As the sun set on the fourth and final day of racing at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, entrants representing 13 countries and competing in over 600 historic cars gathered to celebrate their accomplishments at the Rolex Awards Ceremony at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. No one was more proud than Graham Wallis (Cedar Glen, Calif.), who claimed the Spirit of Monterey Trophy for overall excellence in presentation and performance of his 1929 Lagonda, which raced in the group for Pre-1949 Sports and Racing Cars.
“This is the car we drive. We go shopping in it, we vacation in it, we go to the garden center and put plants in it, and four or five times a year we pump the tires up and we go racing,” said Wallis. “The car is absolutely all original; we've traced its history back to the 1930s and found that the body is all original – most of the leather is original, the engine and gearbox are all original, and it's all as it was when it came out of the factory.” Wallis added, “It's fun to drive this car around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but it's a big car, and it's heavy, and you just have to keep your eyes in the mirrors. I got passed three times today in the race, but I don't think anyone had more fun than we did. I just want to thank Rolex for everything.”
Another high note at the awards was the presentation of Rolex Awards for Excellence in each race group, as determined by a three-person panel who watched every 10-lap race around the 2.2-mile circuit. That meant 19 races for as many race groups, with 10 of those groups racing yesterday and another nine showcasing the best from bygone eras today.
Drivers themselves became spectators when they weren't actually racing, and all of them had access to the Rolex Driver's Lounge, complete with a sky box for a bird's-eye view of racing. From there, participant Mark Colbert (Del Rey Beach, Fla.) enjoyed watching his friend Scott Gray driving a 1968 GTA in the 1966-1972 Trans-Am group on Saturday. Gray had bought the car 25 years ago, and it had been in storage until a month ago. “Since it was the first GTA ever to be brought to North America and this year is the 100th Anniversary of Alfa Romeo, we insisted that he bring it here to race,” said Colbert. “Dust literally blew off it when the engine started, and whenever he put on the brakes, the sun visor would plop down, so he had to do a lot of work on it before he came.”
When the checkered flag dropped for the finish of the Grand National stock cars, it was a bit like the phoenix rising from the ashes. The oil filter in Randy Peterson's (Sonoma, Calif.) 1971 Chevrolet Monte Carlo had failed in the morning qualifying race and shot oil onto his engine. With the help of a hard-working crew, Peterson was able to join 18 other stock cars on the grid and prevailed as the race's winner, exclaiming breathlessly after finishing, “I had so much fun out there, I didn't want to come in; I wish there were a few more laps!”
Jim Hague (Saratoga, Calif.) raced a totally unrestored 1972 Ford Torino, which made the favorites list. “This car came right off the track at Riverside in 1972,” said Hague. “It was Bobby Unser's rookie car, and it's set up as a road course car and did pretty well for Unser that year at Riverside, finishing in fourth place. We've had this car for about 10 years now and found it in a barn where it had been for about 15 years; we got it out and brought it back to life. We plan to keep it in its original unrestored form; we think it's gorgeous this way.”
Hague explained that it's hard to drive a stock car here at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca because of the drum brakes. “Going into Turn 1, you're going at a pretty good clip, and it almost takes two feet on the brakes to slow the car for the turn.”
Justin Bell, son of Derek Bell (who won at Le Mans five times) and a famous driver in his own right (he won the FIA GT2 championship in a Dodge Viper GTS-R, racing for Team ORECA in 2000), had his own thoughts about driving Ken Epsman's 1966 Ford Galaxie in today's race. “As for the drum brake stock cars, I don't mind the 4000lb weight and I love the 600 horsepower,” said Bell, “but regarding the drum brakes…there is a reason we have evolved from them. When you drive a car like this, you know what your parameters are, so you just drive within them – and if you don't, you just have an accident.”
Scott Rubin (Saratoga, Calif.), who drove another of Epsman's cars, a 1964 Mercury Marauder, added, “We could probably go a whole lot faster, but you would really be taking chances, which you don't want to do with these cars. We just give ourselves a little bit of a margin, since they are a bit slower to respond than a modern racecar.”