It started with a simple idea: take a popular, inexpensive car built in huge numbers; use some of the key parts such as engine, steering and front suspension; and build a racecar around it. That's what Florida Volkswagen dealer Hubert Brundage did when he commissioned the first Formula Vee purely for his own enjoyment. The idea caught on and, a few years later, in August 1963, the first Formula Vee race took place at Daytona International Speedway (BELOW: Formula Vees race at Daytona in 1969).
It's unlikely that anyone involved in that first race would imagine how successful the formula would be, or that it would continue to endure as a racing class half a century later. Not only has it lasted, but Formula Vee is still the largest formula car class in SCCA Club Racing competition.
“It's endured so long because it was always a very good value for the money. It's affordable motorsports,” says Jost Capito, director of Volkswagen Motorsport. “That's what Volkswagen stands for, affordable cars. Everybody could afford it and the real good race drivers come through, because it's not dependent on how big the budget is. I think this is why good drivers came through Formula Vee, because it was affordable and the team managers could see the talent.”
Volkswagen gathered some of those drivers during the Rolex 24 at Daytona to celebrate the 50th birthday of the category, and also recognize the formula's bigger brother, Super Vee. Marku Alén, Michael Andretti, Elliot Forbes-Robinson (ABOVE), Arie Luyendyk, Dieter Quester, Prinz Leopold von Bayern, Hans-Joachim Stuck and Didier Theys were among those who gathered to celebrate, reminisce and drive some historic and current Formula and Super Vees in demonstration laps as a prelude to the 51st Rolex 24.
Among the cars assembled was the original Nardi that was commissioned by Brundage and then used as the mold for the first production Formula Vee, the FormCar. From there, much of this history of the class, all the way to a new Vortech chassis with a carbon fiber body, was showcased in the cars present.
SCCA Chairwoman of the Board and FVee racer Lisa Noble drove one of the latter. Noble's late husband, Bill, was a five-time SCCA FVee National Champion and built many championship-winning engines, a business that Noble has continued.
“The formula itself is so restricted and restrictive that it is a true driver's class,” Noble says. “It rewards the driver who can put a package together – engine, car, car prep tire, shocks and the driving component. And a component of racecraft, because driving a Formula Vee is very strategic.” The strategy comes into play because it requires conservation of momentum and the use of drafting to qualify and race well, she says.
Super Vees from most every era, including cars driven by Andretti and Luyendyk, turned laps as well. Indeed, most of the retired pro drivers in attendance had more time in Super Vee than in Formula Vee. Super Vee was created as a faster sibling to the original formula. Whereas Formula Vee started with the original 1200cc, 40hp horizontally opposed Beetle engine, Super Vee engines eventually reached 200hp and were stuffed into lightweight, very competent chassis from Lola, March and Ralt, among others. The class became a major steppingstone to top-level open wheel series on several continents.
“If you wanted to go Indy car racing, you almost had to go through Super Vees at that time,” says 1991 PPG Indy Car World Series champion Andretti of the late '70s and early '80s. “You look at guys like [Geoff] Brabham, Al Jr. [Unser], Arie [Luyendyk]…there's a long list that went through Super Vee to get to the big cars. It was a very big step in my career.
“That was my breakout year when people started to see what I was about, because you were able to race in front of Indy cars. People started to take notice of me at that time. I was able to go and win the championship in 1982 and six races that year,” adds the IndyCar Series team owner.
It was because of Super Vee that Luyendyk set his sights on Indy cars, where he won two Indianapolis 500s. Luyendyk won the European Formula Super Vee Championship in 1977 then took his first steps on the ladder to Formula 1. That ladder didn't quite work for Luyendyk, so he returned to Super Vee and finished second in the championship.
Because of that, he explains, he had the opportunity to come race in the SCCA Super Vee season finale at Phoenix International Raceway, the first oval he had ever seen. Watching the Indy cars race that weekend, he knew that was what he wanted to do. So he restarted his career in the U.S. with another season of Super Vee, and won the U.S. title in 1984, setting up years of winning races in Indy cars, in both CART and IRL.
The presence of Luyendyk, who learned to work on his father's Formula Vees before he was able to race them himself, along with Andretti, World Rally Champion Alén, sports car champions Stuck, Forbes-Robinson and Theys lends credence to the idea that Formula Vee in all its forms is worth celebrating. And it only made sense to do it where it was born.
“Volkswagen racing started in the U.S.” says Capito. The first people that built racecars with Volkswagen engines were in the U.S. and they used parts from the Beetle and created racecars. That was not coming from Europe; it was coming from the U.S. I think that's what a lot of people globally do not know. Then it became big in Europe – Germany and Austria, especially. So we have to do the 50th where it all started, which is here.
“The first race was at Daytona. I think it's great for the guys to come back to where it all started. There are more events going on throughout the year [including an event at Georgia's Roebling Road in April], but I think it's great that Daytona is at the beginning of the year so it can begin the celebrations, where it all started.”