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For Downtown, It's a Vintage Year

August 22, 1997|SHAV GLICK

Alameda Street isn't exactly the Mulsanne Straight at LeMans, nor is racing past Union Station toward Phillipe's Hairpin at Main and Alameda the same as passing the Place du Casino at speed headed for the Gasworks Hairpin in Monte Carlo, but many of the cars in the Ford Los Angeles Grand Prix vintage races on Labor Day weekend have raced on glamorous international circuits.

More than 400 vehicles, from Craig Lillywhite's blue 1932 Miller DT 320 to the more modern Formula One, Can-Am, Trans-Am, sports cars and Indy cars will be performing in 10-race programs Aug. 30-Sept. 1 over a 1.6-mile, 11-turn street circuit that starts and finishes in front of Union Station.

Contrary to TV and radio commercials, however, the cars will not be racing in front of City Hall. The closest they will come is Aliso Street, on a course that loosely circles historic Olvera Street and the Plaza.

And the cars may be old, i.e., vintage, but they'll be going fast. Racing officials estimate the faster cars will be hitting close to 160 mph streaking down Alameda.

William A. Burke, president of L.A. Events, and Vintage Auto Racing Assn. have corralled some of America's finest racing machines from earlier decades. Many will be familiar to racing enthusiasts.

"This is a dream we've been working on for more than seven years," said Burke, who has put on the Los Angeles Marathon for the last 14 years.

In vintage racing, the cars are the stars. Some of the ones worth watching out for:

* The black No. 0 Interscope Lola T600 GTP coupe, owned by Ted Field and driven by him and Danny Ongais to wins at Daytona and Riverside. It is now owned by Paul Wesselink of Dana Point, who drives it in VARA events, but not with the gusto of the legendary Ongais, who was known as Danny-On-the-Gas.

"I'm more into this form of racing because of the camaraderie," Wesselink, a commissioner for the Orange County Sheriff's Department, told the Vintage Voice. "Also, I wasn't looking for heavy competition and serious racing. I didn't want to come out and try to prove I could run with 22-year-olds."

* The great Max Balchowsky's 1959 Ol' Yeller MK2. The oldest and most successful of the backyard creations of Balchowsky, it competed and won against the factory Ferraris and Maseratis of the era. It will be driven by Dr. Ernie Nagamatsu of Los Angeles.

* Ak Miller's fabled El Caballo de Hierro, the 1953 hot rod roadster that Miller drove in the Pan American Road Races in Mexico. Known as the Iron Horse in it its heyday, it will be driven by owner Bruce Glasscock of Livermore.

* The blue No. 94 Shelby King Cobra sports racer that Parnelli Jones drove to victory in the 1964 Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside. The 1963 model is one of only four King Cobras still running and will be driven by owner Barry Brown of Pacific Palisades.

* Two Formula One cars, a Lotus-Renault driven by Elio De Angelis that finished second in the 1984 U.S. Grand Prix in Detroit, and a Wolf Ford driven by world champion Jody Scheckter in 1978, which finished second in Germany and Canada. Doug Turner of Newport Beach will drive the Wolf, and Scott Dernmek of Menlo Park the Lotus.

* The white No. 1 Lola T332 that won the inaugural Long Beach Grand Prix for Formula 5000 cars, a race to prove that the street course laid out by Chris Pook met Formula One standards. Brian Redman drove it in that 1975 race, but owner Dick Marconi of Tustin will drive it next week. Marconi and his son, John, are founders of the Marconi Foundation for Kids and the Tustin Thunder vintage races.

* John Marconi, who won five VARA races and finished second in another at Pomona, will bring all three of his winning cars, a 1971 Lola T202, a 1963 Lotus 23 and a 1965 Corvette.

"All of these cars are vintage cars, valuable as museum pieces, but that doesn't mean we don't race hard," John Marconi said. "The Los Angeles Grand Prix is one of VARA's points races, so most of the drivers will be going for the checkered flag. At least I know I will."

Because of the disparity in types of cars, each race will be a timed event of between 20 and 25 minutes.

On Sunday, Aug. 31, only, there will be a Concours d'Elegance celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ferrari. More than $50 million worth of the Italian cars will be on display on the palm-lined concourse of the new MTA headquarters building, just east of Union Station.

"We've shown our Ferraris on golf courses, at race tracks, high school athletic fields, and even on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, but I don't believe that I've ever seen a more perfect environment for such a show than around the MTA oval," said Tom Brockmiller, event chairman and past president of a regional Ferrari Club of America.

Among those on exhibit will be the second Ferrari ever built, No. 002C; a 1947 two-seat sports car, and the 340 Mexico driven by world Formula One champion Phil Hill and Richie Ginther in the Mexican Road Races.


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