Monterey Historics Feature – August 13-14 - Part 1
Great American Specials
© Gary Horrocks

Yes, there was more to the Monterey Historics than Chaparrals. Officially this year, the featured marque was Great American Specials, of which it seemed convenient to include Chaparral into this, as that line of cars could be considered the ultimate American Specials.

According to Steve Earle, the event founder, "Jim Hall and his Chaparral cars certainly set the standard in racing during their time. Their innovative design, preparation and presentation caught the imagination of race fans across the country, that grew into a true fan club. They represent the ultimate in American specials. Hall’s advancements not only influenced racing history, but also can still be found on the road and track today." What better way to celebrate the history, the ingenuity and the passion of the early days of racing, not just here in the States but around the world?”

Many times, we focus expressly on today, losing track of what came before us. That is a mistake. Not just in the theme of racing, but in general. There is much to be learned from the past, if we pay attention.

Racing back in the 50s and early 60s, and even earlier, was different. Much different than it is today. Was it better? It all depends on your perspective. Many say that the early days of sportscar racing were more innocent. I’m not sure I’ll agree with that. An era in which death at the race track was common cannot be considered innocent in my eyes.

But what was it about the early days of racing that make people nostalgic? It’s human nature to look back and feel that things were better “way back when”. In the case of racing, maybe it’s true, but you have to be the judge.

How racing has turned into what it is now is a strange and convoluted road that would be best left to those who are better scribes than myself. But I do know that the regulations of the day were less constrictive than they are now. And it is the looseness of those regulations that allowed the innovation that we were able to witness. How else do you think that some of the developments that came our way even came about? The rules allowed them to.

Now, there is not much room for innovation. The regulations have become so restrictive that most opportunities for innovation have gone away, replaced by restrictions. It appears that in the current world of racing, innovation is only allowed when the rules say it is OK to do so. Do you see much opportunity for innovation in Daytona Prototypes? I didn’t think so. But even in the less restrictive FIA / ACO / ALMS regulated series, the opportunities for innovation in car design are limited. The only reason that what may be the next best innovation in racing, the emergence of diesel technology, will take place in the future is because of the favorable breaks that the ACO is allowing.

In earlier days, it was not uncommon for a group of buddies get together and decide to go racing. I’m sure many of those same cars we were celebrating at Laguna last weekend (August 13-14) came about over a few beers, while barbecuing in the back yard. “Hey, I can clear out my garage and we can build it there. Design? Ummm, we’ll come up with something.” Thus was born yet another car that was destined to be a footnote or an entry in some obscure race that maybe only Janos or Johannes would know about. Try that today. Absolutely impossible – isn’t it?

One of the things that make weekends such as this so compelling is that history literally flashes before your eyes. You can just sit back and watch a history of road racing rush by. And a surprise this year was the inclusion of IMSA cars from 1970 to 1980. Typically cars of this recent a vintage are not invited here, but for only a short time, we were able to relive the sights and sounds of Porsche 935s and BMWs from the past. Speaking of flashbacks – it sure was one for me and I would assume for many others too.

While the words “Great American Specials” may not have the magic of say Ferrari or Porsche, in many ways, this may have been one of the more rewarding historic events that I have been to. Where else can you see cars named after such diverse wild life such as Aardvarks and Dolphins take to the track? Not many places any more that I know of.

Maybe celebrating the independent thinking that brought forth these specials is something that we need to rediscover. Would it be practical in the era of mega budgets? Unfortunately, probably not, but at least for once we were able to look back and examine and appreciate what these cars brought to the lineage of racing. And also appreciate the forward thinking of their designers and builders, and marvel at the bravery and skill of those who were assigned to tame the Dolphins and Aardvarks of this world. Long may that spirit live on…

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BMW Line Up

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1915 Ford

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1952 Mercedes 300SL

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1954 Kurtis 500KK

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1958 Devin Special

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1962 Campbell Special

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1962 Dolphin America & 1956 Miller Crosley

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1967 Matich SR3

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1969 Boss Mustang 302

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Aardvark

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Aston Martin

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Birdcage

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1913 Mercer

 

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