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Thunder Road

Old cars aren't just for junkyards or displays. At a Tustin show for vintage vehicles, some wind up parked in rows. But classic racers get to roar to the finish line.

August 08, 1996

There was a thunderous din coming from the Tustin Marine Corps Helicopter Air Station over the weekend. Ever-noisy helicopters weren't responsible, though. This time the decibels came from race cars.

Crossing over concrete helicopter pads was a newly laid, 2.2-mile track that served as a speeding zone for the Tustin Thunder Road Races.

Four hundred cars, sanctioned by the Vintage Automobile Racing Assn., competed in five vintage classifications: sports racers (including a Lola and Maserati Tip); historic (pre-World War II sports and race cars); formula (Formula Ford, Super Vees and Formula Atlantic); production racers (Camaro, Shelby Mustang, Shelby Cobra); and exhibition (GT and Indy cars).

The Tustin Thunder Road Races drew more than 50,000 spectators, who crunched into the two massive blimp hangars to check out 1,000 vintage race cars, show cars and motorcycles. The immaculate Maseratis, Lotuses, Ferraris, Porsches and Jaguars, all in a row, were as close to a valet parking attendant's dream assignment as you could get.

Organizer Jeanne Sleeper says the most popular spot was in the grandstands during the Legends race, which showcased the muscle of early NASCAR vehicles, and the novelty race of five-eighths-scale models of 1934 Fords powered by Yamaha 1,000-cc engines.

Another favorite was the pre-1973 Trans Am race honoring the late Jerry Titus, a legendary driver. His son Rick raced Titus' 1970 Trans Am and won. "It was a big story," Sleeper says.

Collector John Marconi raced five of his cars, some of the 70 or so that are always on display at his Marconi Automotive Museum for Kids in Tustin. The museum and the race raise funds for several Marconi Foundation charities, including Covenant House California for runaway and homeless youths, Olive Crest Homes and Services for Abused Children, and Pediatric AIDS Research Orange County.

"Marconi's is an interactive car museum, which is unheard of," Sleeper says. "Traditionally, cars are roped off and you can't get close. At this museum, you get to touch cars, feel the finish and sit in them."

The Marconi Automotive Museum for Kids is at 1302 Industrial Drive, Tustin. Admission is free for children under 12; a donation of $3.50 is suggested for adults. (714) 258-3001.

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