Trans-Am on the Corkscrew, like C-4 on your birthday cake

Trans Am Racers

Poet and playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” He would have loved the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. 

The annual celebration of vintage race cars is held at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca during Monterey Car Week, just a 10-mile trek from downtown Monterey. Racers compete in practice heats Thursday through Friday, culminating in a feature race on Saturday or Sunday depending on their designated class. The event is eclectic with a capital “E,” everything from open-wheel Formula Fords to retired IMSA prototypes racing from sunrise to sunset.

Sure, each class is special in its own way. The 500-plus cars competing were, after all, selected from over 1000  race entry applications. One class, however, stands out. 

1967 Chevrolet Camaro driven by Tony Hart
Cameron Neveu
1967 Chevrolet Camaro driven by Tony Hart

Vintage Trans-Am racecars (from 1966 to 1972) are a perennial competitors at the Rolex Reunion. The marriage between the cars and the track is kismet. During the early years of the series, Laguna Seca was one of the stops of the Trans-Am championship tour, appearing on the season schedule only four years after series inception. If drivers like Sam Posey or Parnelli Jones wanted to win the Trans-Am Championship, they needed to perform well at the Central Coast race track.

1970 Ford Mustang driven by Daniel Lipetz
Cameron Neveu
1970 Ford Mustang driven by Daniel Lipetz

Since then, Trans-Am and the muscle cars that put the series on the map have evolved, causing people to refer to this bygone era as the “glory years.” That brings us to today. I’m at the 2019 Reunion, down at the bottom of Laguna Seca’s iconic Corkscrew section, soaking in all of that glory. 

1968 Chevrolet Camaro driven by John Linfesty
Cameron Neveu
1968 Chevrolet Camaro driven by John Linfesty

I hear them before I see them. American V-8s blaring through open exhaust. Rapid downshifts, and maybe an errant set of screeching tires, as the competitors approach a sharp left-hander and the crest of the track’s highest point. This is Laguna Seca’s turn 8. Making the sharp left, they are level with the world for just a moment. As the drivers turn right into turn 9, the bottom falls out and they’re careening down a several-story drop. 18% at its steepest point. A thundering herd of Camaro Z/28s, Boss 302 Mustangs, Challengers, Javelins, Falcons, and even a precarious 1964 Pontiac Tempest shake the ground as they streak by. Race fuel hangs heavy in the air. 

1968 Chevrolet Camaro driven by John Linfesty
Cameron Neveu
1968 Chevrolet Camaro driven by John Linfesty

I have goosebumps, ringing ears, and now watering eyes—these are good symptoms. I’m reminded of another Wilde quote as the field of Trans-Am muscle rumbles away. “To live is the rarest thing in the world.”