2023 British Extravaganza
Vintage Auto Racing Association British Extravaganza 2023
Submitted by: Simon Cooper
The annual Vintage Auto Racing Association (VARA) British Extravaganza was held this past May 12-14 at Buttonwillow Raceway Park. The British Extravaganza is one in a series of events hosted by VARA, as a part of their six event 2023 season. Vintage race cars from all walks of manufacturing comprised the various groups, including the varied British Marques (Austin Healey, Mini Cooper, Triumph, MG, Lotus, Cortina), as well as manufacturers such as Alfa Romeo, BMW, Datsun, Ford Mustang, Mazda, Cobra, Chevy Corvette and Camaro, Formula and Club Ford, Super V and Sports Racer. Though there has been a marked drop off in the number of participants at these VARA events, those who faithfully continue to come out are some of the best folks there are. The Valley British Auto Club is comprised of folks of all ages, from all walks of life, who share in a special sorta love for all things British. Many car owners are weekend warriors who love to tinker on their machines themselves and then get out to enjoy the open road, listening intently to every last noise as they travel along. Some are simply content to join others at a monthly VBAC Club dinner, sharing stories of their daily lives, while tossing out a bit of inquiring conversation involving their chosen British Marque. Others, do each of the above… and more.
A trio of individuals have taken their love for British iron to the race track. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long (nearly 20 years) to actually sit down and write a brief synopsis of our latest experience. Lord knows, there’s been SO many events we’ve attended, having been both successful and otherwise, where an article and some photos were warranted. Regardless of our success, or lack thereof, it’s always been a whole lotta fun. For nearly 40 years, car owner Steve Phillips has been racing something British. For the past 20, Steve has campaigned a meticulously prepared 1966 Austin Mini Cooper S in VARA, SCCA and SVRA events throughout California. He’s also run the Mini at Portland International Raceway and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Providing car preparation, technical and trackside assistance are fellow VBAC members (and Classic Mini owners) Jon Brothers and Martin Connolly. Steve and I are life-long friends since our mid 70s high school days, with Martin becoming a good friend of ours after we all got acquainted in the Car Club.
Now then, back to the main crux of this article, that of the 2023 British Extravaganza. Ours has always been a relatively competitive run group (mainly a C Sedan Group) and we have certainly been blessed with some good fortune along the way. Having won this VARA event a handful of times, and two VARA Class championships, we always look forward to coming back to spend this weekend at Buttonwillow. With the weather in this part of California always seeming to play a significant factor in vehicle performance, each outing can provide for some highly unpredictable experiences and results. This weekend, would prove to be no different. The temperature was hot for racing. Unseasonable May temperatures in the mid to upper 90’s, caused the VARA folks to alter their schedule somewhat to get the cars out before the temperatures reached their maximum for the day. As Friday was just a practice day, we opted not to run. Saturday had four races, a warm-up, a qualifier and a flag race. The day ended with our All British race. Having qualified with a best time for Saturday’s All British event, we found ourselves finishing second to a very nicely prepared and VERY fast Triumph Spitfire. Sunday’s finale would find Steve charging hard in fourth place, after starting ninth, only to be Black Flagged at the Start/Finish Line, with about ten minutes to go. Quite naturally, in keeping with the rules of racing, one must slow down and exit the track to receive the Steward’s reprimand. That was certainly a very long 3.1 mile lap… Upon hearing the news that he had apparently passed under a Yellow, Steve opted to DNF with only five minutes remaining in the race. Not at all what we had expected, but under the circumstances of only having three of the six flagging stations staffed, it’s likely someone missed something.
Oh well, as they say, that’s racing… The car ran GREAT, there were no mishaps, and although we three had had our fill of the Buttonwillow heat, the traditional after the race beer was ice cold. Most importantly, all racing stuff aside, a huge thank you goes out to our wives Terry, Joanie and Gwen, for letting us go to a racing event on Mother’s Day weekend. We promise to rethink this next year.