Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races brings race fans to motorsports' magic years - and meet the drivers as well.
MONTEREY, Calif. - August 11 -- For the past three decades, every August the hills of the Monterey Peninsula have resonated with the sounds of racing cars from a bygone era and the equally loud sounds of joy from auto-racing fans.
And it is that time once again.
At the 30th annual Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races presented by Chrysler here at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, both the legendary cars and the drivers that made them legends will be within the motorsports fans' reach Friday - Sunday, August 15 - 17, but racing is only part of the attraction.
"This event is a celebration of 100 years of life, not just the history of motor racing," said Steve Earle, the founder of the Rolex Monterey Historic Races in 1974 and president of General Racing Ltd. "With the variety of cars, drivers and car owners, on e can trace much of the last century's history through the evolution of race cars and the people who accompanied them. Each car and driver has a story, and the attendees get educated as well as entertained."
From its modest beginning in 1974, with 66 cars, the Monterey Historics has exploded to 400 carefully-selected cars from the more than 1,000 which request a place in one of the 15 vintage races held during the weekend.
Some of the more interesting activities for the weekend will include:
* This year's featured marque, the Ford Motor Company, has a 100-year tradition in racing, and the massive Ford display will include "Sweepstakes," a race car built and raced by Henry Ford himself.
* For the motorsports fan who followed Le Mans and Trans-Am racing, two Fords which are prominent in the history of those series will be featured.
* Bud Moore's Trans-Am Mercury Cougar and Ford Mustang Trans-Am teams, with original cars and drivers George Follmer, Parnelli Jones, David Pearson, Ed Leslie and Dan Gurney, will be reunited for the first time at the Historics.
* America's greatest impact in world racing history - Ford's dominance of the 24 Hours of Le Mans 1966-1969 - will be celebrated by no less than seven Ford GT race cars, including three of the Le Mans winners
* Corvettes, Cobras and Shelbys will have their own race on Sunday afternoon, and, according to Earle, more than 100 of these cars applied to participate in the weekend, but there was only space for 34 race cars. Thus, it will be the best of the best for big-bore fans.
* Forty-two Bugattis, the largest gathering of this marque for a race in the United States, will run in Saturday's Bugatti Grand Prix. These cars, all built between 1919 and 1939, will be lead on the pace lap by the new Bugatti Veyron, which will mark the renaissance of the brand, and make its first official public appearance anywhere.
* The hero drivers of Formula I and the cars they drove in the 3-liter days -- 1967-1983 - were not as technologically advanced as the cars today, but the innovativeness of their constructors - Lotus, Penske, McLaren, Williams, Brabham, Tyrrell, and March among others - created unique race cars that will appear in the Historic Formula I race on Sunday. This was the Formula 1 class which 20 years ago ran in the last U.S. Grand Prix of Long Beach.
* Third-year title sponsor Rolex will host "Moments in Time," a display in the paddock showcasing the history of motorsports.
* Chrysler, event presentation sponsor for the ninth year, will exhibit an overview of its storied motorsports heritage with a unique display. "Chrysler's sponsorship has been a major factor in our growth during the past nine years, helping make this the great event it has become," said Earle.
* The paddock area will also be alive with free autograph sessions from famous Ford race car drivers, special cars and, of course, accessible drivers and car owners ready to share stories about the glory days of racing.
How interesting can race-car history be? Here is just one story behind some of the cars at The 30th Rolex Monterey Historics:
To be the best, you have to beat the best. And in the 1960s, the best was Ferrari. The place to challenge the world-conquering prancing horses and was the 24 Hours of LeMans, the pinnacle of the racing world. And Henry Ford II was determined to win this ra ce regardless of the cost.
The Ford GT program started life based on the then new Lola GT developed by Eric Broadley. Ford's endurance racer was unveiled to the motor press in April 1964 as the GT, meaning Gran Turismo. (The "40," which simply stood for the car's height in inches, w ould not be added until later to the small-block cars.)
Ford's GT MKI was not quite competitive enough, so the company brought Carroll Shelby onboard for the GT MKII project, and the result was a 485hp world-dominator wielding the 7-liter 427ci Ford powerplant. In its first outing at the 1966 24 Hours of Dayton a, the MKII captured the first three finishing positions. The MKII repeated the 1-2-3 sweep at the 12 Hours of Sebring and earned the "triple crown" of endurance racing by "three-peating" its1-2-3 sweep at the 24 Hours of LeMans.
These accomplishments were unmatched, making the GT an instant legend, in only its third year. But 1966 was a prelude to what would go down in the history books as a four-year domination of endurance racing.
The MKIV was the next champion in the GT lineup, defending the titles the MKII won in 1966 by winning the 1967 Sebring and LeMans races. What made the victory even sweeter for Ford, the MKIV was a full-on American effort with the teams of Shelby American a nd Holman-Moody in collaboration. While the 1967 MKIV solidified Fords championship status, the GT's success carried on by John Wyer with a Gulf Oil sponsored GT40 returning to competition and winning both the 1968 and 1969 24 Hour LeMans events. Today, th e words GT and champion are indistinguishable.
And there will be seven examples of the Ford GT both racing at the Historics and on display for fans to see up close.
Nuts and Bolts - How to Attend
The Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races presented by Chrysler is held during the renowned classic car weekend in Monterey California. More than 40,000 visitors attend the Historics, which greatly supports the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monte rey Peninsula's (SCRAMP) contribution to local charities. Last year, SCRAMP made donations to 70 Central Coast charitable and service organizations.
This year will mark the 30th anniversary of the Monterey Historics at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. As it does each year, the event pays tribute to motor racing history, historic automobiles and the people who made them. Each year, hundreds of the finest his toric sports and racing cars are entered in 15 separate races over the two days that span nearly every era of motorsports history.
Tickets are available by calling Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca at 800-327-SECA (7322). Prices start at $25 for Friday only, and go up to $80 for a three-day pass. Information is available online at www.montereyhistoric.com.