities or simply don't give a s***, those of us who do will just sneak off into a corner with a few cold ones and discuss it quietly amongst ourselves.

Hell, that's what I wish baseball types would do....

A SAD NOTE: I was terribly sorry to hear about the passing of accomplished British driver, tuner, parts supplier and renowned Austin-Healey ace and guru Denis Welch following an unfortunate low-speed roll-over accident in his F1 Lotus at Silverstone over the weekend.

I met him several times during various Healey weekends (mostly thanks to my good friends and nonpareil Healey restorers/race preparers Tom and Kaye Kovacs of Fourintune fame), and Denis was not only a great and savvy competitor but a marvelous character as well.

Which is why I couldn't help remembering the time when we were both track-day "celebrity guests" at the renowned Healey Conclave annual clan-gathering back in 2003. The venue was the short, twisty Jefferson "car-club" circuit at Summit Point, West Virginia, and it had been arranged for Denis and I to engage in a sort of ad-hoc Contest of Speed in a pair of borrowed (and not at all race-prepared) Healey Hundreds. The idea was that we would go out the pits about five seconds apart, do one warmup lap, one timed lap with a checker at the end and then one cool-down lap, after which we would re-enter the pits, swap cars and do it all over again. Best combined time for both cars would decide the outcome, of course, and neither of us were taking it very seriously except to the steely-eyed core of our beings....

Only then we happened to run into each other in the "loo" just prior to our timed laps, and I opined that it might be fun to blow right through that first checkered flag and stage a sort of semi-choreographed impromptu "play race" for a few laps. Or at least until they pulled a couple station wagons across the track to stop us. That's when I saw that sly twinkle come up in Denis's eyes for the very first time. He thought it was a capital idea!

So we did exactly as we'd schemed, blowing through the checker at speed at the end of those first timed laps and doing a little high-speed "formation flying", passing and re-passing for a lap or two until it threatened to escalate into a genuine race. In standard street Healey Hundreds, mind you, with no roll bars or fuel cells or anything. It was great fun and the crowd loved it (except for the two car owners, that is) and I must admit that, in the end and after they flagged us in and we swapped cars and the times had been duly recorded and tallied, Denis did indeed beat me on aggregate.

By 4/100ths of a second....

But I'm bragging there. Based on entire lifetime's body of track work, he's miles and many laps ahead of me, and I know it.

But I still can't forget that merry, mischievous twinkle of anticipation in his eyes that first time we met in the potty room at Summit Point and hatched our plan.

I'll leave it to the column obits in all the motorsports magazines to drag out all those tired old chestnuts about "he was 69 years old and he'd had an incredibly full life and he was lucky enough to die instantly while doing what he loved most."

All I know is that we lost a good one.

 

HOUSEKEEPING, DETAILS & OFF TO CALIFORNY

Carol & I will be off to California next Thursday to spend a few weeks with the kids with a wee side trip to Monterey for the Historics plus some other car-guy stuff & adventures thrown in for yours truly.

 

You'll be able to find me (and the books, of course!) at the VINTAGE MOTORSPORT booth on the Vendor Island just over the bridge from the racing paddock during the Historics weekend at Laguna Seca August 15-17. Do drop by and say "Hi", even if you're not in the market for LAST OPEN ROAD merchandise or new reading material!

 

Also need to mention that the very worthy, exceptional and incredible INTERNATIONAL MOTOR RACING RESEARCH CENTER located in Watkins Glen, NY, is hosting another fabulous fund-raising raffle. Last year (when I was the guest speaker, but people came anyway on account of they were raffling off a blessed Ferrari!), the lucky winner, who was not present, must have run through a real gamut of emotions from a delirious: "GEEZ, I WON!!! I NEVER WIN ANYTHING!!! AND NOW I'VE WON MYSELF AN EFFING FERRARI!!!" to a somewhat more subdued: "Geez, what the hell do I do with it NOW????"

 

This year the prize is a bit more usable (but perhaps even more fun) as the lucky winner will get the keys (and the car, of course) to a brand-new FIAT-ABARTH 500 TURBO!!!

And we all (well, all the testosterone-fueled male types, anyway) just LOVE those sexy Fiat-Abarth commercials! For those who haven't seen them (or guys like me, who just like to see them again...and again...and again...and again....) here's a couple links:

SEXY FIAT-ABARTH COMMERCIAL #1

SEXY FIAT-ABARTH COMMERCIAL #2

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!!!

Besides the wonderful car, you also get a trip to Italy to see where they build them. And Ferraris. And Maseratis. And Alfas. And Lambos. And there's all kinds of motorsports museums and racetracks and lots of other keen stuff to do in Italy, too. Cultural stuff, even. Romantic stuff, too. And don't even get me started on the blessed food....

So a raffle ticket is a pretty good deal at 40 bucks each or 3 for $100 (only 3500 tickets will be sold!) and it all goes to a really good cause if you love motor racing.

CLICK HERE FOR THE RESEARCH CENTER'S RAFFLE TICKET ORDER FORM & WEB PAGE!

Only don't start thinking that you're going to win, on account of wife Carol and I are buying a couple tickets, see, and she REALLY wants to go to Italy....

 

AS LIEUTENANT COLUMBO ALWAYS USED TO SAY:

"ONE LAST THING..."

The MOVIE TRIVIA QUIZ, remember? The one about "who was Rusty Martin's boyfriend and what did he drive and where?" Well, the answer is:

 

Yep, "Rusty Martin" is the Ann-Margaret character playing opposite (who else?) ELVIS PRESLEY (as "Lucky Jackson") in the rockin' and road-racin' musical epic VIVA LAS VEGAS!

Sure, the plot was hokey and the racing scenes were even hokier, but wouldn't you just love to have some of the cars they were running! Like the (wait for it) Climax-powered ELVA Mk. 6 that Elvis was racing (later owned and run often and hard by my longtime friend and VSCDA vintage stalwart Chuck Maranto).

It's obvious Elvis was not only an ace hotshoe, but a pretty good wrench, too (even Ann-Margaret got a few grease smudges under her mascara) since he wound up beating cars with much bigger engines and a lot more horsepower. Just check out the cars he was up against:

Like a Ferrari Tour de France and the Ol' Yaller Mk. VII and a Cheetah and a Scarab and Cobras and C1 and C2 Corvettes and...well, if you had all those cars now, you can bet your ass you'd be rich and I'd be banging on your garage door, begging to drive them....

 


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