MMR Blog

Vintage Racing: Home of the Brave

Posted on 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.