Have you ever noticed that when you retire everyone asks, “How’s retirement?” “What are you going to do now?” I just retired after 35+ years from a great job with NAPA Auto Parts and I started to think about my bucket list; how I now, could possibly get some of the things on my list checked off.
Last January I happened to see an ad for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion featuring the 50-year anniversary of Can Am and Trans Am race cars. This has always been part of my bucket list before I even knew what a bucket list was. You know, sleek bodies, big tires, tall velocity stacks, giant wings… cars that go up to 185 MPH: McLaren, Lola, Shadow, Ferraris… I could go on and on. As a gearhead I have always loved auto racing, of course, and the Can Am cars have always been my favorite.
Let the adventure begin!
Leaving Albany with my good friend Steve Veltman, heading south on I-5. All adventures are not without problems. We found out that because I had made our motel reservations in January when our American Express card through Costco was still the card we always used, I hadn’t thought about the fact that when the motel tried to charge AmEx for the reservation now, that it wouldn’t got through. Of course not… I called the motel only a few hours after receiving the dreaded “transaction denied” notification that came in at 3 AM, but the motel had already given our room away and had no ideas to help out, only saying “Doubt there’s any rooms in the Monterey area, it’s a race weekend.”
As we drove down the road I made contact with my cousin, Pat, in Gilroy, CA. Thank you! She had a place for us to stay that night. Meanwhile, back at home my wife was searching for a place for the rest of the weekend. She found one closer to the track than the original place, only costing twice as much instead of the 3-4 times as much as thought it might be.
Arriving at the track, I was completely overwhelmed seeing cars that I had only seen in magazines and on TV. The historic race is a giant event with cars from all of the US, Europe and Australia. Can Am cars more local to me, the Tacoma area, Willamette Valley and the southern Oregon coast area had representation.
We Took a break from the races and went to the Canepa Motorsports Shop open house. There, they restore vintage race cars and have a museum. We saw cars such as the 6 wheel Tyrell Formula 1 car, Le Mans winning Porsche and Ferraris. What a great place to visit! Twice! I left one of my cameras there. They watched over it for me until I could get back on the way home. Back to the races…
Thank goodness for shuttles. The Mazda Raceway is not level as it is built in a valley. The races go up and down hills on the course. At the top of the highest hill is a turn fittingly called “the corkscrew.” It is an S curve that drops three stories in less than an eighth of a mile. Pretty impressive to watch the cars come around at the top and follow them down the corkscrew!
In the pits was where I saw one of my favorite Can Am cars, a 1971 Shadow Mark II. It has small diameter tires, extreme aerodynamics and a Chevy V-8 engine that has approximately 800HP! I met the current owner, Dennis Losher and we were able to talk for a long time about the car. He even let me sit in it! Getting into a Can Am car is feat in itself-put your hands here, don’t touch this, don’t touch that, stand on the seat, (yes the seat), straighten your legs, slide down into the seat. Squeeze and wiggle, then you’re in! I could imagine what it is like to race this car. You can’t see the front end because it drops off so quickly-better aerodynamics. The engine is right behind you and the velocity stacks are right above your head. Pretty amazing.
While I was in the Shadow pit area, I met Don Nichols, designer and engineer of the first tiny tire Shadow. Even at the age of 93 he is still sharp. He told me how they built the front suspension with small coil springs the size of engine valve springs.
I also got to meet up with a former co-worker and his McLaren M8E/D Can Am car. His car was on display only-oil and coolant don’t mix, possibly a cracked block.
If you think traffic in Portland is bad, try the Monterey Bay area with the historic Races, Pebble Beach Concourse D’Elegance Car Show and several auto auctions and car shows going on at the same time!
We also watched vintage Formula 1 Races. They were exciting, loud and fast Lotus, Brabham, Ferrari, March and Tyrell race cars.
The Trans Am cars were just brute power, fast and loud. Muscle cars you see on the street: Mustangs Camaros, Javelins and a Dodge Challenger were represented there. Quite something to feel and hear.
Getting older is interesting. Leaving behind some important things was humbling (did I mention my glasses?). I left them in a restaurant and got them back also. But I did quickly get into my new habit of checking as I stood up to go anywhere: wallet, glasses, phone, keys-wallet, glasses, phone, keys… so with help from family, old and new friends and my wife who is not afraid of computers, I was able to check one thing off my bucket list. It was a memorable weekend and my own bed never looked and felt so good!