Carolina Concours: Ghosts, race cars, and the Pinehurst challenge coin

Successful concours develop a character all their own. The Pinehurst (N.C.) Concours d’Elegance, now in its fifth year, distinguishes itself by embracing causes, appreciating local culture, and melding golf, the military, auto racing, and the love of great cars.

Each May, Pinehurst supports the USO and honors soldiers from nearby Fort Bragg. Judges mimic a military tradition by passing a Pinehurst challenge coin to owners at the conclusion of car inspection. Military units have unique coins, which are passed by handshake to recognize achievement and as a sign of honor. Failure to produce the coin when challenged leaves the serviceman responsible for the next round of drinks.

Soldiers occupy the passenger seat on Friday’s Iron Mike rally. They are recognized at a Friday night dinner, one that this year featured Formula One commentator and author Steve Matchett. Matchett was a mechanic on the Benetton team during Michael Shumacher’s first two championships and entertained with insights into the driver’s brilliance.

All else takes place on Saturday. An early morning fun run is followed by the main event, the Concours d’Elegance on the upper field, and a juried Car Club Showcase on an adjacent lower fairway. Previous Best of Show winners are encouraged to return and given an elevated spot on the field. The day ends with a rock concert on a massive mainstage surrounded by lawn chairs and visible from nearly every location on the show field. Country rocker Sara Evans starred this time around.

Rain struck early on Saturday. A few ran for cover, and judges armed with umbrellas and entrants with a seemingly endless supply of towels accomplished their tasks with a few less spectators than usual. By the afternoon the sun and crowds had returned. Present were 125 Concours cars and approximately 180 club cars, the latter group dominated by Ferraris, Porsches, and Corvettes.

Special concours classes featured Packards, Japanese classics, and four-cam Porsches. Though five 1963 split windows were entered, the Best in Class Corvette was the stunning Ermine White 1967 427 Corvette convertible owned by Rick Benitez.

The ever-popular modern supercar class included such rarities as the McLaren P1, La Ferrari, and Ferrari FXX. Best in class was the bespoke Volcano Orange McLaren MSO HS of Mark and Tara Rein. Only 25 were built.

The Pinehurst Resort is a short drive from the greater Charlotte area, home to most NASCAR teams, several IMSA teams, and America’s only Formula One effort. It seems only fitting that the racecar classes should be given the position of honor on the elevated first tee. The mounts of such legends as Revson, Rodriguez, Petty, Yenko, and Martin were displayed.

The Best in Class early racecar was the 1965 Brawner Hawk which Mario Andretti piloted to third place in his rookie Indy 500. Owner Ray Evernham had located the preserved body and several suspension pieces and was able to reunite them with the original chassis which had ended its career as a super modified in Oswego, N.Y. Hall of Fame Crew Chief Jim McGee supervised the restoration. He had been a mechanic on the original Brawner team.

Bill Rhine’s restoration of Dale Earnhardt’s 1981 NASCAR Pontiac was judged best modern racecar. It sported the blue and yellow Wrangler livery and the unfamiliar No. 2. Rhine was surprised. “Stock cars never win these things; people see NASCAR cars everywhere and seem more excited by Can Am, sports, or Indy Cars.”

A notable Pinehurst Award winner was Rob and Leah Adams’ 1956 Arnott, one of Britain’s earliest composite racecars and perhaps the only racecar manufactured by a woman. The Arnott retains its original FWA (FW=feather weight) Coventry Climax 1100-cc engine, complete with the Godiva image imbedded in the valve cover celebrating the Lady’s au naturel ride through the medieval town of Coventry.

Best in Class among Unique and Limited Production automobiles went to Tom Zarrella’s 1951 Hudson Hornet. It featured the livery of NASCAR champion Herb Thomas, but most young people identified it as “Doc” from the movie Cars. Keith Canouses’ 1912 Indy Car replica received a Pinehurst award. Despite an exposed chain drive, the massive four-cylinder, 600-cid engine racecar was immaculate. His secret: “chain wax.”

Guy Lewis brought his tan 1925 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost to Pinehurst in a 24-foot trailer. The Piccadilly roadster was one of two Springfields purchased by Howard Hughes on the same day. The showroom model with right-hand drive was sent to Hollywood and given to actress Gloria Swanson. Hughes had the second one prepared for himself with a chopped windscreen, custom luggage, and an extensive tool roll. Lewis was displaying a Silver Cloud at an AACA meet and learned about the car when he was approached by its owner. Purchase and an 18-month restoration followed, allowing its 2017 debut. Lewis admitted some anxiety when he saw the other European prewar classics and then the class winners that would contend for overall honors. Obviously, he had nothing to worry about, winning his first-ever Best in Show.