Willow Springs Int’l Raceway (aka The Fastest Road in the West) is located at 2400′ above sea level in Southern California’s Mojave desert, and is prone to some unfavorable racing conditions. It’s kind of like that fickle best friend that you have a love-hate relationship with, one day you want to move in together, the next you never want to see them again. At the track it can be 100+ degrees, or it can be snowing, or the sandblasting winds can be blowing 50 knots. But on that special Saturday when the morning practice temps are in the 40s, the afternoon races are in the 70s, the skies are a piercing blue, and the winds are as quiet as a mouse, you lay down your best lap times ever and you swear that this is your favorite race track! But this was my first experience at Willow in my FF, and the sight lines are completely different sitting so close to the ground. Several corners drop off to the outside and it took me a while to get comfortable using the whole track again. Faster lap times will just have to wait for my second visit (but I may never see weather like that again…).
Well VARA got lucky and enjoyed one of those special weekends for the finale of its 40th anniversary season. With a good turnout of over a hundred competitors, and a Saturday night spaghetti dinner enjoyed by all, this was truly a fine race weekend. On top of the usual run groups, VARA hosts a different Challenge race each event, and for the November event it is the Ford-Chevy Challenge. This year, the race was run as an Australian Pursuit, with the cars that ran the fastest qualifying lap times leaving the pits in an incrementally delayed start. The idea is that all the cars will finish the race at the same time. With more than 20 entrants, it led to a very exciting finish with 17 cars finishing within a minute of each other, and the Checkered Flag coming down to a 0.7 second gap between two cars that had a lap time differentials of over 18 seconds! Congrats to Ken Davis for the Challenge win in his 2010 Chevy Corvette and the second place finish to Don Saueressig in his ’66 Sunbeam Tiger.
What epitomizes vintage racing in general, and VARA specifically, is the familial and congenial atmosphere in the pits. Everyone pitches in to make sure a broken car gets back out on the track, and you regularly see whole families working and racing together. The Eric Ford family is one of these that you will find regularly in the pits with VARA. This weekend there were four generations of the Ford family hanging out together. Eric races his 240Z, as his son and daughter share racing duties in a BMW 2002. His grandkids are climbing around the cars helping with waxing duties, and his parents keep a watchful and appreciative eye on the whole team. To keep this wonderful sport alive, we all need to follow in the Ford’s footsteps and get the next generations involved.