Gallery: The jaw-dropping race cars of Velocity Invitational

1971 McLaren M8F Cameron Neveu

There it sat, one of the most famous cars to ever conquer the 24 Hours of Le Mans: a Porsche 917. The Gulf livery sizzled under the California sun, rock chips casting shadows across the surface like tiny craters on a powder blue moon. The imperfections are a badge of honor and a direct connection to pushing past 200 miles-per-hour on the Mulsanne Straight. This is the car that immortalized Steve McQueen and terrified anyone competing against the House of Stuttgart.

Typically, a blue and orange 917, regardless of winning history, is an A-list celebrity among extras. Any public display of the car commands attention, with drooling mouths and snapping phones. And yet, there it sat on a carpet of turf at Sonoma Raceway, all by itself. No fans, no cameras.

Here’s the thing: Velocity Invitational isn’t your typical vintage-racing event.


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Walk less than 100 yards past the glorious 917, and you’ll see why, last weekend, the famous Porsche didn’t command its typical throngs of spectators. There were simply too many contemporaries with equal provenance on the race-course property—many of them hitting triple digits on the 2.52-mile track—to spend time soaking in every detail of the Porsche race car.

Last weekend, Sonoma Raceway hosted over 20,000 fans, drivers, and crew members for the fourth annual Velocity Invitational. The event, typically held at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, was moved three hours north to California’s wine country. Over 200 cars filled Sonoma’s paddock, from rowdy Trans-Am muscle to lithe prototype supercars and everything in between. Lauda, Andretti, Hamilton, Parnelli, Gurney—chances are your favorite driver probably once drove one of the cars that snaked around the 12-turn course.

This year, papaya orange was à la mode as McLaren was the featured partner. The firm dusted off the greatest from its days gone by to celebrate the marque’s 60th anniversary—big-block-toting Can-Am cars, multi-colored Sennas, and enough vintage Formula 1 cars to host a grand prix. Even the CEO of McLaren Racing, Zak Brown, got in on the action, competing in a couple different vintage classes.

Brown and company were able to lure out some of their most formidable drivers, as well. IndyCar star Alexander Rossi and F1 young gun Lando Norris headlined a list of top-shelf drivers.

As always, the attendees you’re more likely to overlook have the best stories, like the man who calls himself Captain Marco. A Lotus 11 owner and driver, he is one of the oldest licensed sea captains and has spent years sailing. When asked if there were any similarities between the two disciplines, he responded, “You’re always looking for the next boat to pass.”

Or 25-year-old Chase Johnson, who maintains a Ferrari collection and gets to saw on the wood-grain wheel of a Ferrari Testa Rossa. Johnson, an accomplished open-wheel driver in his own right, also organized a sprint-car exhibition that sent smoke spewing from Sonoma’s Turn 11 hairpin late into Saturday night.

This was my first Velocity Invitational. When I learned of the expected Can-Am roster and the event’s new location at Sonoma Raceway, I saw the opportunity to scratch two items off my bucket list in one weekend. And both lived up to the hype. I won’t soon forget the way the McLaren M8s sounded when they crested Turn 3A, or the way the vintage F1 cars danced through the shadows cast by Sonoma’s towering grandstands.

Cameron Neveu

The whole event was a photographer’s dream. Low sun, tons of elevation, and plenty of hot metal. And the fact that you could spend ten minutes poring over every detail of a Gulf-liveried Porsche 917 with your camera, without having to push past fans, made it even better. I encourage you to click through some of my favorite shots from the weekend.





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    So how does this compare to the Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion? Not necessarily Car Week on the peninsula, but the actual racing event that accompanies? Some of us may have to pick which bay-area-based vintage racing event they go to every year.

    Sonoma is a much better playground. More centralized grid/paddock area, and right next to the grandstands for prime spectating. Walk up the hill and you can find perspectives that allow you to see most of the track. Car count seems to be a bit less at Velocity, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as they still have the same number of elite cars. For shooting, I love Monterey’s Corkscrew, but give me Sonoma’s rolling hills any day.

    Went to both this year. Monterey Historics are bigger & busier, but the overall feel pretty similar. I very much like that the gridding for each heat at Velocity is done off track so you get a chance to see/hear them start up and depart up close. At Velocity 2021, similar to the ignored 917 this year, there was 300SLR #704 sitting lonely and ignored off to the side. Just crazy!
    Highlight this weekend was the sound of Mika’s McLaren F1 car screaming around me as I sat at The Point. I video’d a full lap and it could be heard in the distance for the entirety. I looked around at the people around me and we all had silly grins on! Hard to put into words, I was literally giggling to myself.

    Nothing beats the “THUNDER” of a V8 CanAm race car! Worked Coner Control at every CanAm race held at Road America. Great races until Penske & Porsche ruined it for the others.

    Selective memory at work here, it was Denis Hume or Peter Revson who won all the races. Jackie Stewart, Shadow, Haas, and the vacuum cleaner Chapparel couldn’t win a race.
    Finally, George Foremer and Mark Donahue that finally brought some real competition.

    WOW, Awesome cars and Awesome pictures. I hope I can make it there someday! NOTHING like the sound of a screeching F1 V12!

    I always loved the Can-Am races at Riverside, and the McLarens were the alpha males of the bunch.

    Thanks for all the gorgeous pictures, and the great memories they inspire. I’m jealous, both of your photographic skills and of your experience at the event.

    Great photography! I was there on Saturday. Too bad you didn’t include a few photos of the “Ragtime Racers”. Some of those cars are probably as rare as some of the exotics on display. Besides, those were the only cars older than me at the track!

    My favorite was the titanium CanAm car, the Ti22. And the Mercedes garage with the racing cars from the teens and twenties (last century!). 120 mph on skiiiiny tires.

    Velocity was a delightful event, with a great selection of motorized eye-candy. Organizer purposely invited a choice of cars to represent the respective groups, avoiding the potential of over-subscribed grids seen lately at Laguna. As mentioned above, grids are presented in spectator area for close-up viewing before entering the track…a nice feature.

    Enjoyed your photos, highlighting some of the best action. Where else can you watch a 250 GTO battling a 250 SWB, or, in another group, two 250 LMs (yes, 2 of them) going at it? And it seemed whenever I walked past the Mini group, they had their motors apart, no matter the time of day.

    And the glorious Can-Am cars, with a special tribute to McLaren., including Bruce McLaren’s daughter as an honored guest. Velocity is definitely a bucket-list item.

    Is that an Aston Martin DB3 seen from overhead? The colo(u)r seems right, but it’s hard to tell from this angle. Excellent series of photographs!

    No mention of that Lotus Elan getting past those two Ferraris, but results don’t matter when it comes to, in your case, brilliant photography. TY and keep em coming!

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