Gallery: First-ever American Speed Festival brings vintage metal to the Motor City

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Cameron Neveu

Dear Detroit: For years, you were short-changed. Daytona, Laguna Seca, Indianapolis, Goodwood–if anyone wanted to witness a proper exhibition of vintage auto racing, these locations reigned supreme. Up until last weekend, the Motor City was noticeably absent from the list of blockbuster gatherings of vintage metal. Ironic, considering many of the vehicles on exhibition at these affairs were born on Big Three drafting tables, and without the green capillaries extending from Southeast Michigan to Northeast Florida, Southern Cal, Indy or the United Kingdom, many of these race cars would simply not exist.

No longer. Thanks to the crew at M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan (a stone’s throw from downtown Detroit), the Motor City is now a player on the vintage-racing calendar. Last weekend, M1 hosted its inaugural American Speed Festival and invited a world-class roster of vintage race cars. Over 100 entries representing 120 years of racing lined the paddock and took turns attacking the twisty, 1.5-mile Champion Motor Speedway over three days.

The scene was quality over quantity, as the field—featuring plenty of retired endurance racing sports cars, Can-Am winged wonders, Indianapolis roadsters, and NASCAR stockers—could easily go toe-to-toe with the upper crust present at the Monterey Historics or at Road America’s Hawk. Notwithstanding the first-rate race cars, the atmosphere was jovial and grassroots, and from our perspective in the paddock we witnessed the usual high level of camaraderie prevalent at vintage gatherings. Headlining the rich mixture, a fleet of four Chaparral race cars developed by go-fast Texan Jim Hall. Three of Hall’s iconic white “2s” tore up the raceway, two sessions per day, in a scene that could only be duplicated with slot cars or Gran Turismo.

M1’s narrow track, despite the road-course layout, is more similar to Lord March’s driveway than to Laguna Seca. Sure, a long straightaway or two would give some of the burlier rides an opportunity to stretch their legs, but that would disrupt the venue’s compact, highly accessible format. This past weekend, you could watch racing from grandstands, picnic tables, or barstools, all within a few hundred yards of one another. If you missed your favorite car while shoveling gnocchi into your face, there was no cause to worry—it would swing back around in less than a minute.

Given the quality of cars and the ample attendance, the American Speed Festival could easily snowball into a landmark event, drawing even larger car counts and major automotive celebrities in the years to come. There will at least be a sequel next year as the fest will return to M1 Concourse from September 29 to October 2, 2022, featuring the Shelby marque to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Shelby American.

Miss this year? Can’t wait ’til next? Click through gallery to enjoy the sights from the 2021 American Festival of Speed.

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