Vintage Racing: Home of the Brave

September 4, 2014 Comments (2)

Several early Saturday mornings ago I was flipping TV channels between F1 practice and a rainy day’s ride at the Tour de France bicycle race.

Tour de France crash

Co-incidentally at virtually the same time on my TV an F1 car left the track at extremely high speed and hit the barrier wall head on at elevated speed. And several TdF riders went down on a muddy corner somewhere in France. The F1 driver walked away from an impact judged to measure 26 G’s of force which totally destroyed the car. He drove the next day. Two of the bicycle riders suffered broken collar bones, one had a broken arm and all were out of the biggest race of their year.

The following week I was in a modern shop that services vintage race cars. While Vintage racing organizations require the use of more safety equipment than was ever required in the day, it struck me that the cars themselves, as required, were as close to original as possible but most had better, safer tires and reliable engines, several had better brakes, and yet many were as unsafe today as they were originally. Shoulder harnesses are a big improvement over lap belts and helmets and fire suits hugely better, but roll bars appeared to be original and in images posted around the shop, some current drivers’ helmets exceeded them by 2 inches or more. Modern open wheel racing at the highest levels requires tethered wheels on single seaters, not here. Fuel cells are mandatory as are external electrical shut off switches. Very good. During practice three weeks ago at Virginia International Raceway a Porsche race car spun on oil at high speed and hit the tire barrier over a hundred yards away.

Spinning Corvette

Within seconds, a factory Corvette hit the same oil and, following the trajectory of the Porsche, crashed into it. The Corvette driver suffered a mild concussion and the Porsche driver had a broken arm. I shudder to think what would have happened had two vintage cars experienced the same crash. Changes to personal gear notwithstanding, the now faster and better handling 1940-50-60-70s race cars are easily as dangerous in a crash now as they were then.

Vintage racing was dangerous when it wasn’t vintage. At the front end of the grid the cars were prepared by professional race teams with proper equipment and were always in top condition. It would be a stretch to say that today’s vintage drivers, though unquestionably more experienced, could be as quick of hand or eye as they were 40 years ago.

MG-PA Special

Last weekend at Lime Rock, a vintage racer lost his life in an MG-PA Special. We love to watch those old cars race. And we all recognize that this isn’t tennis. Accidents will happen and people will be hurt. We also realize that cars must go through scrutineering before they are allowed on the track. We asked the question earlier in the year when a vintage “Penske” Camaro crashed at the Glen: Is it time for vintage racing governing bodies to take a closer look at the cars and the people who are racing to determine whether either or both are capable of handling the demands of their class of racing? After all, they are not alone out there.


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Comments (2)

  1. Greg Sarni:
    Sep 05, 2014 at 11:40 AM

    It is only proper to report the name of the deceased driver; Lee Duran. His death should not be merely stated in passing to back up a point about the degree of safety in Historic Racing. If he had been a younger, more famous participant, such as a former LMP team owner, I'm sure there would have been more respect shown.

  2. Peter Bourassa:
    Sep 13, 2014 at 10:55 PM

    Greg, let me begin by saying that no disrespect was intended. It could also be interpreted that the article showed not only respect but sensitivity. Mr.Duran, though an experienced racer, was none-the-less a 73 year old amateur driving a vintage car on a race track for his own pleasure. As good a driver as I have since learned he was, he certainly wasn't racing for fame or money. It was his untimely death that was "news", not his name. It would mean nothing to most audiences. Furthermore, I honestly felt that not publishing it would offer his family a measure of privacy in a difficult time.
    Also, I didn't use his name and age to bolster my argument for more stringent rules about who should vintage race and who shouldn't. I assure you that I have strong thoughts about 73 year old men on race tracks.
    Who determines that "it is only proper to mention the name of a deceased driver"? There is nothing in death on a race track that commands respect. Death generally signals a failure of the equipment, or driver judgement or the system that governs both on the track.
    In the case of the death of famous participants, let's not confuse "news" and "respect".Their names are published simply because their passing is of interest to their fans or the sport. In the article following the one you cite, the names of famous drivers who died at Monza are mentioned. These men, all of them, had a fan base that followed, respected and enjoyed them and what they accomplished. That was the respect for which they raced. Their deaths were "news" and their names were a part of it. No Newspaper was paying its respects.
    On a final note, had Mr.Duran and I been friends I would have certainly have written his family a note expressing sadness at his passing. Had he been famous, I still would have considered not publishing it in the MMR Newsletter in deference to his family.

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