Even though a good number of drivers here at the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival are from California, the event has a notable international contingent and a distinct worldly panache by virtue of having attracted the most extraordinary cars on the planet. The event got underway Saturday with races for seven of 13 groups entered, and by weekend’s end, 375 historic cars will have contested the demanding turns of Infineon Raceway, one of the most demanding race courses in America.
GROUP 3A - 1955-1966 Production Cars
1 1961 Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato - Tom Price
3 1961 GSM Delta - Edward Carden
4 1964 Triumph Spitfire - Tom Turner
5 1961 Triumph Spitfire - Stan Rinne
7 1957 Lotus 7 - Richard Mattei
9 1957 Corvette - Bob Paterson
10 1961 Elva Courier MKII - Sue Quackenbush
21 1961 Ferrari 250 GT - Larry Bowman
31 1962 MGA MK II - Edward Lamantia
32 1960 Ferrari 250 SWB - Jerry Lynch
34 1962 Alfa Romeo SZ - Jeff Hill
37 1962 Lotus Super 7 - Paul Ryan
38 1962 Lotus Elite - Harlan Halsey
41 1957 MGA MKI - Scott Brown
42 1957 AC Aceca - Rob Fisher
43 1962 Sunbeam Alpine - Steven Alcala
48 1956 Porsche 356A - Paul Christensen
49 1962 Porsche 356B - Edward Hugo
51 1961 Volvo P1800A - Rick Hayden
52 1960 Lotus Elite - Kevin Adair
54 1960 Porsche 356B Super 90 - Clint deWitt
57 1960 Alfa Romeo SZ - Sandra McNeil
58 1957 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider - Sid Gage
59 1959 Corvette - Ron Cressy
61 1961 Porsche 356B - Ned Bacon
66 1965 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce - Don Forrester
76 1963 Rene Bonnet D’Jer - Sharon Wardman
80 1957 Porsche 356 - Max Jamiesson
89 1957 Thunderbird - John G. Miller
91 1957 Corvette - Les Alexander
98 1956 MGA - Shawn DeLuna
111 1961 Morgan +4 - Brian Howlett
132 1960 Alfa Romeo SZ - Laurie Fraser
154 1961 Porsche Abarth GTL - Bill H. Lyon
159 1959 Porsche 356 - Don Tevini
198 1963 Elva Courier - Greg Hill
271 1963 Alfa Romeo Giulia SS - Ross Lindell
441 1956 Alfa Romeo Spider - Don Queen
711 1959 Alfa Romeo SZ - Esta Swig
906 1963 Alfa Romeo Giulia - Peter Inshaw
I first drove Sears Point in 1985 and fell in love with the track even before I completed the first lap, so needless to say I was more than excited to once again being accepted to Steve Earl’s big weekend. Happily, best buddy Ed Lamantia and his 1962 MGA Mk II was also accepted so we would be the driving force behind MGs this year along with Sean DeLuna with his beautifully prepared MGA. We chose to come early for a half day open test on Thursday as our first event of the year ended somewhat poorly under a veil of very wet California weather. We managed 3 sessions that equalled to 1.5 hours on track allowing us to sort out any gremlins in hiding. Good thing we did as Ed’s battery died, quick fix thanks to Joe Huffaker who just happened to have the battery we needed. General Racings weekends don’t allow for the seat time most of us enjoy but the venue and large crowds of MG fans make up for it. Friday morning practice/qualifying session was going great with Ed and myself nose to tail working through traffic. Ed suddenly pulled off course into the pits. I completed the session of 10 laps and The Pile was in good form. Ed’s Gremlin #2 was a drive shaft vibration that after further examination he discovered a bolt missing from the tail shaft and the remaining a tad loose. Easily fixed (checked The Pile as well) and now ready for our Saturday warm up and race. Its now only 10:30 am and we are finished for the day giving us time to stroll around and look at race cars from all over the globe. No grid sheets until Saturday morning.
Saturday morning is perfect. Fog in the surrounding hills and a nice breeze promises for a perfect day in Northern California. Well caffinated and a good breakfast we are ready to roll. I picked up a Grid Sheet for our race and found myself positioned P2 next to Brian Howlett in his Morgan 4+4 at P1. I guess the Corvette guys were sleeping so it was an all British front row. Even with only 2 laps in qualifying Ed still manages to be in the 4th row. A 15 minute morning warm up for our 2:30 race, both cars are good, wish I was. My gut started to rumble and my nerves were jumping, I was a mess even after all the years of racing.
Race time, we pull out cars down to pre-grid. By now is gotten pretty hot, nearly 90 degrees and very high humidity. Pounding water all day I feel fine but very, very nervous. Ed and I walk around to talk to the other drivers to introduce ourselves to those we don’t know and to say hi to those we do. Lots of the usual joking and slaps on the back. Brian our pole sitter is my last visit and we work up a strategy to keep the 2 Corvettes that are gridded in P3 and P4 behind us. Second gear, just in the start of our power range will put the Corvettes off their cam. How do I know that? A very good buddy of ours Les Alexander is one of the drivers in his beautiful 57 Corvette Roadster.
As I settled into the car I begin to think about my Pop that passed away this past December. He took me to my first race in 1962 at Indy. In his honor, I’ve placed the Scottish Lion on my rear fenders taking him with me to all of my races. I’m sad but happy knowing he’s with me.
Now on a 3, I give Brian a thumbs up and fire up The Pile. We slowly roll out to meet the Lambo pace car in front of the main grand stands. My nauseousness fads and as grid rolls on to the track for our pace lap. Motor temp good, warm the brakes and couple of slides through the last few corners to scrub off any pickup, here we go. Its Brains call, so I match his pace as we roll to the starter stand. The speed is perfect, the starter moves his elbow and I go, go, go just a half second before Brian. Its working the Corvettes are now battling with row 3 and Brain and I are a good 3 car lengths ahead by Turn 1. Ok now its a race and Brian is my focus. I followed him in practice and know Turn 2 is not his best. I started on the right side giving me the inside line into 2. We are side by side through 1 but I know I have him going into 2. Sure enough he slows slightly giving me room on the exit I desperately needed to keep the loud pedal down. I glance in my mirrors and all is see is Orange. Its Brian and he’s coming hard, we go side by side through 3, I edge ahead again on the inside line to 3A then side by side again into 4. Once again I have the inside line and come out first... by the time we get to the carousel, we are side by side, this time me on the outside. I tell myself, you’ve practiced this time and time again... keep you foot in it, The Pile will hook up about mid corner. Now at the bottom of 5 Brian had to get out of it just enough for me to get a car length a the exit... Its a long way to 7 and I know he has the HP to get there first. And he does by a full car length, but I have inside line again and late brake and he has no choice but to slow and try to slip under me for 7a, but I keep a tight line and I get there first into the very fast and technical 8-10 complelx...
I pull 3 car lengths out of 10 but here he comes into 11 now inside me. I give him room, he over cooks it a bit and I cross under him to the exit... we are now door to door across the start/finish line this time with me on left putting me on the inside of 1 and the outside of 2. The MGA handling development has paid off and we beat Brain back to Turn 2. Lap 2 is different, Brian has been watching and knows were he can get by and for the next 7 laps we swap positions twice a lap. I realize the third place Porsche is catching us so I stay behind the Morgan for one lap so we can pull away a bit. With 3 laps to go I know its time to charge hard and get by Brian at Turn 7. We are starting to get into the back markers so timing is going to be key to stay ahead and for the final 3 laps we cut though traffic with very few problems. Last lap, last corner, Brains coming hard into 11 and I know he has the HP to beat me to the checker... 2 back markers get there at the same time, I go under the Alfa and Corvette at full lock up, brakes smoking tires squealing just at turn down and get through. The Corvette moves over behind me but guess who’s there.... Brian has to lift or get hit and his car loads up and I’m gone to the checker. My eyes welled with tears thinking of my Pop and wishing he could of seen the race, but honestly, I believe he had the best seat in the house.
MGA #41 - The Pile
PS - I really can’t take all the credit for one of my best drives in years. It takes two to make a race and Brian Howlett in his Morgan raced me and and raced me clean giving me the room to race him hard as well. After the race I rode my bike over to Brain to thank him and to congratulate him on his drive. As I walked up to him he had arms flying and his crew laughing and he turned and saw me. With open arms he gave me big hug and thanked me for the drive of his life and said I better be ready for Monterey.
As far as my best buddy Ed in his 31 MGA. Ed raced his way as far up to the 4th position when his left rear brakes locked up fully expanded. ( broken spring ) It helps to have friends in high places with a buddy of ours working the Black Flag Station. Smoke everywhere, Ed knew what had happened and kept his foot down
taking 2 laps for the smoke to clear. Pumping his brakes non-stop to get pedal he goes on the a P6 finish with zero pedal at the checker. Amazing drive buddy. Bill Kirkwood (Black Flag) was called on the radio to bring him. His response was, “ He looks good here and I know these guys.” Tower responds, “I bet you do Bill, I bet you do”. Bill drives an Elva Courier that I helped him find a few years back.
See you in Monterey!