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50s & 60s vintage racing, the way it was

This FOT mail list thread was started by someone talking about vintage a racing Triumph that does not meet the rules for allowable modifications, followed by someone mentioning his Triumph raced in the sixties with flared wing wells but is not allowed to race in vintage in the configuration that the car was originally raced.

Reply by Kas Kastner:

I think it really amusing on how people think the cars were raced in the late 50's and 60's. Most of the production cars I have seen aren't even on the same page.

Steve replies:

Kas, can you expand on that thought for us? I assume you mean the cars were run harder then? All the FOT would welcome your observations.

Kas replies:

I raced from 1952 thru 1960, then ran the driver school at Riverside for three years and was on the Board of Governors at the Calif. Sports Car Club, so I've seen a lot of production car racing and been in a lot too. I was also on the Contest Board and the Nat'l Licensing Chairman for the SCCA. (credentials)

In the Fifties almost everyone drove their car to the race track and on the street. We had Riverside, Pomona, Willow Springs, Paramount Ranch, Del Mar, Hour Glass Field and others too. The Porsche drivers usually had a VW engine that they put in their cars after the event for their street driving. I would change heads, camshafts and tires and then drive the same car to work on Monday.

We raced generally about 10-12 times a year. In my class of E production, there were the MGA Twin cam cars, Morgans (not supersports) TR-3's, Healey 100, Arnolt Bristol, Porsche Super and an occasional funny kind of car or maybe a Jowett Jupiter. Anyway there would be an average of 35 to 40 cars in the class, all production cars of which all but maybe two or three were either flat towed or driven to the track and hopefully home again.

1959 was the first year that I was sponsored by Triumph and won the Championship and had a trailer and pickup. What a difference. Most people had retread tires and they had to be treaded. No slicks allowed, no re- grooves allowed. As everyone was driving their own car it was a matter of survival with your wallet so you didn't crash. You take it right out to the 'nth of your ability at every brake marker and corner but you looked around and weren't as brave as some I see today risking cars ( not their own) for not a good reason. You had to be careful with the revs and be accurate as this car also had to take you to work.

You want to get funny with the engine or chassis? There were people as part of the tech inspection that were looking for locked rear ends, alternate springs, oil coolers and goofy setting on suspension. You had to be very cool. No options were allowed. The TR's of course had the overdrive but most guys didn't use it as they hadn't figured out how to make it work very many laps. It was really fun when I worked that out and be racing with a Porsche side by side down a chute and have him waiting for me to shift, flick the switch and he was history.

The Porsche had a lot of the best of it as they had adjustable suspension and many transmission ratios that were all listed as standard. If you couldn't buy the option or feature off the showroom floor you were not allowed to use it in any of the racing. Now that was Cal Club where the rules were pretty darn good as the SCCA later copied them almost exactly.

I was part of the team that wrote the rules and a feature that was great about the no options was that you could not then go to Germany or England and buy a special car that had been homologated by the FIA for factory racing and run it as a production car.

At the same time in the EAST the SCCA did allow options and that created a class of cars well beyond the reach of most people. One of the major regulations that was picked up by the SCCA from the Cal Club was " You may take away material but you may not add".

So this allowed you to mill the head, grind a cam, lighten a piston or cam follower or push rod, but you can't weld up the combustion chamber or the manifold or other parts of the car like the spider gears because you were adding material . Some guys tried to pull off the deal that they cut off part of the inlet manifold, melted down into a stick or rod then used this to weld up another part of the manifold. ( I didn't get away with that one either)

Heavy suspension springs were not allowed unless delivered off the showroom floor on that model. But you can get around that by cutting a coil off then heating the spring partially, pulling the coils further apart to get the right length and you wound up with a stiffer spring. A lot of work but absolutely workable and LEGAL. There were a few folks unhappy about this little deal but it certainly didn't cost much to do and was available for anyone that had the right frame of mind that there was very little that made a car go fast that was too much trouble. ( They did change that rule and allow springs the next year) No anti-roll bars either.

These were for the most part true production cars that were raced very very hard but a pain in the neck to get thru tech inspection if you had your heater hooked up to the oil pump and you tried to have a cooler under a fender or something of the that nature.

At tech you were refused entry if caught, fix it and come back, okay. BUT if you raced with it and were caught in the after race inspection (top 3-5 cars plus one car at random from the field) you would probably lose your license for at least 6 months and maybe a year. So if you were getting loose with the regulations you had to be prepared to defend your position in a court called the "Contest Board". Bring your proof or argument and lay it out. It worked amazingly well.

There was also the opportunity to protest any vehicle in your class that you wanted by putting up a $50 dollar bond. After the race the car was sealed in the portion protested and anything from a full scale engine tear down to whatever else was protested was done later in the following week in the evening and presided over by the Contest Board members. If you refused the sealing or the protest you were OUT right then no maybe about it. This makes you think really hard and be very very determined to improve your car in a extremely clever fashion.

The part about not being able to just buy options and put them on and the restriction of "add no material" keep the costs down and created a class of hard driving and very careful preparation. The cars used the stock cranks, rods, pistons or replacement type with .040" oversize the max. No oversize valves etc. etc.

From my experience in this business it was found that the majority of the BIG cheaters were in the field about midway or fast of the slow guys. This position in the field generally just could not believe that the people who were in the front could possible be legal but it was very seldom indeed that anyone in the front was put down for an illegal car. Crazy driving , yes, but not for cheater cars.

Now that was the Fifties thorough very early Sixties racing in Southern California. The SCCA also was putting on races both in So Cal and in the San Francisco area under the Nat'l SCCA rules (with the options and stuff)

I had a complete different set of stuff for my car so that I could go play with those people also. All the options that Triumph listed and there other preparation rules also. Silly stuff but that was ironed out when the Cal Club merged with the SCCA.

I was a part of the negations on that deal and looked after the regulations for production car racing. It was then that the National organization took up the Cal Club rules and went on to be a really good organization. To this day the Cal club is the only region of the SCCA that has its full name involved as the name of their region. The California Sports Car Club region of the SCCA.

There were no fender flairs or even enlarging or "bumping out" of the fender lips at that time. When the slick race tires came into being and were allowed in production classes that was the start of the allowed body modifications ( bad deal too). Just a little stretching to begin with then roll the lip a little then bump it out a bit then finally flairs (ugly). But it did take over twelve years for that course of events to happen.

Another time maybe some more on the 60's. Anybody care?


Bill Burroughs replies:

Dear Kas and FOT'rs....

Care to hear more? I was riveted. Kas, As you know when you signed our team cars at Tustin several years ago (I was intent on that happening some day....Shelby owners have nothing on us now!!), Paul, Mordy, Steve, Chuck and I literally carry your prep books with us to every track event (We had you sign those too!!). And to a man we've used your Competition manuals as our bibles for prep and without exception the E Ticket Triumph Team has a reputation for preparation, sportsmanship and finishing.!

Oh, we could spend a lot more money (well maybe we couldn' but we couldn't have more fun. With the local So Cal part suppliers and exporters sponsoring TR's with 92mm pistons, $1500 Quaife differentials and fiberglass custom molded TR fenders, we (E Ticket Triumphs) race hard and finish and always have one or more cars in the top five in E, E1 or F Production.....and we've done it for the most part with 87mm pistons (some .030 or .040 over) except the Spits and Steve's GT6 of course (or is that the way you've been catching Paul Steve?), real Salisbury limited slips,(OK one welded rear end after we couldn't find parts for the Salisbury), TR6 sway bars on the TR4's (nothing custom or heim jointed), and, until this last year factory alloy option magnesium wheels or TR6 5 1/2 steel rims.

Our approach has been....we come to race, to finish...and drive it back on the trailer (yes we all have trailers as the California Highway Patrol has gotten fussy about cars with roll bars cruising PCH) and it's very satisfying to do it with a near stock displacement motor and run competitively in the upper quarter of all the big buck cars. Hell, at times we've even had class winners...that's a real grin.

OK, ok... some of the team have moved up the preparation (and displacement) ladder and invested in some later technology to keep the TR grinning grill work in the front of the pack. And there is nothing wrong with that as long as the spirit with which we race doesn't change.

I ran SOLO II for numerous years with Cal Club (German Capri's and Mustangs) and found the whole organization to be entrenched in the philosophy of "Keep it simple , keep it clean (to interpret) and keep it fun" .... and as a Frisco Region SCCA member I just don't find that kind of attitude in racing outside of Vintage today. So I loved your feel for the character of Cal Club and hope more Vintage Race bodies can learn from the Cal Club tales you tell so very well.

I drive a Wimbledon white/Guardsman blue stripe 1965 TR4A in EP1 class with a full interior, full chrome badging trim (although I do leave the bumpers off but have them), all lights and fittings, stock displacement, SU carbs, non-overdrive, glass windscreen, even door glass rolls up, steel rims, bias ply tire, lots of safe roll bar and safety equipment and still have great fun. And you can see my #195 glued to the rear deck of a Healey 3000 on the page 80 photo of the newest Spring 99 Vintage Voice Magazine. (I have been accused or magnetizing the front valance and getting dragged around the track but a certain quick Volvo but I say ... No flairs, no Quaife, no alloys, no regrets ... just grins .... and I am working on that front valance magnetic film material team.... just give me another season to figure out how to get it to work on all that front row aluminum and fiberglass).

But before everyone thinks I'm out to drag Vintage Racing back to the hands of the purists only, let me confuse you all further by saying this.... as long as there is respect amongst the drivers I drive with and an attitude that this is a gentleman's sport .... intense, hard racing yes, but respect for your fellow competitor's investment and a respect for his (and mine) driving skills (which like any good sport that respect has to be earned .... and can be lost .... and a few have) then I really don't care that the other guy has put three times the money in his car to make it run like a striped ape. For me racing is one car at a time (or a tight group of five if I'm fortunate)... and I love it when it gets reported like the bottom of page 81

" The real race were these five guys in the pack who were wheel to wheel for all 17 laps and changed leads every lap.... and stayed clean the whole race". Somebody noticed!! OK ... so the author drives a Triumph too (Thanks Jerry). But that's the kind of racing that makes my grin hurt for weeks. That means more to me than the fact that someone told me I'm leading the points for my group for EP1 this year. I'd trade those "points" for one more five car wheel to wheel race even if I was last place.

Well the fate of Vintage Racing is certainly not in question, but I had to share my two bits in this fascinating chain. (One of the better this unofficial bastion of Triumphs has stuffed my email box with in some time!). My only real wish for Vintage Racing is to be able to do more of it. Seems to be a direct correlation between track time and retirement...... 6 more years........

WOW, did I get off track!! (no pun). Apologies kind Kas. Your query was 'did anyone else want to hear more about the sixties?'. And with my grin still hurting from your last posting I have to ask... "Could we have more please?"

Wait... let me get another Guiness first... ok... I'm back.

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