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If you're not involved in the world of vintage racing, a lot of this is just gonna fly right past you. But suffice to say that probably the oldest and surely the largest vintage race-sanctioning body in North America (the SVRA) got sold a couple years ago--for about the 4th time--and the guy who bought it came right out of left field: a reasonably newbie racer but formidable Texas entrepreneur & businessman named Tony Parella. He's a pretty amazing guy in a lot of respects: a man with some born-in physical disabilities but with an amazingly keen mind, tremendous creative drive, sharp business instincts and an indomitable, can-do spirit. He'd been an incredibly successful business person, and he got hooked on the sport just like a lot of us when he went through his first-ever race-driving school just a few years before.

I was impressed by Tony from the first time I met him: soft-spoken on the outside, but with all sorts of drive right beneath the surface and capable of making seemingly impossible things happen when he put his mind and resources to the task.

He was not a man to be under-estimated and, like a lot of people, I was impressed and captivated immediately and thought he was just what the sport needed.

I'm a lot less sure of that today.

Take the e-mails that have passed between us over the past several days following the SVRA's second-annual Brickyard Invitational race meeting at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Yes, THAT one.

And you'd better have a full glass and an empty bladder before wading into what's to follow....


OK: The facts in brief:

1) I covered the inaugural SVRA Brickyard Classic for Vintage Motorsport and left highly impressed by most of it and a little iffy about some other things. I need not go into the details here but, out of deference to Tony and out of respect for what he has been able to accomplish in getting us races at COTA and Indy (both of which are incredible venues, but neither of which I am particularly enamored with as road-racing circuits for vintage cars...but that's another story), I e-mailed him the draft of the story before sending it to the magazine, and he was quite upset with some of the things I had to say. And then he contacted both my editor and my publisher (neither of whom had even seen the story at that point!) to make his displeasure known. I believe he even threatened to pull all of his advertising. We went back-and-forth a bunch, and I did wind up re-writing the story (twice in fact) and I think it was still a pretty good and accurate piece (in fact, it won the American Automobile Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association award for Best Magazine Event Report of 2014 at The 500 this year, and that's across ALL types of American motorsport) and at the time he seemed mollified.

Although he did pull all his advertising shortly thereafter and, later on, hired away the two key at-track people for both "our" magazine and Victory Lane (Toni Cumbess and Pam Shattraw) and started up a quarterly magazine of his own. And it's my opinion he hired them away not just to fill his own staff but to hobble the other two publications.

But what do I know...I'm just a writer.

In any case, some of the things he took issue with in that first story were:

1) The fiddly, Mickey-Mouse nature of some of the track sections how two particular corners (REALLY tight nineties at the end of the only two straightaways worth mention) were, by nature, disaster magnets that invited metal-to-metal incidents

2) Some odd car groupings. Particularly putting decades-later SCCA spec racers in with a fine bunch of vintage Porsche 356s, TRs, MGs, Volvos, etc from the late fifties/early sixties. I didn't like the bullshit history or even worse aesthetics of it, or how the performance envelopes of the two types of cars overlapped in such a way that it screwed up the race between the "real" vintage cars. My own opinion is that if you're going to let those turds run (and they ARE fun to race, if not to drive), put them in with the similar-era Sports 2000s where they can have their own fun race and get lapped a few times without clashing (as opposed to "crashing") with the other cars in the group.

3) Far too many track time-sapping Full Course Yellows and dawdling dead-vehicle recoveries when a local yellow would have allowed the paying participants more of their allotted track time.

4) My view of his "Pro-Am" Feature side show, where actual & famous Indy 500 drivers are teamed up with SVRA Group 6 (Corvettes, Mustangs, get the idea) owner/drivers for a 1-hour enduro with driver changes. I know this sort of thing is a huge success at Goodwood (although I've never been) and the fans did indeed love it. But Sean Ryan's very well-prepped and usually front-running silver Camaro and another car got fairly well banged up thanks to an, umm, "overly optimistic overtaking maneuver" by one of the Indy veterans (I think it was Bob Lazier).

5) what could have easily been a catastrophic--even fatal--accident between an absolutely FLYING Porsche Speedster (a trio of them, in fact, and all friends of mine) and a guy in a Formula Junior who simply didn't see them coming during the oval track hot laps. Which all the drivers I spoke to absolutely loved, by the way).

And then you've got my continuing disapproval of essentially "declaring" (or should that be "proclaiming?") that the SVRA race at COTA, with no qualification criteria that I know of, is summarily ordained as "The Vintage National Championship." Fueling, I believe, the exact opposite of the "cars are the stars/gentlemen's racing/winning doesn't matter" attitude Tony's group supposedly espouses.

So much for the past.

Tony and I always seemed to get along when we met, I do indeed respect him and like a LOT of what he's done, and he took a full-page SVRA ad in my new book, for which I was thankful.

But not beholden.

So now we come to this year's event at Indy, and I am once again reporting for the magazine. And there were a lot of good things to report and places where the SVRA had listened to past criticisms and made appropriate changes (the new track configuration was much improved, although I still didn't love it) and, overall, my report was going to be positive but with the caveat that participants needed to understand in advance that Indy was "an event" or "a happening" or "a show" or "a spectacle" rather than a typical vintage racing weekend. You got the whole freakin' Unser family and  a bunch of other Name (and Less-Than-Name) pro drivers in attendance (and participating in the Pro-Am), great cars from the Indy museum on display, a nice dinner (only it was cost-cutting weenies, beans and burgers on the menu this year), drink (on your own nickel), a long-past-their-prime but still Big Name rock band (what does that have to do with anything?) & a massive fireworks display Sat. nite plus a star-studded (if sometimes suspect?) memorabilia & car auction on Thurs-Fr-Sat.

What's not to like?

Plus running at the Hoary and Hallowed Brickyard, including real races on its fiddly infield road circuit along with fast-lapping sessions on that majestic & famous oval.

Overall, I'd call it a "Bucket List" event rather than the sort you can't wait to return to every year.

Only I hadn't written any of that yet. I was still mulling it over. And trying to figure out how I was going to handle a particular incident that occurred during the SVRA's much-vaunted (and, let's be honest, crowd-favorite) "Pro-Am" race. To be fair, there had been a rain squall that pushed the schedule back because somebody made the wise and correct decision that the "pros" really needed some dry (or at least semi-dry) practice time in their assigned cars. Which they kind of got in an ad-hoc "combined" session before lunch on Saturday. Followed by an interminable fan walk (they loved it) before the race. But the unintended consequence was that Group 5 got themselves a 3-lap race at the very end of the day with darkness descending (although there was a full-course yellow and some mitigating circumstances involved, and the SVRA--partially at my suggestion--offered the Gr5 folks a discount on a future race entry to smooth things over, and rightly so).

But to the Pro-Am incident. Past Indy racer Eliseo Salazar was co-driving with Gary Moore in a pretty damn fast GT350 Mustang out of Curt Vogt's Cobra Automotive stable, and Gary started the car and apparently missed the "IN" signal when it came time to pit at half-distance. Which I am told got Eliseo a bit upset, but I only have that third-hand. Then Gary came in and handed the car over. And, on his first flying lap, Eliseo came storming into road course Turn One (the tight 90 right I mentioned earlier) at a speed more appropriate for Indy's other, more famous Turn One.

I was standing right there and saw the whole thing, and I could see from 200 yards before the corner that there was NO WAY he could make it. But he came steaming up the inside anyway in one of the most bone-headed (or should that be "poorly judged?") driving maneuvers I have ever seen. He went straight on, of course, and in the process collected the hapless 1885 Cobra Mk. IV Replicar (yes, I said "Replicar") of John McCormick, which was also cared for by Cobra Automotive. It was a pretty substantial hit, with both cars in need of major work afterwards. But almost as soon as his Mustang spun to a halt, Eliseo revved it up, popped the clutch and attempted to flee the scene in a tire-smoking burnout. Only he was trying it on a badly-mashed rear corner and a tire down to its bent rim. So he almost looped it again-twice-while attempting his escape....

Now I'm not singling Eliseo out, as I've personally done a few dumb things in other people's nice cars (including, sadly, another Curt Vogt-prepared GT350) and lord knows he didn't have much practice time in the beast. Still, it was pretty poor form for a "pro" guest driver on his first flying race lap in somebody else's valuable vintage racecar. And I wondered who took the blame or if he apologized properly (or, more importantly, if anybody helped out with the repair costs on the cars). So, as I normally do, I thought I'd ask the folks who'd know before sitting down at my keyboard to write the story. Starting with SVRA CEO and President Tony Parella.

What follows is our somewhat amazing exchange of e-mails: 

Burt Levy

Sent: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 7:08 AM
To: Tony Parella
Subject: buncha stuff

1) First off, the new book is off at the printers (hurrah...I approve the final proofs today!) and thanks so much for your support. Your ad is inside front cover as promised & it looks great!

2) we introduced a soft-cover "Preview Edition" at the Hawk at Road America weekend before last (only you couldn't buy it by itself...buyers had to cough up fifty bucks and will also get the hardcover with the ad section and when it's ready). So essentially I figured out a way to sell the same book TWICE. We had our best book-sales weekend EVER! Had people lined up five-and-six deep at the booth all three days. It was, very honestly, overwhelming. 

3) Sorry I missed The Glen, but just too many plates spinning and balls in the air right now.

4) That said, I'm definitely planning on attending the Gold Cup and COTA, and am wondering if you would like a little intermittent color help on the PA? Can't commit to being there all the tiome as I'll have a book signing and also hope to be co-driving (in somebody else's car, of course), but I'd be happy to help out if I can. I know I don't have the right voice for it and that I sometimes tend to run on too much, but at least I know what the hell I'm looking at.

5) Impossible to do for this year, but I ran something called the "Auto Olympics" at the Gold Cup several years back and it was VERY well received and I'd love to see it resurrected (and maybe even expanded to other events). Basically it embraced the car show (which I see you are continuing), a "start-whenever-you-want-all-weekend-long" rallye over the surrounding back roads and an autocross (run in conjunction with my friend Glenn Stephens of Traqmate) set up on the infield Patriot course. We had it set up in groups so there was almost no waiting time and all the people who did it really loved it and have been asking ever since when we're going to bring it back. It can be open to race participants AND spectators/car show types, and I think it's your kind of idea.

6 and last) I'm currently writing my race report on Indy (it's due in a few days) and I'm struggling with the Eliseo Salazar wreck. I was right there and saw the whole thing, and it was, very simply, a bone-headed move. There was NO WAY he was going to make that corner, and two of Curt's customers' cars got pretty banged up. On the other hand (to be fair) the crowd absolutely LOVED the pro-am and I, like they, would very much like to see it continue. So I guess my question is: who takes responsibility for the bent metal and did Eliseo ever properly apologize?

All the best to a guy I like a lot and respect the living shit out of...even when he does things I may not agree with,


From: [
Sent: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 7:22 AM
To: Burt Levy
Cc:; Toni Cumbess
Subject: Re: buncha stuff

Burt- Why would  you feel the need to report on Eliseo? Do you normally list all on track incidents? I'm trying to build something very special. With all that went well and all we managed around it would be a shame to read about that. Tony  

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone

From: Burt Levy
Sent: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 7:38 AM
Subject: RE: buncha stuff

Because it happened and it's news and everybody was talking about it.
That's what reporters are supposed to do.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Jul 28, 2015 8:01 AM
To: Burt Levy
Subject: Re: buncha stuff

Burt- do what you need to do. You seem to go out of your way to report the "news" on SVRA. It is really sad that that's what u call news. Please don't request to be part of SVRA events going forward. This industry has enough to overcome. I wish you well but you always seem to find fault in what we are doing. Best of Luck to you, Tony

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone.

Sent: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 10:16 AM
Reply To:
Subject: Re: buncha stuff

That is SO unfair! Who sent you the first Indy report last year and then rewrote it three times before sending it to the magazine? I write what I see and hear and experience, good and bad, and I do that for every group whose events I cover. If you can't take some suggestions or a little criticism along with all the praise and adulation (and I've said a LOT of good things about yourself, your ideas, your staff, your organizational & promotional skills and all the SVRA events I've reported on), you're going to have a hard time maintaining the friendships and relationships that you really need to maintain in order to make the SVRA grow in stature and following over the long haul.
I really hope you'll share this with your staff and reconsider barring me from being a part of future SVRA events. I did my first SVRA event in 1985, and have been participating in them as a driver and writing about them in the magazines ever since, through multiple ownership changes and organizational regimes. And, like every other sanctioning body, there have been lots of good things to say and negative things to report along the way. I don't think there's any question that I absolutely love this sport and have its very best interests in mind at all times.


Sent: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 10:28 AM
To:;; Toni Cumbess
Subject: Re: buncha stuff

Burt- you make the choice. If you need to report on track incidents you are not welcome at our events. I have never read about on track incidents in anyone's coverage of Vintage racing. I do welcome feedback on our events but highlighting a crash in the ProAm is unnecessary and not feedback. You have no idea what steps have been done to address smart vintage driving accross all SVRA events. As I said to you, do what you need to do. I will as well. I fully agree in building healthy long term relationships. Hopefully you do too. I assure you my staff will see this. Tony

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone.

Burt to Tony, same day, 10:42am:

If you look back, I've included incidents in my reports if there was something that made them significant. Like the big ground-pounder wreck on the start at Road America a few years back. I got in-car videos from many of the cars, interviewed those involved and wrote an entire column on how it happened and why. And it turned out it was one of those "perfect storm" deals and led to the installation of yellow, red and green lights on the underside of the crossover bridge on the blind hill approaching the starting line. I also have written many times about hooligan behavior in some of the HSR race groups (although they've been behaving better of late) and I complained loudly and bitterly after ISC took over Watkins Glen and the "local yellow" was all but abandoned in favor of track-time sapping full-course yellows and oft-unnecessary red flags (and that situation has likewise improved). I also reported, reluctantly, on the unfortunate fatality in the pre-war group at Lime Rock last September. 

In the case of the incident at Indy, the fact that a guest pro driver made a dumbass, impossible move on his first lap out of the pits in somebody else valuable vintage racecar makes it newsworthy. But my report will not dwell on it and will also say, in glowing terms, that it was fabulous to have all the pros participating and that the fans all around me on the hill overlooking turn one absolutely loved it and thought the pro-am was the best part of the weekend.


The above exchange, minus my last response (don't think she had it yet) had been made public in a limited way by Pam Shattraw, who used to work for VICTORY LANE and is now editor/publisher of Tony's new "vintage lifestyle" quarterly. She sent it to my editor (Randy Riggs) and publisher (Mike Silverman) & everyone on the SVRA staff, as best I can figure. So I forwarded my final response (above) to everyone who'd gotten her e-mail. After which I got this from Rick Parent at the SVRA:

Hi Burt,

While you have a point with freedom of speech and all, of which I am a huge fan, I think we need to enjoy it while we still can! However, I do not agree that making a big deal about an incident with eye witness interviews, video footage and drivers reports is good for the sport! 

Vintage Racing is a relatively new sport with the masses. Your time maybe better served promoting the sport in a positive light as you normally do. I would rather see Vintage racing portrayed as a sport that people can relate to because of that old MG or Mustang sitting in there back yard! The response, lovers of this sport would like to see would go something like " Hey I've got one of those and I would love to do that!" Instead of " Whooow... did you see that, they just crashed the shit out of $600,000 worth of cars. There is no way I am building a car and spending my life savings and a couple of years so some Hero and take me out like that!"

The sport of Vintage Racing does not need fans coming to the track to see the BIG ONE! NASCAR can afford it, Vintage Racing can not. Cup Teams write off there cars and don't even think twice about it. Small trailer guys which as you know, is where Vintage Racing has its roots, are devastated by such events and I don't think it appropriate to celebrate them.

So again, you may do as you like, and thank God we still have a free Country, but I would rather you didn't glorify incidents like these.

Regards, Rick

To which I replied (and copied all of the above):

I'm kind of surprised that such a shitstorm has kicked up over a story that NOBODY has seen or read yet. Including my editor at the magazine. Salazar's crash is by no means the focus of the story in any way, shape or form, but it IS mentioned because it's news and people have been talking about it.

If you recall, the deservedly praise-ridden story I wrote about SVRA's inaugural Brickyard event last year (which I voluntarily sent to Tony before the magazine had ever seen it and subsequently edited & re-wrote, incorporating many of his suggestions) won "Best Magazine Event Story of the Year" from the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Assn. at the Indy 500 this year.

I pride myself on trying to be fair, honest and accurate in my reporting and always having the best interests of the sport and its participants in mind. If Tony wants fluff pieces and PR, he should buy advertising, because my thoughts, observations and opinions are not for sale, nor are they subject to outside pressure. I will ALWAYS welcome input (in fact, I seek it out, as I did in my initial e-mail to Tony) and I'm frankly a little surprised--shocked, in fact--that he has threatened to bar me from future SVRA events given the quality and content of the reports I've written on SVRA weekends in the past.


So there it sits.

For now.

And I kind of resent the notion that Vintage Racing is a "new" phenomenon (as Rick Parent notes above) or "an industry," as Tony refers to it even further above. This all started with a bunch of folks who thought old racecars were cool and that they deserved a little proper exercise. And a lot of the people on the far side of the fences obviously agreed. But this sport or hobby or business or industry or whatever the hell you want to call it has been around for something like 40 years and didn't just drop out of the sky unformed and inarticulate and in desperate need of a savior-cum-manager when Tony Parella went through his first-ever driving school some four or five years ago.

The magazine is ready and willing to Go to War over this (journalistic integrity/muzzling of the press & all that), but I don't see much upside in that direction, and am waiting to see if there's any further reply from the other side.

If not...fuck 'em!


ps: Since the above, Tony has called the magazine's publisher and told him I would not be allowed or welcome at any future SVRA events. Period.

So tell me, how was YOUR day?

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: