A few days ago Facebook showed me the first time I went to a vintage racing weekend, it was 6 years ago and Dave didn’t come with me. To Dave’s defense, I was only going to hang out with my Traverse City family who was coming to the race track 25 minutes from my house in metro-Detroit. The plan was to hang out with family and then do dinner afterward… little did I know that vintage racing would turn into a series of summer adventures, a new found appreciation for a generous and loving community, and a little British car of our own!
Six years later I’m still heading to the track for family AND because Dave loves to work on the race car crew, but I also go because I enjoy the community that supports vintage racing.
Let me tell you a little about my family…
I started going to the race track to cheer on my uncle, Don Kelly, who drives the #9 Bugeye, a blue 1959 Austin Healey Sprite with US Marine colors that outline his #9 and Semper Fi logo.
While sitting under Don’s checker flag tent I’ve met Don’s childhood friends, his extended family, and his racing community.
Don seems to know everyone at the track, probably because Don’s dad raced the same car in the 70’s for a number of years, while Don’s mom helped with behind the scenes activities that keep racing weekends safe, sane, and mostly on time.
Family at the race track doesn’t just extend to who you know… the race track seems to take people and turn them into the most generous community I’ve ever seen.
Let me tell you a little about the racers…
Upon first glance race weekends, looks like a place retired guys drive vintage cars. While the racers aren’t all retired, there aren’t as many racers under the age of 60 and an even smaller number of women drivers or youngins under 40.
On second glance the guys who race bristle a little bit as they talk about their vintage car woes, they act tough as they detail their latest track speeds, including the racing conditions, the proximity of the nearest racers, and possibly the exact reason their engine was giving them some trouble.
Many of the drivers bring friends and family to the track so the non-racers round out the family aspect of the weekend with multiple generations represented and all of us dressed in shorts and t-shirts in an attempt to keep cool in the summer heat.
On to my story…
At Grattan Raceway, outside Grand Rapids, MI, on a HOT mid-August day I lazily watched a few races and took a few practice photos while I chatted with family and friends while the race crew was readying the #9 race car (and it’s driver #safetycheck) for the next series.
After taking pictures of the #9 lining up for the race, I ran around the infield (literally) to take pictures of my uncle’s race. The race track is around 2 miles and I noticed that my uncle didn’t come around part way through the 12 lap race. When the race ended I returned to the paddocks.
paddocks: A place where shooting the shit occurs, wrenched on happens, and fine tuning the race car could require a screw driver or a tire iron. It usually looks like a grassy area in the middle of the track where drivers set up tents to cover their race car so they can protect it during the weekend sun (or rain) and have a place to work on the car between races. It’s where the driver and crew park their modern cars, setup chairs, visit one another, and keep their coolers for water breaks and lunchtime cook outs. It’s a place where enthusiasts and those prone to wandering can enjoy the vintage race cars on display.
In the paddocks, the #9 car was being towed and then pushed into its tent. The first thing I noticed were the people from other tents helping push the #9 car into its place along with our driver, Don, and guys from our crew. As I put away my camera gear I heard that the issue had to do with a hole in the valve cover that is on top of the engine and it seemed to be a major issue… like this is the end of racing for the weekend type of an issue. Not a fun thought on Saturday afternoon with 4-5 races left in the weekend.
As the drivers nearby started climbing out of their hot fire protective suits, in 85*F temperatures, they grabbed a cold water and headed over to the tent to talk to Don to make sure he was physically OK and then asked about his car’s ailments.
At this point, I went up to the concessions stand because in truth I also drank a bunch of cold water that weekend and I had to pee. As I’ve learned from these HOT weekends (85*F+) guys sweat out all the water they drink and I do not… so off to the air conditioned bathrooms for me!
When I got back to the #9 race car tent I was taken aback because there were THREE different colored valve covers by the tent post and a bunch of guys huddled around the engine bay.
I later found out that word got around the paddocks that the #9 car blew a hole in its cover so Don’s fellow racers pulled out their extra parts for Don to use if he needed it. Those who experienced similar issues offered their advice, they offered parts, they offered to help, and a few jumped in and got their hands dirty working on the car.
Don’s competitors were helping make the car run and run well?!
Their reasoning said in my own words… They wanted Don to be able to race with them… the equivalent of “can Don come out to play?”
It surprised me and confused me as to why competitors would want to see their competition succeed and over the last several years I’ve heard the SAME ANSWER from DOZENS of these rough and tumble guys.
The overwhelming response from them has been this one… it’s more fun to race WITH someone.
I learned that day that to this group of people, racing isn’t about winning or losing… it’s about being part of a community.
This vintage racing community (VSCDA – Vintage Sports Car Drivers Association) is one who wants everyone to have a great time, to get home safely, and to be able to drive again at the next race. The racers LOVE to out race each other, they LOVE to be acknowledged for their racing, but at the end of the day, I think they would rather be part of THIS community experience than to race in leagues that mainly play for the win.
So what happened to the #9 that day? It was back up and running in the next race and Don raced VERY well, so well that he earned the durability award for the racing season, with many of the points accumulated in the racing following his car’s engine issue.
My encouragement for the day…
Look around and think about people who YOU want to play with. Find people to do life WITH!
Start today by messaging a friend with encouragement (hey I’m thinking of you and I hope you’re doing well today!) or putting out the word of an impromptu gathering in your backyard (bring your own chair, snacks, and beverages!).
Life is best lived and appreciated when we do it together.
Don’t wait until adventure finds you… start your journey to finding your crew and your community right now!
P.S. All the above stories are my own observations and opinions… I hope the people I’ve described understand my support and appreciation for the community they have created.
P.P.S. Be sure to check out my husband Dave’s experiences here!