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Watkins Glen Historic Zippo Historic Festival

September  6-7 2008

Having made the big move to the US in August it was only a month before I ventured some 70 or so miles south of Rochester to the glorious wine country along Seneca Lake. this beautiful area is the home of historic Watkins Glen in upstate New York.  There were several reasons for the trip apart from suffering withdrawal symptoms – moving countries had meant that I had missed both the Silverstone Classic and Oulton Park Gold Cup.

First I planned to meet up with the Formula Junior brigade, who were on the last leg of the North American leg of the “World Tour”.  Then I also hoped to meet up with the crew led by Lee Chapman who runs both Rick Carlino and Hamish Somerville.

Finally, I was looking forward to meeting Seb Coppola who is the F5000 guru in the States and has been leading the 40th anniversary celebrations over this season.  Once again, this was their swansong for 2008 having had hugely successful races at Infineon and Road America before landing up at the Glen.

The drive down from Rochester was pretty painless and the passes generously provided by Seb were soon sorted allowing me park up beside the F5000 tent.  The first thing to be seen was the recently restored Boraxo Lola 332 that was Brian Redman’s mount for the 1976 season.  Scattered about were many more F5000 cars and various drivers – both current and from “the day”.  It was interesting to see quite a few more early cars than we are used to in the UK although they were of course supplemented by the usual later Lola models – 332 and 400 – and McRae.

Seb had laid on an autographing session with period drivers including Brian Redman and Tony Adamowicz and a long queue soon grew to greet these speedy men.

Over at the Junior camp I came across the world leader Duncan Rabagliati who was sadly without a drive due to mechanical gremlins.  Chris and Angie Drake looked very rested and tanned after a break in Lake Tahoe and my old Elva 300 was going very well.  It now has a fancy Richardson engine and a 5-speed box to help Chris but of course still runs the infamous 15” wheels from period.

Then on to Lee Chapman and his merry band of men.  Hamish was running his Brabham BT37 (recovered after Monaco) and Lola T400.  Rick Carlino has his March 811 – the ex-Daly Guinness car – and GRD 2-liter sports racer.  The GRD is of course the natural ancestor of the Scalpel TOJ SSO2 currently resting in Frank Lyons care.

At that point Ron Maydon arrived for coffee.  Ron (Bernie as he is sometimes unkindly called) Maydon is of course the Masters Series supremo and was over seeing what all the fuss was about.  Together we wandered about setting the world right and trying to assess the differences between historic racing on the two sides of the Atlantic.

Some things are the same – the cars cover a range of models and budgets as expected, driving standards vary and people still wander around chatting as in the UK.  Some things are very different.  For example there is a much looser attitude to car specifications – basically you can run what you like to some extent although people do know what cars are period correct and which one have been “developed” a little.

Also very different was the relaxed attitude that was evident everywhere.  Once inside the track we could wander anywhere – in and out of grandstands, into the pits or anywhere in the paddock for example.  Before long we were offered the chance to be shown the track from the passenger seats of the pace truck leading the rolling starts.  That was certainly an experience giving both of us our first experience of what is a tricky and truly impressive track.

The Glen certainly has as much elevation change as anywhere I have seen and in some ways reminds me of Dijon, Oulton Park and Phillip Island all together.  It is fast and actually quite dangerous with lots of Armco barriers very close indeed.  If I had to guess I would think much of the track is unchanged from the sad days in 1973 when Francois Cevert was lost.

More was to come though!  Ron and I were astounded to be offered the chance to get out there on our own!  Lee, Rick and Hamish decided that the Sunday morning “Hardship Warm-up” was the ideal chance to have a go!  So it was that we got kitted up and off we went – Ron in the BT37 and me in the GRD.  And what a track!!  It takes a lot of technique and not a little nerve to get serious with the track so we didn’t push things too much.

Safely returned to the pits Ron headed back to the UK and Rick and Lee suggested I might like to do the race itself!  What men eh!

The race was a mixed group with Sports 2000 cars, 2-liter racers and some thundering Can Am monsters.  I took it pretty handy I can assure you especially as then engine was a little troublesome – fuel problems I would guess – and was delighted to make it back having started to learn the track.

So, there we have it.  A huge debt of thanks to Lee and especially Rick for their generosity.  The favor will be returned I can guarantee it as soon as the US part of the Ecurie Scalpel stable is established.  Thanks also to Lee’s men for allowing a rank stranger out in one of their charges.  Finally, thanks again to Seb and the F5000 guys for their kindness.  I cannot wait for 2009.

In the meantime, it is waiting for news of Michael Lyons, the Lotus 20B and the Goodwood Revival – the first one I have missed since 2000.


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