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Classic Velocity Blog

The Return of RoadRacing

Classic Velocity

When I ascend to the throne of all things motorsport, roadracing will return in force. It is the beginnings and the roots of all racing, and I would submit that it is still the best form of it. It is said that the first race took place right after the second bike/car came into existience. The earliest races were a natural outgrowth of two guys (in those days, it was guys) wanting to see whose combination of skills and machine was the better. The natural venue were the local roads.

The first race was the 1894 Paris-Rouen, while the first acknowledged organized competitive series was probably the Gordon Bennett Cup in Europe beginning in 1900. Ironically, the founder was an American publisher of the New York Herald, J Gordon Bennett. The races took place between cities in France, and Germany among other places. Entirely on public roads, even though roads were probably a generous word such as they were in 1900. I once lived not too far from Vanderbilt Parkway on Long Island which was thought to be the site of the first organized race for cars in America, the Vanderbilt Cup in 1904. This too was on the public (mostly dirt) roads of Nassau county. In both cases, spectators lined the routes and even helped the competitors if needed, becoming active participants in the event. The cars were only slightly modified from stock, and there was a direct link between winning on Sunday and selling on Monday. Even when circuits such as the Milwaukee Mile in 1903, Brooklands in 1907, and Indianapolis in 1909, began to appear, road races were a real world proving ground. Road Races were as much a test of reliability as they were of outright speed early on, giving them real world applicability.

 Many of the most famous racetracks were simply public roads with a grandstand tacked on. Watkins Glen, Reims, Le Mans, Spa, etc, were (and are) great venues because they added a few hay bales and some bleacher seats to a route through towns and villages. Famous pictures show competitors such as Jimmie Guthrie or Nuvolari flying past the butcher shop or the post office, or bemused shepherds. Today’s street circuits such as Monaco, Montreal, and the remainder of those in use by Formula 1, CART/IRL, ALMS, and Grand-Am, are exciting in large measure because they drive down streets that you were on a few days earlier, and you can tryout the braking points on your way to the theatre the next weekend.

Of course, some of the street courses still persist today for racing. My favorite race of all is probably the Isle of Man TT, which may be one of the last races on earth where you are in danger of crashing into a bar on every lap ! This is real, raw, road racing, and I’m delighted and surprised that it still exists. Bring your pair of extra large cojones. Along the same lines are the Targa Newfoundland, and the Targa Tasmania. No safety runoff areas here !! Every country should have one of these. Which brings us to the WRC routes. These are sometimes paved public roads, and sometimes unpaved public roads, driven at astonishing speeds with trees and bridge abutments to avoid. Lastly, but by no means least is the Dakar rally. The word road is used in its’ broadest sense here, but these are public routes in remote places with all of their dangerous glory.

Vintage racing and rallies are of course keepers of the flame. The Targa Florio, Mille Miglia, California Miglia, Carrera Panamericana, etc allow those of sufficient means who are partial to older iron, to run around storied streets with the very cars that once did so in full anger. The people still turn out to cheer them on.

Every country should have a Targa and a TT. Every US state should have a street race through one of its’ cities or towns. Everyone who wants to drive their old or new car in a spirited manner along public roads should have an opportunity to do so within a few hours driving a couple of times per year. Think of the kids we could save because they get their “fix”, think of the revenue, think of the local heroes who may go on to greater things, think of the fun. What say you ?