This link is currently down
thanks to the legal types at NBC,
who apparently think we're
trying to get away with something.
We're trying to figure out what?

OK, before anything else (or, in other words, before any of you older, less adrenalized types doze off or lose interest) you need to know that Yours Truly has come up with possibly


Yeah, I know that's hard to believe. Especially after the sneaky end-run we made around traditional publishing-world business models with the full-color advertising sections and individual/club sponsorships in all the books after the first one (and for which MONTEZUMA'S FERRARI won a PMA Benjamin Franklin "Book of the Year" award in 2000 on account of it was such a cool idea). Only this new scheme for the next book


Only I can't tell you about it yet on account of we have some legal and logistical details to work out. But it's coming soon (as is the book, honest!) but for now it's got to remain a mystery....

Okay, so some of you have let me know that these e-blast missives can occasionally run a bit long (and, as anybody who's slogged through the entire, umpty-kazillion paragraphs of TOLY'S GHOST knows, this is kind of a congenital problem with my writing) so, in place of a genuine cure, we've come up with a sort-of Band-Aid/Casite-Motor-Honey fix to deal with the problem. I mean, at this stage of my so-called literary career,Ah jest ain't about t'start writin' no different....

So from this place, moment and likely run-on sentence onwards, each story, section, episode or "train-of-thought-bubble" ramble in these e-mails will have a different color background. So, if you find yourself bored, disinterested or distracted relative to my take on or fascination with some particular occurrence, adventure, event or topic, just give it up as a bad try and scroll on down to the next color-block section and see if anything there piques your interest.
Hey, we aim to please....


Looks like I'll be doing another arranged-at-the-last-possible-moment book signing this Sunday, September 28th, at ROUND TABLE BOOKS, 572B Lincoln Avenue in downtown WINNETKA (847-386-7156) from, oh, say, around 9am-11:30am in concert with the always cool, relaxed, wonderful, stunning, informal, amazing & place-to-see-and-be-seen





Yep, it's time to announce the correct answer to last week's "motorsports movie trivia" contest (which several folks got right or almost right). If you recall, the question was: "What Formula One team did Tim Randolph drive for?" And of course several of you remembered (or looked up on your cell phones, you stinkers) that "Tim Randolph" was the supporting-role character that real-life 1961 World Champ Phil Hill played in the still-the-gold-standard-Hollywood-F1-movie-of-all-time:

As you may recall, "Tim Randolph" (Phil Hill, above) drove for the Japanese "Yamura" team (Mr. Yamura ably played by gruff, guttural-talking Japanese box-office megastar Toshiro Mifune). Both Hollywood & motorsports legends have it that the late, much-admired and sorely missed James Garner did his own driving in the film and was as fast as some of the hired-gun professionals (no question he contracted a serious case of The Racing Disease and competed regularly and with honor in the Baja 1000 and elsewhere when he wasn't busy making "Maverick" and "Rockford" TV episodes and countless great movies). But the shot on the right above shows Phil Hill wearing James Garner's helmet (or, more correctly, lead character "Pete Aaron's" helmet, which was actually a very slightly modified rendition of New Zealander Chris Amon's helmet, only without the small, trademark Kiwi bird on the side) so one must assume that Phil did a bit of in-car "stand-in double" work during shooting.

Reminds me of when I spent a few long, interesting, seriously underpaid days working as a second-string (read: "non-union") stunt driver when The Blues Brothers movie was shooting in Chicago. Turns out the scruffy suit, fedora hat and opaque-shades "stunt doubles" for Dan Akroyd and John Belushi were in virtually all but the most extreme close-up and dialogue shots, while the two big stars (especially Belushi) remained holed-up in their trailers doing Lord-only-knows what. But Dan Akroyd was thoroughly fascinated by the professional stunt drivers (many of them retired pro motorcycle racers, and Akroyd's a well-known motorcycle nut). In fact, he asked if he could "ride along" with the pro stunt driver when the shot called for one of the cop cars to essentially go slaloming through a series of verystout concrete support pylons on Chicago's Lower Wacker Drive at considerable speed. Initially the Powers That Be didn't want Dan to do it (risk, insurance, blah-blah-blah) but he somehow got it turned around--or maybe he just went, you know?--and it was quite a Kodak moment when he respectfully shook hands and thanked the stunt guy (who had apparently given him one hell of a ride) afterwards, showing great admiration, humility and not a little awe. Cool guy.

I suppose I'll have to write the entire story of my "Blues Brothers experience" one day....

But back to our Motorsports Movie Trivia quiz. Got several right answers e-mailed in plus one amusing response from a guy who obviously (like many of us) suffers from blurred boundaries between the dream-world of Hollywood make-believe and real life. He correctly identified "Tim Randolph" as Phil Hill, but incorrectly had him driving for Ferrari...the team Phil drove for (and won his 1961 F1 World Championship with) in real life!



And now, trivia buffs, we have a new question. Only this time it's "Monster Movie Trivia" rather than "Motorsports Movie Trivia." And, as we probably should have been doing from the very beginning, we're going to offer a prize. Not a very fancy prize, mind you, but it's worth ten bucks (exactly, in fact) and at least you get something. And, to be fair, we're going to give that prize to EVERYBODY who answers the question below completely and correctly ON THE FIRST DAY THAT ANSWERS START COMING IN.

Answers should be sent to me at THINKFAST@MINDSPRING.COM, and I'll explain to all the clever winners just what the heck they're going to get and how they're going to get it.

And now (drum roll, please)...the question....

This one should be fairly easy if you're an old-time Shock Theater fan. That show was broadcast in Chicago--10pm Saturday night, right after wrestling--with local TV/radio personality Terry Bennett as ghoulish, wisecracking host "Marvin" plus his wife (whose face you never saw) and a musical combo called "The Deadbeats." You probably had a show like that in your hometown, too, showing all those great old black-and-white Universal monster movies and hosted by your own wisecracking crypt ghoul. In any case, trivia types, riddle me this:

What actor played the main sidekick to both of the titular characters in arguably the two most seminal horror movies of all time? And, while you're at it, what were the names of the characters that actor played?

And now, dear reader,  it's time to go take a nice pee, get yourself a fresh glass of whatever you're drinking, maybe grab a wee snack and settle in for another long, convoluted episode of Travels With Burt....

(a little Willie Nelson traveling music, please)

Well, it's been a heckuva couple of weeks, all right. A blur, in fact. Why, I can't even wrap my brain all the way around everything that's happened! Last time we talked (or, more correctly, last time I wrote and you hopefully read) I wuz out in Californy with wife Carol and our kids, trying my best to recover from the sensory-overload madness of Monterey and then enjoying a nice dinner with Fred Yeakel (owner of the car pictured below) and his pal Bill Thomas III...all part of my extensive & exhaustive "research" (read: bullshitting & bench racing) for my upcoming feature story on Cheetahs in VINTAGE MOTORSPORT magazine.

I should probably mention here (because I really don't want to do it in print) that there's a convoluted and (in my opinion, anyway) thoroughly asinine legal shitstorm swirling around the miniscule but complicated world of original & restored Bill Thomas Cheetahs and all the various & assorted Cheetah recreations, copies, continuation cars, knock-offs, frauds, aftermarket fiberglass body shells and outright fakes that have appeared over the years. The bare bones of of the deal are that back in 1963, established California racecar-builder/hot-rodder/under-the-table GM race-shop operator Bill Thomas Jr. got a wee, black-ops stipend from Chevrolet to build an answer to Carroll Shelby's Cobras. And they likely could have beaten the Cobras if they'd ever had the chance. Only Bill never made or sold anywhere near enough cars for the Cheetah to be homologated as a legit production or FIA GT-class car. So when Chevy finally pulled the plug, the Cheetahs already sold and delivered really had no place to run except as Chevy-engined "modifieds" (what we now call "sports/racers"). And by then the New Wave of mid-engined sports/racers were coming on line and so Cheetahs never won much of anything except for some SCCA amateur races. Like the big-bore go at the 1964 June Sprints at Road America (and that only came after Ray Kumnick's leading Cooper/Ford broke on the last lap). Then there was a fire at the factory and a sheriff's sale sometime after that and Bill Thomas Jr.'s Cheetah business pretty much faded into history. But the cars had captured a lot of attention--not to mention hearts and imaginations--because they were loud and wild and wicked-looking and godawful fast. And even a little scary (did I say "a little"?). So, in spite of the Cheetah's somewhat lackluster racing record, its unique, even iconic shape, NFL fullback stance, uncaring sneer and muscular proportions made it just about everybody's favorite slot-car body.
Some 40 years later, in 2001, lifelong Cheetah devotee and well-known Corvette restorer Bob Auxier started building and selling some pretty damn accurate "continuation car" copies of the original Bill Thomas Cheetah down in Tempe, Arizona. And he had Bill Thomas' blessing to do it, too. He set up shop as "BTM" (Bill Thomas Motors), and the cars he built & sold were accompanied by genuine "certificates of authenticity" signed by Bill Thomas, Jr. himself. And a neat, enthusiastic but generally soft-spoken guy named Ron Keck bought something like a dozen of those cars and set himself up as a BTM Cheetah distributor. I was privileged to serve as Designated Driver when Bob Auxier brought one of his Cheetahs up to a VERY hot July vintage weekend at Road America several years back (that's me in #58 below) and I must say that it looked, felt and drove much like the other Cheetahs I've driven. Which means it was loud, just a bit terrifying and hotter than blazes inside.

Unfortunately we wound up chasing an engine problem all weekend (sounded great, but weak on retrospect, I think maybe the camshaft was installed a few degrees out of phase) but it was still a heck of a ride and a fabulous experience. And I got on fine with Bob Auxier and his family, too. Only now things seem to have changed. Bill Thomas passed away a few years back and I guess there have been misunderstandings and disagreements ever since about those "certificates of authenticity" and who actually owns the rights to what between Bob Auxier and Bill Thomas' son (Bill the Third, along with the rest of the heirs). Not to mention a few unhappy, disappointed and/or disgruntled Cheetah customers rustling around in the underbrush. Plus there's another outfit building its own version of an "evolution" Cheetah (Ruth Engineering in Grafton, Ohio), along with some serious and even bitter disagreements about what makes or does not make an "original" Cheetah, what the correct specifications might be for such a car (did they or did they not ever have disc brakes?), who owns what and who owes what to whom. The genuinely stupid part is that everybody involved originally got that way because they flat fell in love with the original Bill Thomas Cheetahs (myself included) and stupider yet is the fact that there is all sorts of legal posturing, wrangling and saber-rattling going on (lawsuits, depositions, etc.) but it doesn't look to me like anybody involved is particularly worth suing. Very sad. Like the pix below (perhaps from the infamous shop fire?).

I'll let you know how it all turns out if I live that long....
In the meantime, I got to drive Ron Keck's #61 Cheetah again at Road America two weekends ago. Excuse this time was to give my shooter buddy Scott Paceley an opportunity to get some thrilling & dramatic "at speed" shots (oh, the lengths I go to and sacrifices I make to bring you, dear reader, a thoroughly researched report....) Plus I'd be lying if I didn't say I wanted to drive that car on a track like Road America where you can really open it up. Road America was, after all, the scene of (arguably) the original Cheetah's biggest race win. And the car that did the deed that day was the one Ron and his guys chose to copy: the one owned & campaigned by longtime racer/Hammond, Indiana plumbing contractor Ralph Salyer and wrenched by the redoubtable and much-respected Gene Crowe (who went on to work on the factory-backed, Bob Sharp-entered Datsun 300ZX Turbos that Paul Newman and my old, much-missed friend Jim Fitzgerald drove in the Trans-Am series). But I digress. Salyer and Crowe called their Cheetah "the Cro-Sal Special" (get it?) and, among other tweaks and fiddles, they eventually chopped the top off in an effort to combat the massive (!!!) amount of heat in the cockpit. Then again, what would you expect in a closed car with a hot-rodded Chevy V8 sitting essentially in your lap (there is no driveshaft in a Cheetah, just a universal-joint coupling between the transmission tailshaft and the Corvette Stingray differential. Just for the heck of it, I picked up a meat thermometer at the local Piggly Wiggly and taped it to the roll cage of Bob Auxier's #58 (right next to the transmission tunnel) on that unbearably hot and humid July weekend when I drove it. That thermometer regularly came back into the paddock registering on the plus side of 140 degrees.... But this latest Sunday-morning Cheetah drive (Sept. 14th) was in cool, overcast and even downright chilly conditions. And Ron and the crew (see below) had moreover gotten up early so I could make the so-called "Hardship Practice" at 8:15am. In retaliation, they made cruel sport of me just so they could have a few teeth-chattery yucks at my expense. Please note friend and lead prankster Jason Ostrowski pretending to be The Jewish Stig as the real one (me) expresses both bewilderment and anguish. Sure wish I wuz that thin, though!

No question the car was running like Jack-the-bear (as Henry N. Manney used to say). In fact, regular driver/hotshoe supreme Brian Garcia used it to very good effect just a few hours later to score runaway class and overall wins (as he had done in the qualifying race on Saturday) in the big-bore ground-pounder race (getting down into the 2:23 range during Saturday morning's qualifying session, which is way more than respectable!). I, on the other hand, was only there to get a few photo ops (and, if you believe that, I've got some excellent Florida swamp land--er, make that "waterfront time shares"--on offer) and I must say it was thrilling to get out on a track where you can turn a steroid-enhanced monster like Ron's Cro-Sal clone loose.
So how was it?
Well, it was maybe a little scary. You'll have to wait for the full magazine piece inVINTAGE MOTORSPORT (there's that title again!) to get the full story, but suffice to say it was exciting and intimidating in about equal measure. The Chevy engine in Ron's car is good for something north of 650 honest horsepower (and those are Clydesdales, not Shetlands) and when you couple that up with a short wheelbase, a ridiculously wide stance, a somewhat flexible chassis, an all-up weight of about 1800 lbs. and the majority of that weight sitting right smack-dab in the middle of the car (can you say "low polar moment of inertia?"), it adds up to a machine that pretty much leaps from corner-to-corner but feels a little iffy and on edge going through those corners. I wouldn't call it nasty or evil, just a little uncommunicative. Maybe even belligerent. You're just not sure (or at least I wasn't) what will happen if you accidentally manage to step over the limit. But you're pretty damn certain that, whatever it is, it'll happen so damn fast you'll never be able to catch it.
But even if the Cheetah isn't a particularly easy, friendly or reassuring car to drive, it goes damn fast, can turn impressive lap times and, as Brian Garcia has proved repeatedly this summer, is more than able to win races. By the way, Ron Keck has a few street Cheetah clones left in his garage (plus one that would make a decent racecar) so if you'd like to be the focus of attention at the local drive-in or scare yourself silly on a racetrack, give him a buzz.
As to the pictures we needed, Scott Paceley came up with some real beauts of me in the #61 (see sample below) and I'm really looking forward to finishing the story.

Now all I need is some new underwear.....

(a little more Willie Nelson music, please....)
But back to our California trip. Or, to be more accurate, coming home from our California trip. Carol and I flew back from the Glitz, Glitter & Glamour coast onTues., August 26th, (love the convenience of flying Southwest into Midway, but should waiting for our luggage take damn near as long as the flight?) and then enjoyed (???) a few days in the office to catch up on things, ship a few book orders, write the last e-blast and the magazine story I had on deadline and take care of a few minor disasters in my packaging business. Then it was time to pack the trusty Ford Freestar van again (my book-signing-booth/racetrack gear fits together in there like one of those Chinese wood puzzles) and, come very early ayem on Friday, August 29th, it was time for me to weigh anchor (how much does an anchor weigh, anyway?) and head...EAST!

Had to do this run solo as Carol had family/kid-tutoring biz stuff to take care of and besides, faithful & beloved fox terrier Buddy was giving us the stink eye for leaving him at the Amusement Bark doggie dungeon while we were fooling around with the kids and eating way too much out in LA for two weeks. It's really a very nice place (at least as far as doggie dungeons go) as he gets to run around with a pack of similarly disappointed-in/thoroughly-pissed-off-at their owners canines all day. And, as I've personally observed, give a dog like Buddy a bone to chew, a butt to sniff, a leg to hump and a nice bowl of kibble and you can keep him reasonably happy. But he still doesn't like it when you leave town on him. Or just the house, for that matter.

Anyhow, destination this time was Lime Rock Park for Murray Smith's always-wonderful Lime Rock Historic Festival, and on the Friday I made it as far as just over the New York line (a few miles south of Port Jervis) and found perhaps the last decent-yet-cheap hotel room in the entire state. It was up on a hilltop with a grand sort-of view and there was even a pretty good Italian Restaurant that actually delivered. Plus an on-site bar (complete with a salty-but-funny lady bartenderness) that regularly hosts flat-track motorcycle types who race nearby each season. So there were some fine & entertaining bike-racer stories (a few even repeatable in mixed company) and that was a pretty cool way to end the first day of my marathon motor-racing road trip.


Well, there's something special about the NW corner of Connecticut, isn't there? It's so green and clean and historic and pristine and beautifully aged and neatly presented (howcum you never never see the pickup-loads of illegal aliens that must surely be responsible for all the manicured lawns, trimmed trees, flowers and foliage?) and scattered here and there are old, moss-encrusted stone graveyards dating back to when the local residents were all subjects of King George and well-worn, needle-sharp church steeples poking up at regular intervals into God's own clear blue sky. Yep, the Berkshires sure are beautiful, all right, with their smoky morning mists clinging to the hillsides and delightful, meandering country lanes with covered bridges over gurgling trout streams

where doctor/lawyer/accountant fly-fishermen types on the lam from New York City ply the rips and riffles with their condo-tied nymphs and streamers.
Connecticut makes for a singular, much-sought-after escape from The City, and you can't miss the region's rustic charm and gracious civility. Made for a welcome relief from the frantic, heavily stage-managed glitz and showbiz glamour of Monterey. Plus, although there's a lot of money around in rural Connecticut--and I mean a LOT--the locals don't approve of making much of a show or fuss about it. It's simply not done. Why, some of that money is so old that you can hardly even hear it crinkle when you run it over the edge of a solid maple early-American dining table...

The races at this year's Lime Rock Historic Festival will be covered in more depth in my report in VINTAGE MOTORSPORT (click on it and buy a damn subscription already, blah, blah, blah) but suffice to say that the track layout at Lime Rock short, scenic, deceptively quick, extremely challenging (I think Lime Rock ranks with Mosport and Mt. Tremblant in having the biggest "home-court advantage" among North American circuits) and lends itself to short-oval style packs of racing cars and everything boiling down to overtaking opportunities taken or missed in constant, heavy traffic. Makes for damn good spectating. And the driving of it ain't bad, either.

Huge credit to event promoter/enthusiast-par-excellence Murray Smith, who took over the reins of the event after the untimely passing of ace wrench, great driver and friend-of-the-sport Charlie Gibson some 10 years ago. Murray's steadfastly maintained and even added to the show without ever straying from the purity, fair play, sense of community and period correctness that were the hallmarks of Charlie's tenure. This year Murray brought none other than Stirling Moss (make that SIR Stirling Moss, thank you) and Lady Suzy over to serve as grand marshals, and Moss was generous with his time and gracious to a fault to all the fans, followers and autograph-seekers who turned out to meet him. Just about to celebrate his 84th birthday (and following accidents both in-car and out that would have sent lesser men to a wheelchair or a casket-fitting), Stirling remains amazingly spry, vital and both interested and fascinated by whatever's coming next. Very, very impressive.

Murray to the left and Stirling to the right above - BS Levy photo

The Powers-Whut-Be (thank YOU, Renea Dayton!) kindly arranged for me to take my usual and much-envied book-hawking spot on the deck by the Lime Rock store (you have no choice but to pass by on your way from the best viewing hill to either the paddock or the loo) and we did a land-office business all three days. Plus I could easily sneak away to watch a race or two on the hill or head up to the tower to do a little free-form (not to mention air-conditioned!) color commentary with my friends Greg and Craig in the announce booth. Won't dwell too much on the races (buy the damn magazine when it comes out) except to say it was nice visiting a track and event where the best E-Types can pretty much handle the Corvettes and where ALL the cars still sound and operate in the same general octave range as they did back in the day. That's getting pretty hard to find on the vintage scene these days.

One very sad note was a freak, fatal accident (the first in the event's 32-year history) that befell longtime local vintage racer and staunch prewar devotee Lee Duram on the Saturday. I didn't really know him personally, and there was some speculation among second-hand eyewitnesses that something may have broken on the car's steering. But my longtime friend, occasional ride-mooch victim and car-preparer par excellence J.R. Mitchell of GMT racing was on the tech crew and was also privy to the police investigation that necessarily followed (there's no more worrying sound at a racetrack than a long, long silence) and J.R. is pretty much convinced that the incident was the result of driver error. In any case, I don't want to dwell on it, but there was an excellent, sensitive, well-written piece on it by Deborah Straszheim that appeared online in The Day, Connecticut, and here's the link if you'd like to read it:

There's no racing on Sunday in Connecticut (it's the Lord's Day, and don't you forget it!) so we enjoyed the always-amazing Lime Rock Historics Sunday Concours and marque-club gathering. It's really quite a show, and extends all the way around the circuit (plus up into the infield) and there's a flea market/grungy-old-car-parts swap meet going on in the North Paddock as well. Lots of neat stuff, including Virgil Exner's Ghia-built, Slant-6-powered "XNR" Plymouth showcar from 1960 (which I'd never seen in the metal before and which, to be honest and IMHO, looked sleeker, svelter and more dramatic in the heavily-lit, deeply shadowed magazine shots in period). Still pretty darn cool, though.

Other favorites included a bunch of Abarths (here's a cute "double-bubble" 750 Zagato)

plus a bunch of nice OSCAs. Including, thanks to Miles Collier, Scott George and the REVs Institute crew, the iconic, giant-killing, 1452cc MT4 that Stirling (not yet SIRStirling) Moss and Bill Lloyd used to win the 12 Hours of Sebring outright in 1954.

To be fair, the factory team of Lancia D24s were pretty much running away with the race (as they did with a lot of races back then, including a steamroller 1-2-3 finish at the 1953 Carrera Panamericana) but they all hit problems--Taruffi's holding a 5-lap lead when its engine seized with just 54 minutes to go--and the big-motor Ferraris, Cunninghams and Jaguars had likewise had troubles. So the Moss/Lloyd OSCA was there to waltz in and pick up the spoils. But it was still a heck of a drive. Especially considering that Moss and Lloyd drove the lest few hours without much at all in the way of brakes....
Also fell in love with the rare, petite and graceful little OSCA GT coupe shown below (never saw one like it before):

And there were also lots of racecars that spent their "Sunday in the Park" displayed along with the polished-up show cars and trailer queens. Below are my Canadian friends Phil Lamont and Doug Elcomb with their rare and always well-driven monoposto rides. Doug's car is called the Dreossi (it's the one on the right that looks like one of those little, vibrating, nickel-, dime- or quarter-operated space ships you used to find sucking all the loose change out of parents' pockets in front of your local grocery store), it was built for Canada's own interpretation of low-buck/backyard-tinkerer racing (Canada Class) and Doug habitually drives the living snot out of it and regularly embarrasses cars with famous nose badges and high-toned pedigrees.

On the left is Phil Lamont's seasick-green Lotus 18 Formula Junior. I've raced against it a couple of times (both in the late Dick Baker's similar but arguably more powerful Lotus 18 FJr) and the races pictured below, Saturday & Sunday at Roebling Road Raceway near Savannah many years ago, still remain two of my all-time favorite track experiences:

It was wonderful racing--back and forth the whole way--with Phil beating me to the flag by about 6 inches on the Saturday and me returning the favor (by at least twice as many inches!) on the Sunday. Good fun. Then we had a re-match in the same cars at his home track of Mosport and, to put it bluntly, he cleaned my clock. Or he would have, but the Baker 18 suffered a timely engine problem and saved me the embarrassment.
By the way, Phil was honored with the one-per-year Charlie Gibson award at Lime Rock (spirit, enthusiasm, attitude, skill, proper period preparation, blah, blah, blah) and, now at age 78 and with many, many racing seasons under his lap belts, he was somewhat improbably handed last year's MONOPOSTO REGISTER Most Improved Driver award.
Well-deserved, in both cases.
But, as Phil himself will attest, he and I have, ahem, "unfinished business" when it comes to racing....
Wouldn't be right not to mention Featured Collector Ralph Lauren (yes, THATone), who brought five rare, beautiful, meticulously presented and incredibly immaculate cars. Totally gorgeous (see one-of-only-16-ever-built XKSS Jaguars and one-of-only-32-ever-built Ferrari 250LMs below):

But I have to say it: those cars were so damn perfect that they left me a little cold. I mean, you would never dream of taking them out and thrashing the shit out of them on a twisty country road. Let alone a racetrack. They remind me of perfectly coiffed-and-attired high-fashion models all dressed up for a Vogue cover shoot, and you would never even think of reaching a playful hand out and mussing their hair or making a clumsy attempt at smudging their lipstick.
Still, they're beautiful to look at, aren't they?

More in-line with the meat-and-potatoes essence of this unusual event is shown below. An absolutely showroom-condition silver Chrysler Cordoba (let's say it all together now--and be sure to roll your rrrs--"with rich Corinthian leather") parked right next to a deliciously tatty, scruffy and original Alfa SZ.

And, just across the way, the way-cool OSCA FJr. I drove at Brian Redman's Targa 66 event at Palm Beach International last spring:

not far from a pretty damn perfect Maserati 300S. Wow.

So it was a super event with some great cars, great racing, great scenery and ambience and, most of all, great spirit, character and friendliness.
Murray's going to have a tough time topping this one next year.
But if he even keeps it "just as good," it'll be exceptional!


OK, so I packed up & left Lime Rock late Labor Day Monday with no real agenda or place to be until registration at Watkins Glen on Wednesday afternoon. So, what with me trusty bicycle semi-disassembled & crammed on top of everything behind me and being an avid cycler and all, I thought I might take a wee detour to Albany and ride a few dozen miles of the highly historic Erie Canal Bike Trail. I mean, it looked good on the website, y'know?
Let's just say the section I found and rode was (hmmm, how can I put this?) "underwhelming." It wasn't much of a trail, wasn't all that scenic, didn't run alongside the canal where I rode it, wasn't in the greatest condition, ran for quite a few miles right alongside the Interstate (how's THAT for a view, nature lovers?) and then I came on a curled, sad-looking WARNING sign tacked up on a handy power-line pole advising hikers, bikers and random passers-by about the likelihood of contracting LYME DISEASE from the ticks in the neighborhood. Never exactly understood what you were supposed to DO about these types of warning signs (telling me that there are rattlesnakes, box jellyfish, rabid wolverines or great white sharks in the nearby vicinity doesn't really educate me as to what I should do I encounter them) but I did my 12.5 miles out and then back, listened to some nice tunes on my ipod to drown out the truck traffic and then packed the bike away and took off again for Watkins Glen. Did get to see Albany for the first time, along with some of the sad, decaying, rust-colored old manufacturing towns along the canal route.
By contrast, my partly back-road drive from Albany to The Glen went through some really pretty country--some of it just starting to turn its early fall colors--and my route led me through famous Cooperstown, MY, which is home to the Baseball Hall of Fame and no less than Mecca to the great, faithful masses of American families who worship baseball in all it's hyped-up, slow-moving, steroid-enhanced, love to see 'em spit-and-scratch glory. I know there are millions and millions of folks out there who truly love the sport of baseball, but I just don't happen to be one of them. Then again, maybe that's because I was never any good at it. In fact, I stunk. I was slow and fat and couldn't hit and couldn't catch and I was always the last guy picked for every game. I usually wound up out in right field, mostly trying to avoid the bees buzzing around on the clover blossoms and praying fervently that there weren't any lefties on the opposing team who might hit one my way....


As ride-mooch and book-sales weekends go, I'd have to rate this year's SVRA/Glenora Wineries Watkins Glen Vintage Grand Prix as an out-of-the-park home run (see above). To start with, I had some MG rides lined up (or nearly lined up) on account of this was the 60th annivertsary of something or other to do with the Collier brothers and their beloved MGs (see below)

As you can imagine, this amounts to a huge tribal social gathering for the MG Vintage Racer types, all their camp followers and the rest of the Sacred Octagon faithful

which means every grizzled old MG racer in creation (plus a few younger ones, as they do occasionally get away from their garages long enough to produce heirs) was on hand to take part. There was plenty of food, beer, wine, tall tales, broken cars and lurid MG racing stories on tap, as you can well imagine.

And then things got even better (for me, anyway) when I received an unexpected call from SVRA Major Domo Tony Parella saying "he had a ride for me." Turns out he was in line at registration behind a very nice & engaging fellow named Marc Adler from Syracuse. Marc is kind of a newbie racer (couple races over the past two years in a rented Porsche 914) and he'd recently bought a very pretty and promising Van Diemen Sports 2000. He'd been at The Glen for two days already thrashing around (pardon me, "lapping") his new S2 with the Chin Motorsports bunch, and he happened to mention in passing that he didn't think he was ready to do Saturday's entire, 90-minute SVRA Hawk Performance Historic Enduro by himself. Only he didn't really know who to ask.

Well, staring them both right in the kisser is one of my infamous "WANTED" posters (see below) which I have taped up by the registration window as well as inside every mens room, ladies room, pissoir and porta-potty on the property.

"Y'know," sez Tony, "I think I got just the guy for you...."
And that, dear reader, is how I wound up going from a pre-war, supercharged, solid-axle, cable-braked MG N-Type to a VERY sleek, modern & generally state-of-the-art Van Diemen Sports 2000 during the Glen weekend.
Plus I had my friend and shooter par excellence Daniel Mainzer snapping photos of me in all the cars. Click here to check out all the excellent pix (maybe even of you in your car?) on his website at 
So my weekend got started with a session in my good friend Manley Ford's very fast, well-prepared & successful MGTD at 1pm on Thursday. What a NICE car to drive! Good power, very well-balanced, friendly, communicative and comfy as an old woolen sock. Plus it LIKES to slide.... 

An hour and a half after I got out of the MG, I was getting strapped into Marc Adler's low, sleek & svelte Van Diemen S2. Talk about a Time Warp!

The contrast (and the similarities) between the two cars was so striking & fascinating that I wrote my column about it for the next ish of VINTAGE MOTORSPORT. So you'll just have to pick yourself up a copy and read it there. But the pic below sums up a lot of it:

But wait: there's MORE!
Come 5pm or so, current MG Vintage Racers head man, event sparkplug & doer of countless thankless tasks Chris Myers turns me loose for the first Group One qualifying session in his well-known & well-traveled #029 MGA.

Now I know this car because I raced against it once or twice back when my friend Skinny Joe Tierno owned it (or he was skinny back then, anyway) and it had been racing for a long, long time before Joe ever got his mitts on it. In fact, current-owner Chris thinks this particular "A" may have more accumulated racing miles than any other "A" on the planet. But some stuffy Brit is going surely going to argue the point, so why don't we just say "North America" and let it go at that?

This turned out to be great fun, as Chris's "A" is a really representative example and I got dumped out on-track in a busy, dicing-and-slicing stampede with several other As and Midgets of near-equal performance (Carl George, George Shafer, Joe Puma, etc.) and, as you can see from the shot below, it was quite a hectic scrum, and I was having a hell of a good time and feeling thoroughly at home in the old MGA.

Only then, out of absolutely nowhere, the engine note changed and I felt the power go soft. One cylinder had gone off-song, no question about it. But the oil pressure and water temp were still looking good, so I backed off, put my arm in the air in surrender and headed back into the paddock. Chris was unbelievably cool about it (you get the idea these things happen with a certain regularity around his MG paddock) and his initial, finger-in-the-air diagnosis was that it probably amounted to a blown head gasket. Or, as I believe he put it, "another blown head gasket...."
But, low and behold, once the engine cooled and Chris could do a little further investigating, he discovered it was just a tappet-adjustor screw that had backed off (as they are wont to do). So it was easily fixed. Not so easily fixed was the piston that either melted or fractured or both the very next session out. But at least I wasn't in the blessed car when that happened.
The cool thing is, Chris and his friends and helpers had a great time in spite of the busted racecar. And that's the way it's really supposed to be in the world of vintage racing, n'est ce pas?

Thanks to my friend John Welch, I was a guest at the really old MG-addict dinner in Corning that evening (meaning that the cars were old, not necessarily the owners) and it was very nice & gracious and the food & company were good and they even asked me to tell a story. Which I did, no surprise to anyone. Got a few laughs, too.

Friday is pretty much a work day for me at The Glen, as I hawked books alongside my great, long-suffering, couldn't-do-any-of-it-without-her friend & campadre Toni Cumbess of VINTAGE MOTORSPORT at the magazine's hospitality tent in the track's vendor village. Did that through lunchtime, then loaded everything up and headed downtown to set up for the Friday-night street-race re-creation & blowout festival. If you've never been, you really need to put it on your bucket list, as it's like Mardi Gras with wheels (and knockoff wire wheels, at that!) and the support and enthusiasm of the locals is truly amazing. As are the music and historical speechifying and racecars growling and roaring and stomping and snorting through town and then a big fireworks display against the backdrop of the famous glen rock formations, which is really something to see. Followed by a walk over to the annual gathering at the justly world-famous MOTOR RACING RESEARCH CENTERon Decatur Street. Only I didn't quite make those last two on account of I wuz busy packin' up the van again (how the heck did I fit all this crap in here before?) and truly done in.
But, as I headed back to my hotel through the dispersing crowd and the haze-and-smoke remainders of the fireworks display, I had to feel gratified--and, yes, thankful--about all the folks who'd come up and bought a book or told one of their friends to buy a book or had the sticker on their car or said how much they enjoyed the books or asked when the next one was coming.
Makes the whole damn thing worthwhile, really it does....

Come Saturday I got a turn in second qualifying in Reed and Linda Yates absolutely superb 1934 6-cylinder & supercharged MG N-Type. Now Reed is a great guy with a wonderful attitude and tremendous, grinning enthusiasm (he's been fooling around with this old MG stuff for a very long time and was presented with the Big Copper Bucket award for "Vintage Spirit" at the MG Vintage Racers' gathering at Hallett back in 2006) and he was genuinely eager for me to try his car. And to give me its history as well:
"This was originally a four-place MG touring car," he explained with self-effacing honesty, "but after I bought it, I had this pretty good old guy in England re-do for us as more of a two-seater sports car."
I looked him in the eye. "So this is what we in the motoring journalism business might call 'a bullshit car'."
The eyes twinkled. "I guess you could say that."
Reed went on to explain that the car was also prone to gremlins, glitches, fits of pique and occasional poltergeists. Like right now something and gone all wonky with the starter. He'd fix it and it would fire right up and then he'd button it all back together and then it wouldn't spin or fire again.
Like I said, poltergeists.
But I got in and he went over the controls with me. It was right-hand drive and had a Wilson Pre-Selector gearbox, which is something I'd read about many times but never experienced personally before. The shift lever looks more like an automatic gate with all the gears in a notched straight line, and you simply move the lever to the gear you think you want next and then, when the moment is right for it, you just dab the clutch pedal down and the Wilson Pre-Selector magically serves up the pre-ordered gear. Works like a damn champ, too! Amazing!
Even more amazing was Reed's reply when I asked him what I should use as a redline?
"Seventy-Five-Hundred" he answered without skipping a beat.
"S-S-S-Seventy-five hundred?" I sputtered back at him.
"Sure, 7500. She'll take it." He seemed pretty damn confident about it, too.
So off I went:

As you can see, there was no roll bar and, to be honest, I was a little uneasy about taking the thing around at speed. But the old MG won me over almost immediately. The power out of the engine (at least once the supercharger started coming on-song at around 4500rpm) was amazing. And damn if it didn't pull strong and solid all the way to 7500! I found the N-Type's chassis lively, sure-footed and frisky (although that solid-axle front end shook, danced, shivered and shimmied something awful over the EXTREMELY bumpy surface around the Toe of the Boot...they really need to re-pave that section!) and the brakes required a little, umm, "advanced planning."
But the thing I'd worried most about--that Wilson Pre-Selector gearbox--worked like an absolute charm. The changes were smooth, quick and graunch-free, with no weirdness, wonkyness or monkey-motion whatsoever.
Or at least that's the way it was until about my 4th lap, when I went to downshift from 4th to 3rd as-per-usual for the Heel of the Boot. Oh, I got the lever into the proper slot, all right. But when I went to dab the clutch to make the change, THE EFFING PEDAL WASN'T THERE!!!
I am not shitting you.
My toe searched around for it, but, far as I could tell, the damn clutch pedal had gone missing!
Well, I raised my hand again, slowed, and, as I motored gently off onto the grass, took a little looksee down around my feet. Sure enough, the pedal had flopped back over-center and was now lying horizontally against the floorboards, directly beneath my calf. Hmmm.
As you can imagine, the thoughts going through my head were thoroughly dark and unpleasant ones, and I was trying to wrap my brain around just how I wuz gonna explain this problem to the car's owner. "Reed," Iheard myself saying, "y'know that rare and expensive Wilson Pre-Selector Gearbox you gave me t'play around with?"
"I believe I recall it."
"Well, I believe I've turned it into a Wilson No-Selector gearbox."
"I'm not sure I've ever heard of one of those."
"Nobody has," I hear myself say like I'm trying to sell him a bum used car. "Why, I'm pretty damn sure you've got THE ONLY ONE!"
"Do tell...."
Well, the one thing I know for absolute sure is that I don't know a damn thing about Wilson Pre-Selector gearboxes. So I pretty much insist on a flatbed tow to get Reed's car back to the paddock.
And I've got to give the man credit, because he's still got that big, friendly smile on his face even as his N-Type trundles past on the flatbed. Then I tell him what happened with the clutch pedal while the towtruck guys are unloading his MG. He thanks them (as I do), then stares into the drivers'-side footwell.
"It's never done this before." he opines.
"Never happened to me, either," I tell him.
Then he looks at it some more, climbs in, prods the fallen-over clutch pedal with his toe, considers for a moment, and gives it one hell of a kick.
Problem solved!
Everything's back in place and working like its designers and builders intended.
Like Reed warned me: "poltergeists."

Marc and I didn't run the Saturday enduro with his Van Diemen on account of the skies opened and it poured buckets about a half-hour before the start. He had rain tires, but Marc had never run in the rain before and I'd already come to the opinion that his car was sprung a little too stiff (and that's not really what you want on a wet track!). In retrospect, we maybe should have done it, as only something like a half-dozen cars showed up to race and it would have been a good learning experience for him. If a bit nerve-wracking.
Ace Porsche-pushers Frank Beck/Jim Cullen pretty much ran away with things in their GT3 Cup car, but ex-Minnesota-ice-racer Shannon Ivey put on a spectacular show of car control in what appeared to be an unsuitable-for-the-prevailing-conditions Chevy Camaro and came home third overall. Impressive. And a French-Canadian guy in a Mustang wowed the small crowd braving the elements at Corner One by spinning down the middle of the road, not touching anything and taking off again--pointed almost the right way--before the car ever came to a complete stop. In fact, he did it twice! Those Canadians....

The weather cleared to merely damp and soggy for the big track party Satuday night, and we were treated to plenty of good food & drink, reasonable buffet lines, a large, happy & convivial crowd of racers and one heck of a good band ("The Heavenly Chillbillies" out of Buffalo) who had some in the crowd--like me and the wife of one of Marc Adler's buddies--dancing their asses off. Good time. And then, a little later on, me and well-known racer & driving coach Pete Argetsinger and his lovely wife Skoujke stood around with a couple glasses of wine and swapped stories. Only theirs were better than mine. Like when Peter was trying to make a go of it as a pro driver racing formula cars in Europe, and they're hustling like hell to make the next race God-knows-where and Sjoukje is up front driving like mad and Peter's in the rig in back--as they're flying down some highway or other in the 2ayem dark--trying to re-assemble the damn racecar!
Like I said, their stories were better than mine!

Sunday I hung around to hawk books through lunchtime and watch the Collier Cup trophy races. Manley Ford and the TD I'd enjoyed so much on Thursdaydid what I expected them  to do in the Kimber Cup Race for T-series-and-older MGs, as they pretty much ran off and hid from the rest after Steve Konsin's Lester MG special (the only car in the same time zone as Manley's TD) fell out with mechanical ills. See pic of Manley & his TD below in victory circle.

Also watched the Thornley Cup Race for later MGs from the grandstands (in the company of the lovely Dana Moreland and some other, not nearly so lovely MG aficionados) and it was a real barn-burner. My expatriate Brit hairdresser friend from Manhattan, Alan Tosler (whom I nicknamed "Tosser" at VIR for reasons that will shortly become obvious) was on the front row in his powder-blue #01 MGB (with full windshield and white fiberglass hardtop, as is the British custom)

but he had one hell of a fight on his hands in the person of Jonathan Lane in another really quick "B" and the similar cars of my midwestern MGB racing buddies Dick Luening (I used to race my TR3 against him back in ze olt Midwestern Council dayz) and Scott Fohrman lurking close behind.
Now I should probably mention here that "Tosser" has TWICE offered me co-drives in his cars (his Lotus Elan at Road Atlanta this past April and the aforementioned MGB right there at Watkins Glen) only to back-pedal from his promises like a big-city politician after an election when the Big Day finally arrives. But, as I said, he's a New Yorker, so you learn to accept such behavior as par for the course....

And I can't really take away from the wisdom of his decision at The Glen, as it kept the car fresh for the Thornley Cup Race. He'd brought it expressly to win that race (along with the John Targett 612 Trophy for best-finishing 4-cylinder MG that memorializes our dear, late friend) and damn if that isn't precisely what he did. And it waren't easy, either. Jonathan Lane was "all over him like a cheap suit" the entire way (and even got by into the lead for a spell) but Alan fought back, re-took the lead, held on to the finish--under intense pressure--and set fastest lap in the bargain.
Well done, Tosser!
(you still owe me an effing drive)

After that, it was time to pack up the van again (God, that part gets old!) and head back home to Chicago. I had to stop for some shuteye around Fremont, Ohio (it's a bad sign when the personal-injury lawyers on those highway billboard signs start smiling, winking and talking to you) but I made it home in time to reacquaint myself with the beloved wife and dog, eat some dinner and then settle back with a nice glass of wine to watch my not-quite-so-beloved Chicago Bears take on the feared San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football. I fell into a deep, untroubled sleep by the time my Bears had fallen behind 17-zip a little before halftime....
Imagine my surprise when I read my paper the next morning and found out that they'd come back to actually win the game! Unbelievable! In fact, it made me blink a few times and wonder if this might not be another one of those classic Chicago newspaper blunders....



Catch the latest poop & pictures, the Jay Leno interview, Last Open Road swag & highly inappropriate attire from Finzio's Store and the lurid & occasionally embarrassing "ride with Burt" in-car racing videos on the hopefully now fully operational website at: