LEXINGTON — Crisp morning air buffets its way through open car windows carrying a chorus of howling motors as you drive down Steam Corners Road. Two-point-four miles of winding racetrack known as Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course falls over the dewy green hills out here in Lexington, Ohio. This weekend the course is not lapped by NASCAR machines, Indy cars, or IMSA prototypes, but by a cavalcade of motorsport history spanning six decades. This is the 37th annual Mid-Ohio Vintage Grand Prix.
The basic idea of a vintage race is quite simple.
“It’s a lot of like-minded people able to race cars that normally would have been put away,” said driver Jim Gewinner. He’s been doing vintage racing for about six years with his 1965 Lotus 23B sports racer. The car had a reputation as a giant-killer due to its ability to triumph over cars with far more power. The Lotus is low and light, allowing it to corner faster than many of its contemporaries.
“This whole car, without me in it but with all the fluids, is just at 1,000 pounds,” Gewinner said. The Lotus 23B can hold its own against sports racers of the time, but the 660 horsepower 1989 Ferrari 640 F1 further down in the paddock is a different story, though.
The variety of vehicles that turn up to compete in vintage events is so great that the field is divided up into 14 racing groups by the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association, or SVRA, which runs this and other vintages races around the United States. Cars are grouped based on period and type, so 1970s muscle cars race together while open-wheel cars from the same era race separately. This ensures that all the cars in any given field are more-or-less evenly matched for closer racing, though winning races isn’t exactly the point. SVRA drivers typically don’t drive these cars as their careers. Though some competitors do have racing history, most are just interested in using their cars as they were built to be used.
“This is a way of racing in a comfortable environment,” Gewinner said.
The environment is comfortable for the spectators, too. Mid-Ohio is a gorgeous venue and this event allows you access to almost all areas of the facility. You can set up chairs on the hills along the sweeping corners or climb up the bleachers for an excellent view of the action, then walk through the paddock and garages to get a look at the machines up close and talk to the drivers. Most of the competitors are more than happy to discuss their cars with the fans. You’ll even see drivers helping excited young gearheads into their cars to sit behind the controls and get their photos taken. All of this is included in the ticket price.
You’ll also get to see a selection of interesting road-going vehicles at the in-field car show. The yearly British Car Showdown brings many MGs, Triumphs, Jaguars, and more to the show field. Along with the British cars, you’ll see numerous Corvettes, Alfa-Romeos, Cobras, and other sports cars on display. For a small additional price, anyone can drive their car around the race track behind the pace cars during the lunch break.
This year, the featured car was the Chevy Corvair, and they came out in large numbers. Along with the 20 or so cars in the show, there were around twenty more of them on track. Despite their dubious, albeit mostly unwarranted, reputation for bad handling, they drove wheel-to-wheel with the European sports cars they were pitted against. The class system works wonderfully and despite the age and rarity of the cars, many drivers put on a good show for the crowd with close racing and frequent battles for position. The action is almost nonstop with the short races of under 30 minutes. Sunday there’s two endurance races that throw many classes of cars together for an exhilarating mix of machines pouring through the corners.
The Mid-Ohio Vintage Grand Prix proves itself year after year to be one of the best automotive events in the state. There’s not many other places in Ohio where you can see such a wide array of cars, from vintage Austin Healeys to nearly new Porsches, being driven full-throttle. The warm, welcoming environment and spacious facility is unmatched by the like of small dirt tracks. Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is easily the best place around for a weekend of racing action, and the Vintage Grand Prix is one of the most interesting events that they host.
You can find a calendar of events and buy tickets to races at midohio.com.
The writer is a summer intern with the Sidney Daily News.