Vintage Racing Mustangs and GT40s at 2015 Hawk International Challenge
The Mustang Vintage Racing Scene: Sampling the Sights, Smells, and Sounds of Vintage Racing in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Car shows and cruise-ins are a great way to view some old Detroit muscle, but aside from the occasional exhaust rap or spontaneous burnout, it’s generally a static affair. In a time when unleashing such beasts on public roads is frowned upon, car enthusiasts are flocking to racing events that encourage owners of vintage iron to let ‘em rip: Vintage Racing
Vintage racing revives a simpler time—when fuel was leaded, chassis were metal, tires were fat, and racing cars was really dangerous. If your idea of fun is watching old F1 cars, Can-Am machines, Mustangs, Corvettes, and bathtub Porsches punish their tires and exhaust their drivers, vintage racing is for you. And the sound is glorious. Mufflers? Aren’t those something you wear around your neck in the winter?
If you want to see some cool cars—and we mean really cool cars—attend a vintage racing event near you. Most road courses hold at least one a year. (Elkhart Lake’s Road America hosts three.) There are trophies for the drivers in a seemingly endless series of classes, but the real winners are the fans. The owners of these priceless cars enjoy showing them to fans just as much as they love driving them. Bringing a kid is a sure-fire way to photograph your youngster behind the wheel of their favorite machines. And did we mention the noise?
While fun is clearly a priority at vintage events, when the green flag drops, vintage “racing” lives up to its name. These drivers are out to win. The red mist settles in, and all that matters is passing the car in front. But even though the cars look and sound like they’re from their younger, more dangerous days, the safety equipment is clearly modern. Closed-faced helmets, HANS devices, flame-proof clothing, and fire suppression systems remind everyone that the cars aren’t the only priceless things on the track.
To experience what vintage racing is all about, we attended The Hawk International Challenge with Briand Redman at Road America (“The Hawk”) over the weekend of July 16-19, 2015. While some vintage race organizers are sticklers for certain cars or time periods, The Hawk featured over 400 cars of varying “vintages,” from a 1933 Studebaker Indy Special to a 2010 Audi R8 LMS race car. The cars were divided into fourteen different groups loosely based on type, time period, and relative speed.
The Hawk differs from some other vintage events in that on Friday night, the race cars parade into Elkhart Lake and park on the roads surrounding the historic Siebkens and Osthoff resorts for a “Concours d’ Elegance.” It sounds fancy, but it’s basically an excuse for owners drive their cars on public roads, talk about their machines, mingle with fellow drivers, and maybe drink a few brews in the process. It’s an annual highlight for the drivers, crews, and thousands of fans that fill the streets. After a couple hours, the drivers fire up their un-muffled cars and thunder back to the track. The last car rolls out (or is push-started) to great fanfare. It’s an unforgettable experience.
Remember: these race cars competed before races were the slickly-produced television productions that they are today. So if you want to really see and hear what these cars were like to muscle around a circuit, attending a vintage race should be a bucket-list event on your calendar. Just don’t forget to bring your earplugs.
1966 Shelby G.T. 350
John and Nancy Fridirici
“In 1994 a neighbor had a Shelby in his garage and he spoke with us. He saw us hauling a Triumph TR3A to races. The owner and his son had the car for a long time, and they wanted to find ‘good home’ for the car.” The two worked out a deal, and its transformation into a racecar was complete in 1997. The Fridirici’s ‘66 Shelby G.T. 350 features a healthy 306-inch small block Ford (12:1 compression, Dart heads, healthy cam) backed by a close-ratio Top Loader transmission and 4.11:1 rear gears.
Fridirici is quick to credit those that helped with the restoration and preparation of the car. “YARD Racing formerly in West Allis, Wisconsin, helped on the mechanical items. R/T Restorations of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin is responsible for the paint and finish, and the engine was built by Motor Master of Hartford, Wisconsin. Since it’s a Shelby, we have all the original stuff—including the engine—in storage.
“I love vintage racing because we gather our families at the track and meet people. We met John Wagner and Peter Vrhovnik at church and we shared an interest in racing and cars.” Wagner became the crew chief for the team, and Vrhovnik crews and drives the hauler. The Fridiricis lived near Watkins Glen in the mid 1970's and from time to time return to race at Watkins Glen, as well as visit Road Atlanta, Summit Point, tracks in Michigan, and Black Hawk Farms.
“I grew up in a Ford Family and long followed Shelby Racing and the Cobras as well as Mustang efforts,” John said, adding, “The racing is not life, but is a part of life. We have enjoyed vintage racing, and the people like you we have met along the way. Driving a Shelby today is amazing!”
1965 Shelby G.T. 350
While the other Shelby we highlighted has only recently become a racecar, Steve Hughes recounts the racing history of his 1965 Shelby. “This Shelby has been a racecar since almost new. It was purchased by Randy Blessing in 1965 after loaning his R-model Shelby to his driving instructor, Walt Hane, who later drove it to the 1966 B/Production championship. Blessing campaigned this G.T. 350 in Southeast regional SCCA events while other Shelby was on loan to Hane. Blessing had some success with this car…we think one win. The car was later raced by a couple other Florida owners including in the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1976 and 1977.”
Hughes purchased the car in 1998. “It had been sitting in Florida after its racing days were done. It had number 79 on doors and Kendall sponsorship on sides.” Hughes, who also owns Mequan Auto Body in Mequan, Wisconsin, had restored many Mustangs before, but he wasn’t overly enthusiastic about taking on another project. “Friends of mine were doing this type of racing with other Mustangs, and since I also enjoyed racing, this seemed like the natural thing to do.”
Hughes built a 297-cubic inch mill around a Ford Racing Boss 302 block, Ford 351N heads, a Holley 650 carb, and a thumping 12.5:1 compression ratio. A G-Force four-speed transmission and Detroit locker back up the all-business powerplant. Hughes adds, “I enjoy vintage racing a lot because of the great atmosphere. After 11 years, I would like to still see more tracks. I got to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway recently, and it was a blast!”