David Soares down in Monterey
“I never bought a ride in my life.”
That’s what Tony Adamowicz told me as we stood in the back of the David Bull
Publishing tent in the Vendor Village at the 2005 edition of the Rolex Monterey
Historic Automobile Races watching Derek Bell, Vic Elford, Gijs van Lennep, and
Brian Redman autograph Bill Oursler’s new coffee-table tome “Porsche Prototype
Era” (this is not a plug; I gladly paid full-pop for my copy). The long line snaking its
way to the cash drawer never made its way to Tony A-to-Z and he didn’t seem to
mind. As we talked, the life achievement he was most proud of was raising his
son as a single parent. People probably didn’t recognize him because he looked
about 10 years younger than his contemporaries at the autograph table.
“I never bought a ride in my life,” seemed to best sum-up the 2005 edition of the
Historics. The cars and drivers I was most interested in didn’t race, with the
exception of Brian Redman, who made up for the others by racing three cars –
none of which he had driven in anger during his career. Even the Redman
connection was particularly dissonant to me seeing that Jim Hall’s Chaparrals
were the quasi-featured marque and Redman won some of his greatest
championships in Hall’s F5000 Chaparral Lolas.
Back, way back…. It's outta here !
When I first started attending the Monterey Historic Automobile Races twenty-odd
years ago, the event was sort of a social gathering for a group of people who had
managed to get a hold of cast-off racing cars. For the first 10 years of the event I
hadn’t been in the least interested although I had heard that there were some
neat displays. This wasn’t racing after all, it was just a bunch of hobbyists playing
around with discarded racing cars.
Then shameless mining of nostalgia took root in the auto industry. Steve Earle
has held a tight rein on the selection criteria in hopes of keeping his old-car party
real as the latest generation of big-money collectors have slowly but surely
bought-up much of the nostalgia that makes the event great. Earle can be seen
behind the curtain like the Great Oz, trying to keep the event from becoming
another Goodwood – some people take offense at that. The West Coast
Goodwood is across Laureles Grade (and Earle’s reputedly got a hand in that).
Real racers are more often than not hired-guns who didn’t buy their rides at
Barrett-Jackson or Bonham’s.
The History Channel
Watching the people plunking down their plastic while I stood in the shade with
the only living guy OTHER than Derek Bell to race both the Ferrari 512 AND the
Porsche 917 in F.I.A. championship events during the 1970-71 “Golden Age” of
prototypes made me wonder about all this nostalgia mining. Do the people
buying it really remember it? Tony A-to-Z had a heck of a lot better record than Bell
in the Ferrari (in 1971 a strong second at Daytona and a third at Le Mans behind
the more reliable Porsches). Tony looked wistfully at the pictures in J.J.
O’Malley’s Daytona book – the account of the race in which he and Ronnie
Bucknum almost beat Rodriguez and Oliver’s Gulf 917 featured a two-page
spread of Penske’s 512M. “I beat Penske’s car all day long, but that’s the one
everybody wants to remember.”
I suppose that’s the problem with Monterey nostalgia. Oursler’s book has
Elford’s and Redman’s 917’s on the cover entering Tertre Rouge during the 1970
race made famous by Steve McQueen. Never mind that both cars blew up and
that Adamowicz made an unclassified 10th place finish that beat them both and
involved a four o’clock push to the line from Maison Blanche that was far more
Hollywood than “Larry Wilson’s” run to the flag in the Solar production. We’re
buying New Beetle and “Let’s Motor” nostalgia.
Mr. Natural visits the past
I know that most readers by this point are dismissing me as another grumpy old
man, but bear with me. Stirling Moss was at the Historics for the Farewell Tour of
the “722” Mille Miglia 300 SLR. That was a hell of a neat win and I’ve had the
pleasure of watching Stirl slide the old girl down the Paso della Raticosa during
the Storico, but there’s a lot more history there that might not sell the R-Classe.
John Fitch was also hanging around, looking fit and healthy for a man of his age,
and I noted that D-B’s press materials touted the ’55 Mille, Tourist Trophy, and
Targa, but left out the incident with Fitch’s co-driver at Le Mans that year, despite
books out by Brock Yates, Eoin Young, and Christopher Hilton commemorating
the 50th anniversary of that event. This June there was a big flower display under
the new plaque at Le Mans where Fitch’s team-mate got squeezed into the crowd.
Fitch will never forget that day, and I’ll never forget Fitch every time I pass those
barrels of sand on the freeway.
I love cars, and I love racing, and I’m as nostalgic as the next 50-ish gent, but it
strikes me as odd when brands obsessed with Bernie-Karts and NASCAR
taxicabs drag up sportscar heritage for the marketing department. It was more
awesome to wonder what Aguri Suzuki and Juan Fangio II might have done with
their beautiful demonstration laps with the Toyota GT-One and the Eagle GTP if
there hadn’t been so much crap on the racing surface than to watch any of the
“races.” Quick Vic Elford clearly wanted to exercise the “Sucker Car” once they got
it running, but he wasn’t part of the “races.”
Stick a fork in it….
No, the Monterey Historics are about “bought” rides. They’re about a revisionist
nostalgia for things in movies and books. There was a professional race over in
Wisconsin this weekend and those guys will give us a real race at Laguna in
October. Hell, there were a couple of real professional races that nobody even
came to watch at Laguna in May.
I’ll keep coming back to the Historics, but the cars and drivers I came to see
weren’t racing. The Collier Museum slipped Porsche 550-01 (the car that welded
the name Carrera to Zuffenhausen) into the paddock along with Cunningham’s
“Le Monstre” and Bu-Merc; Toyota brought Suzuki in the TS020 GT-One and
Fangio in the Eagle Mark III; Daimler Benz brought Moss and Fitch to accompany
the 300 SL Le Mans winner and the Mille Miglia-winning 300 SLR; the Petroleum
Museum let loose the Chaparral 2C, D, E, F, G, and H along with Jim Hall, Phil
Hill, and Vic Elford.
Going the distance, going for speed…..
Tony Adamowicz was a Trans-Am champion, a F5000 champion, a Daytona and
Le Mans podium finisher in the days they still print books about, drove in the Can-
Am, in Ferraris, in Porsches, drove development for the IMSA Nissans in GTO and
GTP. He could have been as anonymous as me on the high-Saturday of the
Monterey Historics. I got the feeling that he really didn’t care about all the fuss. To
him the best thing about the weekend was that he might get a ride in an RX-8 with
Derek Bell later this year. Not “bought.” A professional ride. One that matters to