Pittsburg Vintage Grand Prix

16 July 2007

The great week continues. We towed through the center of Pittsburg to get to Schenley Park, a very pretty park in the Oakland/Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburg. Beautiful homes, quiet streets–hard to believe they can run a race here. We got to the paddock and were directed to an ideal spot, where we could park the trailer on the grass in the shade of some huge trees and paddock Peyote on the street right in front.

Great paddock spot

Sam is always willing to help with lunch. Never trust a dog to guard your sandwich. Diane no longer signs on to the waivers as “Crew”. She pencils in “Personal Chef”.

We spotted this somewhere on our ride. Glad to see they’re keeping the Ho’s busy.

We set everything up early. We heard the paddock really fills up. Some folks say not to get there early because there’s no security on Thursday night and it’s a “bad” neighborhood. Actually, the neighborhood is fine, what they really mean is that there are hordes of gay guys that use the cul-de-sac that becomes the paddock as a spot to get together. Yes, “get together” is a euphemism–there were funny white ballons everywhere on the paths in the woods.

Other participants told me the gay guys get pretty testy that we’re in their spot. I figured we could survive that. Diane said, “should we be concerned about a drive-by slapping?”

One of our neighbors recommended a local restaurant on Murray street called “Ma Provence”. Turned out to be a spectacular little bistro. We had one of the best meals of the trip. Murray Street is interesting–lots of delis and little grocery stores and shops. It’s a Jewish neighborhood with a surprising number of orthodox and Hasidic Jews walking around. Turns out there’s a Yeshiva school nearby. I grew up near Brookline, Massachusetts and a lot of my friends were Jewish, but you rarely see an orthodox Jew in Brookline–my friends were about as Jewish as I am, except for ethnicity and moms that cooked wonderful food and were on their case constantly.

Yes, that’s a hydrant next to that rock wall just past the jersey barriers

The PVGP is pretty much a week-long deal. We went to a very nice car show on Tuesday on Walnut street and the black-tie thing I already wrote about. Nice people everywhere, but the nicest is a guy named Danny Yanda. Never saw him without a big smile on his face, and he was constantly dropping whatever he was doing to help us out. He walked halfway across the golf course to show me where to get a free beer, shepherded us around the car show, showed us places to eat, introduced us to everyone. Just an amazing guy.

Friday night there was a wonderful driver’s event at the conservatory, an amazing place on its own, but it was full of Dale Chihuly glass that was there for a special garden installation. Absolutely spectacular. At the walnut street event, Danny had introduced us to Steve Weber, the media director for the event and got him to give me one of his fine cigars (I had asked where I could buy one). Steve was at the event with Dutch Mandel the editor of Autoweek, and we wound up back at Nero smoking my Pinar cigars, drinking some Professional Small Boy brandy, and talking to the wee hours.

What was I thinking? I woke up at 7:00 feeling pretty frickin’ fragile and had to go out and drive this spooky circuit. Twenty-two turns, innumerable elevation changes, stone walls, curbs, bridges, hydrants, hay bales, slippery stripes, manhole covers, a hugely crowned, variable surface–and that’s the fun part. During the race on Sunday while we were behind the pace car a deer stood in the street and stared at us. On two occasions chipmunks ran in front of me. Nice.

You are aware of the walls and innumerable other hazards every second that you are on the track. They call it a five-tenths race, but it’s not really. You’re driving ten-tenths, but half of your concentration is taken up by the little guy in your head screaming “holy shit!!!”

It’s hard to drive well when the little guy in your head won’t stop screaming

I never took anything that I considered to be a line around any corner. I was constantly mistaking the fast corners for the slow ones (which, given the large penalty for error here was a lot better than the other way around). I assumed my times would suck out loud, but Peyote came through as usual and I qualified fourth in the sports racer/formula car class. I was certain that there was an error, there was some pretty hot iron there, including a Cooper Formula One car with a very zesty 2.5-liter motor. I turned a 2:25 something, which everyone said was pretty good. The competition ahead was a very, very fast Elva MKIV, the F1 Cooper, and Lotus 19. All were driven by guys with lots of experience at the PVGP track. Behind me was a horde of fast sports racers and open-wheel cars, mostly Loti with a smattering of Elvas.

Before the race on Sunday, I had long talks with myself: “you have ten events to go, no reason to push it here, it’s too dangerous. You’ll smash up your car and the tour will be over. Don’t even try to hold onto fourth, just cruise. There’s a bunch of people here with fast cars who know this track, no way you’ll hold position”. I also told that to everyone that would listen–setting low expectations I guess. Either that or I was really talking to myself.

Burt Levy came by my paddock and gave me a lecture that repeated the litany in my head. I was well prepared to be rational.

Then the green flag dropped and I tried my best to shove my way into first before the hay bale chicane. Almost made it too, but the Formula One car was too quick. My resolve to be rational was pretty much a lightweight memory. The Elva got by me and started working on the F1 car. I figured he’d get him eventually since he turned 2:16 in qualifying, which is close to record time I understand. But in the meantime, the battle was slowing both of them, so I worked on trying to slide by both of them while they scrapped. I think the Elva got by the F1 car in the second lap and started pulling away. I was working on the F1 car too, but he was so fast when he was pointed in the right direction that it was difficult. In the meantime, I had a Lotus 18 (I think) working on my tail. I finally got past the F1 car at the entrance to the Serpentine and thought I could stretch a lead down those tight turns, but he came roaring back and blew past in the straight after turn 1. With the F1 in front, I couldn’t get away from the Lotus where I was faster, so he started chewing me up and eventually passed me. A lap later the F 1 car retired but my tires were so toasted I couldn’t haul in the Lotus.

With second place out of reach, and no one in my mirrors even in the longest straight, I decided to slack a little and be certain the car would survive. Especially since my tires were like gum. As I passed start/finish they held out a noose, which is their signal for the last lap. So I cruised to a relaxed third.

They had an award ceremony after each race–bottles of Crown Royal for first through third and a really cool looking trophy in each group for a competitor that showed the best vintage spirit. or traveled the longest distance or something like that. Always a good idea in vintage racing to keep people from racing for trophies. They had a hay bale podium set up, pictures, interviews, and all that. It was fun. Diane didn’t know it was going on so there aren’t any pictures. Somehow they didn’t wave in the Lotus so they thought I was second. I kept saying “no, I’m third, the Lotus was second” but in the confusion, they gave the second place winner’s bottle of Crown Royal to the guy they were giving the special award, who was a guy circulating in the back of the pack in a noisy special that was actually uglier than Peyote. The second-place guy walked back from the paddock. I don’t know if they ever fixed the snafu.

I was pretty happy with third. I turned a 2.22.227. Pretty interesting time since Peyote’s traditional number is 222. I think the car is trying to tell me something. Like maybe it’s all the car.

Bill to Peyote: I already know that.

Here’s a bunch of pictures. Great event.

Here’s something you rarely see at the average vintage race: A crowd. The park was packed and it’s huge.

This is the special that won the “vintage spirit” award. Nice guy, I enjoyed talking to him. We determined that his car is indeed, actually homelier than Peyote.

All the car clubs turn out, there were a lot of pretty street cars.

That green and red monster up front of the grid is the F1 car–lots of motor, probably too much for this track.

When in Rome. This place just called for some nice champagne.

“Winner Winner Chicken Dinner”. I don’t really know what that means.

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