ALL IN

Once Gary and I had committed to it, we were all in. The West Capital Alumni Association’s All American Vintage Classic has existed for twelve years. The first one was organized by Brenda Anderson, wife of Sacramento short track legend Johnny Anderson. Bonnie Chisholm was a board member back in ’06 and took over the event reins the following year. Chisholm also heads up the vintage segment at the Louie Vermeil Classic at Calistoga each Labor Day and that is how my buddy Gary Barnes and I came to be invited.

Now Barnes and I had never driven our race cars on asphalt before…and that is where the Voytek brothers come in. They were planning to attend the Classic anyway so when they offered to crew for us and lend us their pavement expertise, it was pretty much a no brainer.

We arrived in Roseville (CA) on Thursday at dusk. Many of the participants were already there including a Super Modified that was very familiar to me. One of the last races I attended at the old San Jose Speedway was the Johnny Key Classic in 1976. And here before me, literally moments after pulling through the pit gate, appeared the winning car from that event. Thus began an awesome weekend that at times bordered on the surreal.

Friday began with a race memorabilia swap meet. The number of vendors was small but somehow everyone in my party found something they couldn’t live without.

Naturally, I wanted to race with Gary. Yes, my 1985 Sargent is technically a Super but in reality the car has more in common with his ’80 Stanton Sprint Car than the other Supers on hand. It has torsion bar suspension, no starter and I run it without a wing. The officials wouldn’t have it (a Super is a Super; a Sprint Car is a Sprint Car… I guess). Instead they tossed me in with a mixed group of varied experience. I recognized the #5 car from the pages of Vintage Oval. I even remembered the guy’s name: Dan Green. He was one of Legends of Kearny Bowl up from the Fresno area. Also in our session was the Duke McMillan built #0, recently restored by Mike Sargent and driven by Jim DaRe.

The green light blinked on and we were underway. The #5 was circulating slowly, clinging to the bottom groove. DaRe meanwhile chose the high line and really starting hauling the mail. I was somewhere in the middle. I dove in under the #5 and powered away. Within a few laps I was gaining on him again! The #0 in contrast, flashed by me for a second time! On the checkered flag lap the three of us arrived in turn four together. DaRe on the outside, I commit to the bottom, #5 in the center. The #0 easily crossed the line first; I accelerated past the #5 but got a shot in the right rear for my efforts. When I came back around on my cool off lap, #5 was parked sideways at start/finish. “Uh-oh” I thought, “I’m gonna get blamed for that.” It turned out Green no longer owned the car and the new owner of #5 was letting his wife take a test drive. (A rookie ribbon tied to the back of the cage might have been a good idea).

“You see the painted stipe around the bottom?” the head official asked me. “Yeah, I guess.” I said. “You have to stay to the right of that.” He told me I was fast but I was going to wreck somebody. “You need to move up a groove, work on being smoother, slow down to go faster, etc.” I told him I understood and promised to behave myself. In the final session I kept my nose clean. I ran by myself and worked on driving smoother.

Saturday morning we pushed all the cars over behind the grandstands. There was a hot rod show, other display vehicles and vendor booths- all of it, free to the public. Around noon the alumni association honored their new inductees and we all enjoyed a great barbequed lunch. I estimated the group under the pavilion at 350 but Chisholm revealed later that the head count was actually 380- a complete sellout. Afterward we pushed all the cars back to the pit area and track time commenced.

I feel like I continued to get smoother, driving deeper into the turns and braking less, rolling on the throttle earlier. My lap times were likely coming down but my engine temp was starting to climb. I eventually dropped some fluid on the track and found myself back under scrutiny. For my final session we switched out the radiator cap and closed off the overflow making a contained system. I vowed to pull off if the temp got higher than 240.

I was laying down my best laps of the weekend when rivulets of water began streaming down the face of the dash. Then: “Ka-booof!” The lower radiator hose blew and I became a passenger on my own personal carnival ride. Luckily I stopped without hitting anything, faced up the banking between turns three and four. I checked for oncoming traffic just in time to see #5 (of all possible cars) hit my water, do a quick 360 and kiss the retaining wall! My Vintage Classic ended there.

I was glad to hear that damage to the #5 was minimal. Calling it a “racing deal” is cop out so if I spoiled his and his wife’s weekend, I take responsibility and apologize. Gary meanwhile did awesome. He led the Sprint Car finale for eight laps before finishing second.

Throughout the weekend there was serious buzz about this being the last Vintage Classic to be held at All American Speedway in Roseville. I certainly hope that that is not the case. Thanks again to Bonnie Chisholm and all the people that help make this event one of the greatest vintage racing events I have ever attended.

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