At what point do rock and roll songs become “classic rock?” Probably when evolving music genres demote them to “yesterday’s hits” status. Well, the same thing happens to racecars, and that is exactly what spawned vintage racing in the early 1970s as owners of outmoded road-circuit racers sought to continue enjoying them. This train has rolled along for over four decades now, with vintage racing becoming more popular and marketable in the process. But with a few exceptions, it’s mostly been a regional hobby.
Until recently. In 2012 Tony Parella, now President and CEO of Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA), saw an opportunity to unify and expand vintage racing. “My business plan had three components,” he explains. “First, build a national footprint; second, attract the best racers and meaningful sponsors; and third, someday become part of mainstream motorsports.” When Parella purchased SVRA it promoted five events at Sebring, Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio. By acquiring other regional organizations, SVRA has since expanded to 16 events in 11 states and grown from about 600 to 2,500 licensed members, making it possibly the world’s largest vintage-racing organization.
Homogenizing regional class rules was hugely important because this allows a car that’s spent its career in, for example, Florida to be eligible and competitive if the owner wants to race in Texas or Oregon. “Tires, weight, displacement and brakes – if you can get these right, it’s a good equalizer,” Parella says. Additionally, SVRA created an exclusive Gold Medallion standard, based on the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile’s (FIA, the sanctioning body for Formula One among others) rules, that certifies cars with strong history, strengthening their appeal and improving access to international events. So far, about 100 cars are so certified.
Art Miller has raced his historic Trans-Am Camaro in SVRA races at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Texas, at California’s Sonoma Raceway, and at Watkins Glen in New York. “My experience with SVRA has been very positive,” he says. “From registration and tech to the abundant track time, the weekends couldn't have gone any smoother. And at COTA, the Texas-size welcome party was also topnotch for vintage racing.”
Naturally, vintage racing costs money, but the weekend tally needn’t go completely over the top. “For a typical member, the base weekend race entry fee is $550, and a test day adds $200 or $300 more,” Parella explains. “Consumables include a set of tires, brakes and fuel, plus your lifestyle expenses such as hotel and meals for three or four days. It’s not inexpensive, but also not too radical; if you’re an everyday person with the aptitude, you can afford to go racing.”
SVRA has 12 race groups with dozens of classes within those groups. This accommodates cars ranging from prewar right up to models that are five years old. The catch is that cars must be race-prepared. “At minimum, they must have a fuel cell, proper safety harness, fire extinguisher and welded-in roll cage,” Parella explains. “You’re really dedicating your car to it.” But once you’ve got the car, whatever your driving background, you’ll likely fit in. “The barriers to entry are low, and we have everyone from 23-year-olds to grandpas racing,” Parella says. “We always encourage rookies to take the extra day of instruction so they can be ready to go.”
One unflinching priority is safety. Whereas professional race teams have human and financial resources capable of replacing blown engines and repairing crash damage, SVRA recognizes that’s a party no racecar owner wants to attend. “We treat competition like flag football,” Parella says. “Race as hard as you like, but no tackles.”
Sound interesting? For more information, go to www.svra.com.