Monday, June 7, 2010

The Bigger ... And Better 2010 Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival

John Morton driving 1958 Scarab SR. On Sunday Morton drove the beautiful 1958 Scarab SR that John saw Lance Reventlow and Chuck Day race that year and is now entered by Miles C. Collier for John to drive. Image Credit Mike Finnegan (2010)

The Bigger ... And Better 2010 Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival

California’s serene Sonoma Valley, typically reserved for sip-and-savor winery tours, came alive this weekend with the roar of vintage race cars. On Friday, the 375 entries officially registered and then practiced and prepared for this weekend’s racing at Infineon Raceway, to the delight of connoisseurs of everything sophisticated and fine.

“We have hosted an historic event in the wine country for 24 years,” said Steve Earle of General Racing, which organizes the historic races, “but this is a new event. It’s bigger and better.”

Bigger means an increase in number of cars by more than 30%, which in and of itself took the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival to a whole new level, adding more color, more excitement as 13 competition groups--identified by era dating from pre-World War I to the 1990s--took to the Infineon Raceway’s 2.52 mile winding, hillside road course.

Gooding & Company's display of the Talbot- Lago T-26 Racing Monoplace which is scheduled to be auctioned to the highest bidder this August at Pebble Beach. Image Ccredit Mike Finnegan (2010)

In addition to watching the cars in motion and getting up-close-and-personal with drivers and their cars in the paddock area, spectators were able to enjoy a rare opportunity to preview three extraordinary cars delivered by the event’s hospitality sponsor Gooding & Company, the internationally celebrated automotive auction house. The cars--a winning 1956 Maserati 200 SI raced by Sir Stirling Moss; an award-winning 1951 Ferrari 340 America from the estate of devoted enthusiast Mr. Gil Nickel; and a stunning 1949 Talbot-Lago T-26 Racing Monoplace that won the 1950 Paris Grand Prix-- will be auctioned at Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach Auctions in August.

John Morton stands beside a British Rootes Group built 1964 Sunbeam Tiger. Image Credit: Mike Finnegan (2010)

A Gentleman and a Driver

Though the cars are the stars, on many occasions a star arrives in the form of a driver. One such driver at this year’s Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival is John Morton from El Segundo, Calif. Morton’s love for motorsports began as a teen when he and his father attended his first road race at Road America in 1957. His impression from that weekend was such that he resolved to race cars one day. In 1963, he purchased a Lotus Super 7, followed by a Lotus 23SR the following year. He went on to join Peter Brock’s Datsun team, which won the Trans-Am 2.5 liter Championship in 1971 and 1972. His early success in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) racing led to impressive drives in Formula 5000, Can-Am and IMSA GTP, and after nine attempts at Le Mans, John snagged victory in 1994.

“I have a real affection for the history of racing and at these vintage races,”
said Morton when asked what it’s like to get into these old cars after having such a distinguished professional career in motor sports. “I get to participate in history.“

Over the course of this last weekend, he was one busy guy racing not one but three vintage race cars in three different race groups. On Saturday June 5th he drove the 1964 Lotus 23SR now owned by Tom Griffiths. This is the very car John bought in 1964 and raced in SCCA until 1968. On Sunday he drove the beautiful 1958 Scarab SR [pictured at top of post] that John saw Lance Reventlow and Chuck Day race that year and is now entered by Miles C. Collier for John to drive. He then rushed to the next race group to drive the 1964 Sunbeam Tiger entered by Buck Trippel.

Buck Trippel's Tiger on the Grid at Infineon Raceway. Image Credit: Dicken Wear (2010)

John Morton all belted in before start of one of the many races held during the at the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival. Image Credit: Dicken Wear (2010)

“Racing here at Infineon Raceway with General Racing is always one of our favorite events of the year,” said Morton. “It’s a fun event and always so well organized. I think Infineon Raceway is the most demanding race course in the country. I don’t see how those NASCAR guys can drive on a hot day that long on this track. This is the toughest track for driver fatigue; you are always busy, and there is just no rest.”

Dick DeLuna driving the 1917 Hall-Scott up and down the hillside at Infinion Raceway. Like a fine wine that needs to be aged, the 1917 Hall-Scott was finished in 1999 and took 82 plus years to come of age. Image Credit: Randy Jones (2010)

The Car that Never Was

Sometimes great concepts are conceived but not completed for decades, like Dick DeLuna’s 1917 Hall-Scott, for example. In 1917, a certain Colonel Hall planned to build his Hall-Scott racer for that year’s Vanderbilt Cup Race, but because the United States entered World War I that same year, the factory had to turn all its efforts to building engines for military bi-planes, thus the car was never built.

“This car was created based on original plans and drawings that we were able to get hold of,” said DeLuna, adding that it is based on a 1917 REO frame with an inner frame that drops the engine down so the driver can see. “All the running gear is 1917 REO with a 1 to 1 ratio rear end. With a 125 horsepower engine at 1200 rpm and a three-speed transmission we have had this car up to 89 mph. It has a steel frame and all-aluminum body. The brakes are only at the rear with the emergency brake on the drive shaft, which aids in stopping.”

When asked how his Hall-Scott handled the turns at Infineon Raceway, DeLuna said, “It’s a bit like driving a big truck out there, so when I come in my shoulders hurt. Also, because it operates at such a low rpm it’s hard to hear, and if you don’t watch your rpm gauge and speedometer, it can easily get away from you. It takes a lot to turn this car and after five or six laps the brakes start to go away, so you have to start using the emergency brakes. It’s a real fun car; I have taken it to the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England, and it was a real crowd-pleaser there.”

“I think the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival is great,” said DeLuna. “Steve (Earle) does a fantastic job and will turn the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival into one of the premier events of its type in the country.”

California’s serene Sonoma Valley, typically reserved for sip-and-savor winery tours, really did came alive this weekend with the roar of vintage race cars - It was bigger, better, and it was grand.

... notes from The EDJE

(ht: post content excerpted and edited from a General Racing, Ltd. press release issued by MediaProNewport

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