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Spectators Revved Up Over Vintage Cars' Performances

Racing: Some of the vehicles in weekend event include Ferrari, Porsche and Jaguar models from the 1960s.

August 03, 1996|BINH HA HONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TUSTIN — The painted flames on the front and sides of the shiny black 1968 Ford GT40 seemed to ignite as the vehicle whirred around the 2.2-mile racetrack at about 150 mph. The Ford easily maneuvered between other cars and through 12 turns.

"That GT is really cooking," said Ren Briggs, 54, of Lakewood, who screamed his admiration as the Ford zipped past the grandstand.

Briggs and about 300 others gathered Friday to watch practice runs at the first-ever Tustin Thunder Road Races, which continue through this weekend at the Tustin Marine Corps Helicopter Air Station. Some, like Briggs, came to see the cars show their stuff.

"I like everything about racing--the competition, and the ability of drivers to overcome a more experienced [opponent]," he said.

But others were content to browse, sample fare from local restaurants and wander among the World War II aircraft and 1,000 vintage cars on display.

A long, red car with a white stripe drew a smile from Tony Rettenmaier.

"It's really different--straight, long and skinny," said the 6-year-old from Laguna Hills. "Race cars are cool because they run fast."

The 300 cars that will race this weekend are sanctioned by the Vintage Automobile Racing Assn. and include Lotus, Ferrari, Porsche and Jaguar models from the 1960s. Qualifying competitions will be held today for the championship round Sunday night.

But Friday's practice runs drew spectators who reveled in the chance to experience a racetrack nearby.

"It's nice to have something close so we don't have to drive all over the state," said Larry Jones, 46, of Los Alamitos, who drives to Northern California to watch races.

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The sentiment was echoed by Ray Hiland, 60, of Long Beach, who travels throughout Southern California to watch road races. Bart McGrath, 58, of Huntington Beach, who often goes with Hiland, expressed his appreciation for the Formula One sidecars.

In sidecar racing, a driver and passenger work together to control the car. The passenger must repeatedly jump from his seat in the sidecar to a spot behind the driver to balance the vehicle as it negotiates straightaways and turns at high speeds.

"This is real racing, not a bunch of people parading around in vintage cars," said Penny Nicolai, a spokeswoman for the event. "The cars are absolutely breathtaking. It's close, very family-oriented, and there are lots of things to do so you are not just watching a race."

The event is expected to draw a "good crowd," Nicolai said. But she declined to predict the attendance because, she said, no ticket count had yet been made.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Marconi Foundation for Kids, a nonprofit organization that supports Covenant House California; Olive Crest Homes and Services for Abused Children; and Pediatric AIDS Research Orange County.

Tustin Thunder Road Races runs today through Sunday. Gates open at 6:30 a.m. and racing begins at 8 a.m. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $15 for general admission with grandstand seats.

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