President’s Corner – Summer 2019

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By Neil Gambony

In October 2019, the BMW CCA will be celebrating its 50th anniversary at the Oktoberfest celebration in Greenville, South Carolina. Over one thousand members have registered for the event, sure to be one for the record books. The BMWCCA, now known as the BMW CCA, was formed in 1969 in Massachusetts by some overly enthusiastic 2002 owners.

To put 1969 in perspective, Richard Nixon was elected the 37th POTUS, the Beatles recorded and released their last album Abbey Road, IMSA (International Motor Sport Association) was formed by John Bishop, Mario Andretti won the Indy 500 and who could forget Woodstock, an event that changed the course of music forever.

For our Chapter, 1970 was an important year; it was the year that the New Jersey Chapter became the fourth chapter to join the BMW CCA. We will be celebrating our 50th anniversary in 2020, exactly how I am unsure of at this time.

An event that I have been attending since 1998 is the US Vintage Grand Prix held in Watkins Glen NY, typically held on the first weekend of September after the Labor Day holiday. Since I own vintage cars, the newest model year car being a 2007 E92, I also enjoy seeing vintage race cars. Some of the cars at this event are ones that I have seen racing in their heyday in the 80s and 90s, yes it makes me feel old seeing them again.

This is not a BMW CCA event. However, in all the times of my attendance there I have seen members from the New Jersey, Delaware Valley, New York and Genesee Valley Chapters, as well as I’m sure there are many more members from other regions that I haven’t met yet. Some of them are spectators like me, others are participants.

The US Vintage Grand Prix is sanctioned by the SVRA, which is the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association, one of the oldest and largest vintage racing groups. The cars that race over the weekend are from many different disciplines; there could be former Formula One, Indy, NASCAR, Trans-Am, ALMS and IMSA competition cars as well as cars raced in the SCCA such as the production cars or as I call them the “alphabet cars”.

There are sports cars both large- and small-bore, GT cars, formula cars, spec racers and prototypes. There are Corvettes, Mustangs, MGs, BMWs, Jaguars, Porsches, Minis, Alfa Romeos, Datsun and Volvos just to name a few makes. This year the featured marquee car happens to be Triumph, it’s been a few years since BMW was featured. A typical weekend will have between 400-500 cars.

The event is really a 2-part celebration. The main part is the use of Watkins Glen International (WGI); A 3.4 mile road course circuit located approximately 5 miles from the Village of Watkins Glen which is situated at the southern tip of Lake Seneca, one of the Finger Lakes. The second part of the event takes place in the Village of Watkins Glen on Friday.

Watkins Glen is where the first Grand Prix was held in the US after World War II and marked the revival of road course racing in the U.S. A 6.6-mile road course was established on public roads which still exist today although they have not been used for racing since 1952. On the Friday afternoon of the weekend several hundred race cars are escorted from the track where they have been practicing for the day to town where they join the festivities that have been going on all day.

In the town which has been closed off to thru traffic for the day, thousands of people are taking part of the many events going on such as car shows, gymkhanas, art shows, wine tasting, car tours, and listening to live music playing from rooftops. When the race cars arrive from the track they line both sides of Franklin Street which is the main street through town. This gives everyone a chance to look at the cars up close and talk with the drivers who are more than happy to share the heritage about the car. There is even the possibility that the owner of the car is the original owner/driver.

Franklin Street is an interesting one, there are granite markers set in the sidewalk that are engraved with racer’s names on them, racers who have raced either on the original street course or those who have raced at WGI, it’s similar to Hollywood’s walk of shame. I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like standing behind (or even sitting on) the hay bales that lined the street when the Grand Prix cars roared past in 1948.

At about 6 PM the cars are escorted in groups around the original 6.6-mile circuit for 2 laps and it is always a thrill to see them re-enter Franklin Street. Many drivers have either their significant other or a crew member ride with them, surely a thrill for both occupants of the car. When the laps are over, they are then escorted back to the track for the rest of the weekend’s activities.

Back at the track for the remainder of the weekend, there are qualifying and racing sessions for the racers, either in 1/2-hour or 1-hour enduros. The cars are run in groups such as those they ran in when originallycompetitive or they may grouped into an enduro of similar performance cars. There are also several feature races such as the Collier Cup for MG automobiles, named for the brothers of Miles and Sam Collier who started the Automobile Racing Club of America in 1933 which later became the Sports Car Club of America in 1944.

The Collier brothers were businessmen from New York City and were involved in the importing of MG cars, the car of choice for racing in the 40’s and 50’s. Their involvement of car importation opened the door for others to be able to import cars such as Max Hoffman; among the many of the car brands he brought was BMW. The rest as we say is history.

Among the other races of the weekend is the new Trans -Am series. The management of the SVRA now also runs the Trans-am series with four different classes of cars. Although the main class has a lot of American cars such as Mustangs, Camaros and Challengers, there are also other classes that have BMWs, Porsches, Aston Martins, Ferraris, Audis, McLaren and Mercedes-Benz. The downside to having the Trans-Am race there is that a few vintage race groups were eliminated to make room in the schedule.

As we head into the Fall, we need to consider our Club Officers for next year. We will be holding the election at our December Meeting with the Pinewood Derby. The positions available are: President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary, Social Chairperson, Driving Events, and 2 Member-at-Large positions. If you are interested or know of anyone else who may be, please send our Secretary David Allaway, david@allaway.us a note with your nominee.

We will be holding our final Driver School at the Shenandoah circuit of the Summit Point Raceway complex on October 5th-6th. This is a technical, 2-mile course with 23 turns, and a scaled down version of the carrousel turn of the Nurburgring racetrack in Germany. It’s also the only track we use where we use the skidpad. Hopefully it will be cooler there than when we were at Summit Main back in July. I hope to see you there.

Neil Gambony

neilgambony@njbmwcca.org

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