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Entry Number 2: Vintage Racing a Mini at Mosport

(Originally appeared in The Toronto Star Wheels section)


Carte Blanche

Mosport VARAC Vintage Racing Festival

July 6, 2002

They say when you fall off a horse, you should climb right back on.

It took me 31 years, but I finally climbed back on my metaphorical horse - I raced a Mini at Mosport.

That last time, I endo’ed my own car Turn 9, a fact I hardly hid - I wrote about it in Wheels a few weeks ago.

Bob DeShane, president of the Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada (VARAC) saw that story too - they even reprinted it in their newsletter - but he was too polite to bring it up when he volunteered to let me co-drive his Mini in the VARAC “Enduro’‘ race last Saturday, part of VARAC’s 23rd annual Vintage Festival.

DeShane, in real life a provider of Ambulance and Paramedic services out of Lindsay Ontario as well as proprietor of Little Britain Motorsport Company, purveyor of a variety of automotive parts and services, is one of the best Mini pedalers in the Vintage game, according to several of his co-racers.

His car, a beautifully prepared Cooper S, is clearly his pride and joy.

His son Craig has also been bitten by the bug, and helps Dad with his hobby.

Falling back into old habits, I got there too late for proper practice. They had a “Touring’‘ session for street cars at lunch, so I got to toddle around in no-passing mode (a harbinger of things to come?...) for two laps, just so I could try to remember which way the track goes (Turn One, turn right...) and which way the car goes (greasy side down).

If you haven’t been to Mosport in a few years, you won’t recognize the place. Don Panoz, inventor of timed release medicine and “the patch’‘ (to which he himself, ironically, is allergic...) and well-known racing entrepreneur, has put millions into it. Brand new pit lane and timing tower. Paved access roads. Washrooms with hot water. At a race track!

Holy cow.

New paving, run-off areas, and safety walls on much of the circuit too.

John Powell, a long-time racer (like his father Ted and his son Devon), and who I can claim confidently has put in more laps here than anyone ever, says the “racing line’‘ remains the same; the new pavement just makes it look like there other ways to get around.

This place has always been able to suck you in - among other things, you can’t see the apex of most of the corners from the turn-in point. It’s like bowling by looking only at the dots on the lane, not at the pins.

And now it can suck you in in brand new ways...

Bob isn’t that much taller than me, but he sits much farther back than I do, so it was a bit of a stretch to reach the steering wheel. But I managed to feel moderately comfortable in this pretty car. I had forgotten how small Minis really are.

Bob had a “qualifying’‘ race prior to our one-hour endurance event, but the car wouldn’t start. A British car. Imagine.

(There was a wonderful Tee-shirt spotted at another vintage event. It sported a picture of a three-position Lucas switch, with the positions labelled, “Dim’‘, “Flicker’‘ and “Off’‘...)

Bob did manage to make it out, but only for the cool-off lap. Thus, we had no formal qualifying time, and would start the feature from the back of the pack.

Bob had decided I was going to drive the first half-hour - he wanted to make sure I got my laps in, in case something went wrong with the car. Racers don’t get more hospitable than that.

Starting last also made it less embarrassing for me...

Again, the car was reluctant to fire; I joined the field from the pits after everyone else had left.

Almost immediately, I came upon a Porsche 914-6. Hey - are Minis supposed to pass Porsches?

At this point I hadn’t even seen a green flag - I wasn’t sure whether this was still a pace lap or not, so I held back. Didn’t want a black flag on Lap One.

I did however manage to get by Turn Nine without incident. One skeleton, expunged...

OK, so there’s the green, and we’re off. Blew by the Porsche coming out of Moss’s Corner. A racing pass! Hey - now I remember why this was so much fun.

Over the next few laps, I took a few other cars too - a Spridget, a Volvo, a couple others I didn’t recognize. (Vintage racing brings out some very strange and wonderful beasts, even in the parking lot. A lot of vintage race drivers and spectators drive vintage sports cars on the road too. I almost died when I saw what must have been about a 1948 Hudson Hornet, prepped for dirt tack racing. It was white over orange, just like MY 1977 Hornet. I should have driven mine out there.)

Soon, the quick boys began to lap me. A fabulously prepared Datsun 240Z from Buffalo - the eighth 240Z ever built, a former Road and Track cover car, rescued from a warehouse after its auto show circuit days were over and turned into race car.

Then a huge, earth-shaking, orange Corvette. Hey - now I remember why this wasn’t always so much fun.

As I went by the pits after about ten laps (who’s counting?) I saw Bob in his very natty big straw sun hat, holding up three fingers - no fancy telemetry in vintage racing...

I did three more tours, and pitted.

No mad-rush pit stops in vintage racing either - you are obligated to take five minutes, to ensure everybody gets their belts done up right, nobody trips and falls, or otherwise panics themselves into trouble. This is about fun, not setting lap records.

That said, don’t get the idea that these men and women just drive around. There is a gentleperson’s agreement that you don’t stuff a fender into the other guy’s door to make a pass, because most of this rolling stock is pretty valuable. But they do wring the cars out pretty well. More Tee-shirt philosophy: “Some people collect art - we race it!’‘

Bob, being considerably more familiar with his own car than me, not to mention considerably more talented, began to reel in a few other cars. He barely feathers the throttle going through One, takes Two dead-flat, and one time got nicely into the dirt coming out of Ten.

At the end of the day we still didn’t know where we finished, but we did finish, and we weren’t last, far from it.

My best lap was only half a second slower than Bob’s. Per corner, that is... Understand that in a Mini - in any car I’ve ever raced - Turns Six and Seven at Mosport are not corners...

Fun? You bet. Many thanks to Bob DeShane, his crew and all the VARAC people, especially to Jeremy Sale who set it up, and to Van Worsdale, organizer of the meet.

Actually, Worsdale got more than thanks - the folks running the Targa Newfoundland road rally this September came to promote their event, and gave a way a free entry in a raffle. Worsdale won it. Cries of “Fix! Fix!’‘ resounded through the tent...

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