by Martin Connolly
Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California is a name which causes grown men with even a modicum of octane in their blood to grin maniacally and giggle like schoolgirls. Most sports car fans have at least viewed the Andretti Hairpin or the infamous Corkscrew on television. Many have visited the track itself, as it is the venue for arguably the greatest historic racing meeting on the planet. Even fewer have driven it (too bad); to feel the earth evaporate beneath your car while negotiating the Corkscrew is one of life’s great experiences – not to be missed, if at all possible.
The Motley Mini Crew (and driver) arrived on Friday, June 21 at this auspicious track to participate in the SCCA Vintage meet and enjoy the palpable history of which the place reeks. The temperature was a refreshing 75 degrees,a great relief after the San Joaquin Valley’s 100 plus-degree days. This trip included Teri and Joanie, Steve and Jon’s wives, respectively, so the accommodations had slightly more domestic comfort than the Crew normally enjoys. Steve Phillips had raced many times previously at Laguna, so the opportunity to do warm-up laps on Friday afternoon was eschewed; Jon did commandeer Joanie’s beautiful 5-series BMW to do some hot laps (oops, I meant cold laps, Joanie), with Steve, Teri and I as victims…er, passengers. Perhaps more thrilling than negotiating the Corkscrew is careening down it with someone else at the wheel. But, we did survive. Subsequently, it was time to clean up for dinner at an honest-to-goodness fine local restaurant (see, told you the ladies made things civilized).
Buttonwillow, California, May 4, 2013
By Martin Connolly
Buttonwillow is a small town about 35 miles northwest of Bakersfield, CA, located in an isolated and desolate region of the vast San Joaquin Valley. Probably the most attractive thing about Buttonwillow is the name; the most interesting item may be that it is home to a road-race venue operated by the SCCA, which hosts the annual “British Extravaganza,” in concert with the Vintage Auto Racing Association (VARA).
While the event title may lack modesty, like the “World Series” or “Super Bowl”, it mostly manages to live up to its billing. The track itself is remarkable in that it offers a number of intriguing challenges to enrapture even the most jaded of sports car drivers; the 3.1 mile ribbon of writhing asphalt provides plenty of surprises to catch the unwary. Fortunately for those, there is a plethora of empty space in the areas immediately adjacent to the track, so most drive-by-Braille episodes result in nothing much worse than dirty racing cars. If you’re not driving, there are plenty of viewing areas to catch different aspects of the action, more about which later.
Early May in Buttonwillow can provide unpredictable weather; not this year. Hot. Mid-nineties (but it’s a dry heat…), with a nice sub-Saharan-level “breeze” to whip things up in the evenings. So far, not much to commend this trip, dear reader, but consider that drag racers make pilgrimages to Bonneville, off-roaders like to race across deserts, and 24-hour fans stay up all night to watch the unfolding drama. And drama certainly unfolded at Buttonwillow this year. As Robert Burns once wrote, “The best-laid schemes o’Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley.” He must have been a racing fan. Steve Phillips’ #37 light blue Mini was meticulously prepared, and ably attended by the amorphous Motley Pit Crew, this time consisting of Jon Brothers, Kent Burkhart, Craig Johnson, Pete Verhoeven and yours truly. For good measure, Jon brought his newly-acquired “Qvale Special” Mini, Craig his white Mini panel van, and, to lend some class to the group, I brought the MGB “Racer”. Although not participants in the racing activities, the support cars were needed to replenish beer supplies, take part in the “Concours” and consume our spare time with endless fettling, just in case the racing car didn’t provide enough hands-on practice. Read the rest of this entry