Flat out and full bore with the SVRA at Road America
The trouble with the golden age of racing is that many of us missed it. In that period, roughly from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, motorsports technology sprang forward less shackled by rules than it is today, in the process creating some dreamy machines that wrote amazing history. Shelby Mustangs rubbed elbows with Camaros, Can-Am cars laid siege to lap records, and Ford wrested Le Mans glory from Ferrari.
Many racers from that era still exist and can be viewed in museums, but it’s hard to replicate fury and romance in a static display. The most thrilling way to travel back to that golden time is to attend a vintage race, such as those organized by the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA).
The SVRA runs 12 events a year across the country, each the pointy end of automotive passion, where owners not only display their historic machines but also run them flat out on a track. You’ll hear, feel, and smell them thunder by a few feet from your face. And as we learned in May when we attended the Spring Vintage Festival at Wisconsin’s Road America, you’ll meet a bunch of interesting Hagerty members and folks who are just like the rest of us—people scratching their automotive itch and happy to share their cars and stories.
Here, we’ve featured four of them and hope their tales inspire you to attend the nearest event. You won’t be bored.
William Dreary, Hagerty member since 2006
1966 Shelby Mustang GT350
Deary’s passion for all things Shelby took root some 44 years ago when he was 17 and in love with a neighbor’s 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500 convertible. “It was beautiful,” Deary remembers, “so loud and cool.” Over the ensuing decades, Deary collected Shelby memorabilia and got his first Shelby car in 2006 when his wife and daughter surprised him with a ’68 GT500KR convertible, his gateway drug. Deary went all-in then, acquiring two dozen Shelby cars and building the Carroll Collection in Jackson, Michigan. His admiration for Shelby and the men behind the legend—Bernie Kretzschmar, Chuck Cantwell, Ted Sutton, and most especially Peter Brock—led him to the track, where he only recently started racing his ’66 GT350. “Racing is the most intense thing I have ever done in my life,” he says, and this from a man who, with his wife, built a health-care company of 9000 employees.
Eileen Wetzel, Hagerty member since 2009
1966 Austin-Healey 3000
“My kids just shake their heads,” says Eileen Wetzel when asked about her new hobby of car racing. Their confusion is understandable because, until 2016, Wetzel had never driven over 100 mph. Her husband, Gary, bought an Austin-Healey 3000 in 2010, awakening Wetzel’s previously latent interest in racing. She was also inspired by the late Sue Joppa, another female Healey driver. The Wetzels started with autocross events hosted by the Healey club, and then, in 2016, they came across another 3000 already prepped for racing. That year, Wetzel enrolled in the Bondurant Racing School. She was 56. Her instructor was 22. The magic happened, and now she’s the driver and her husband is the mechanic. “I love the personal challenge,” Wetzel says when asked why she races. “When I’m on the track, I don’t think of anything else.”
1992 Riley & Scott Mustang
Bud Bennett is a self-described horsepower addict, which is why he drives one of the speediest cars on the track, a big-money pro racer built for the 1992 Trans-Am season. The Riley & Scott steel-tube chassis is sheathed in a Mustang body and packs a roaring 5.8-liter V-8 that makes about 800 horsepower, Bennett says. It would be an intimidating ride for an amateur, but Bennett has five decades of racing experience. He’s a pro. In 1988, he founded RM Motorsports in Wixom, Michigan, to maintain and prep vintage race cars for others, and the business, now run by his sons, Craig and Kirt, is home to about 50 cars. At 74, Bennett has no intention of retiring. He grew up on a Michigan farm and has burned gas in everything from snowmobiles to go-karts to stock cars. “Racing is a part of me,” he says, “and always will be.”
John Boxhorn, Hagerty member since 2006
1969 Lola T163
Pawn shops are not typically the place to find English race cars, but Wisconsinite John Boxhorn found this forlorn Lola T163 in just such a place in 2014. Built for the Can-Am series, which had a thin rulebook and was dominated by British designs that married a knowledge of chassis dynamics with America’s cheap and powerful V-8s, the Lola was among the fastest cars of the late 1960s. A T163 finished third in the 1969 Can-Am championship, behind the McLarens that walked the field. Boxhorn, a retired business owner and mechanical engineer, bought the car and restored it himself. Basically an 810-hp Chevy V-8 mounted to a skateboard, the car is “exhilarating,” Boxhorn says. After feeling the pressure pulse from the Lola blasting down the straight at more than 180 mph, we think it might even verge on terrifying.