As I drove North to Gingerman Raceway to cover VSCDA’s Spring Brake event, I caught up on some podcasts I’d let pile up, including Ross Bentley’s excellent “Speed Secrets”, and right there in the middle of episode 90, Paul Tracy was telling Ross about his tire test at Gingerman in a ‘96 Cart car. Having missed last year’s event, I thought back to my last visit to Gingerman, and recalled the track seeming rather smaller than I’d expect for a top-tier open-wheeler. It turns out I was wrong about that.
Gingerman Raceway has a South Haven, MI address, but it’s located a couple miles out of town, and about five miles from Lake Michigan on the West edge of the state. The breeze can blow pretty chilly at Gingerman in the spring, and students at VSCDA’s drivers’ school had to contend with damp conditions on Thursday and Friday. By the time the race event started on Saturday, 26 students had become vintage race car drivers, and the sun made a welcome appearance.
Event chair Kurt Marquardt pointed out that a number of these graduates are “legacy” grads — sons and daughters of club members who’ve grown up with one another at the track, and are now ready to race themselves. Among these new racers were Lily Bruce, Keegan Bonk, Mason Hoeper, Gregor Henricks, Frederick Seidel, and Ian Watts.
Saturday morning’s untimed warmups and timed practices were grouped into four sessions each. Race Group “A” consisted of 26 Formula Vees and Juniors (VSCDA Group 4). Race Groups “B” and “C” ran together — these represented a wide range of 38 medium & large-bore sports & GT’s from VSCDA Groups 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8. Twenty-two formula cars from VSCDA Groups 4, 5 and 7 raced in group “D”, and Race Group “E” fielded 31 VSCDA Group 2 cars.
Watching the morning sessions from the carousel-like turn seven, the diversity of the B/C group was striking. The little Alfas and Lotuses in this group loved the infield turns in this part of the track, reeling in the larger TA’s and muscle cars in this group, but as the lap times came in, horsepower carried the day after all. Gingerman is a little deceiving in this way — the two longest straights are found nearly opposite some of the best viewing areas, so judging cars as they hustle through the twisties is missing an important part of their lap times.
Qualifying events began Saturday afternoon with Race Group “A”. The top cars were fairly well-sorted in this heat. Chuck Buysse (#70) led the field in his ‘67 Kellison FV, but fast times were set by John Kennelly (#7) at 1:49.762. Eric Coppock (#92) and Alan Wong (#110) were about two seconds off Kennelly’s pace – both with best times in the mid 1:51’s.
Mike Miles gapped the B/C qualifying group by better than four seconds in the #941. Miles’ 2000 Ford Taurus was also the newest car in the field; other B/C entrants ranged from 1961 to 1989. Next fastest were #82 Jeff Fisher in a 1964 Lotus 26R, #94 Brian Kennedy in a 1970 Mustang, and #17 Jason Pearce in a 1969 Mustang GT.
Race Group “D” qualifying was much more tightly-contested. Seb Coppola (#81) set fast time at 1:36.674 in a 1983 Alfa F3, but Jim Shannel (#4) and John Buxhorn (#89) were less than a second back in their ‘89 Lola T89 and ‘85 Lola 598 Sport 2000, respectively.
Wrapping up Saturday afternoon’s qualifying sessions, Ron Soave (#25) led Race Group “E” with a fast time of 1:48.729 in a 1968 Austin Healey Sprite. Dylan Wittenaur (#37) was second-fastest in a 1964 Mini Cooper, and Doug Bruce (#71) rounded out the top three in a 1959 Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite just over two seconds off the top time.
With qualifying out of the way, the first races of the weekend lined up to conclude Saturday’s action, starting with a 20-minute sprint for Race Group “A”. Brian Styczynski (#84, ‘70 Lynx) drove from third in the 20-car field to claim the win with a last-lap pass. Eric Coppock (#92) started on pole and led most of the way before finishing second in a 1969 Lynx, and Alan Wong (#110) finished third in a ‘69 Lynx from his outside-pole starting spot.
A healthy 30-car starting grid was next for the Race Group “B/C” sprint. Mike Miles once again led this group with a couple seconds to spare, leading wire-to-wire and setting fast lap in the #941 Ford Taurus. Jason Pearce (#17) improved on his fourth-place grid spot to claim second in his Mustang, and Mike Bilicki (#89) picked up three spots to finish third in a 1965 Ford Mustang GT350.
Seb Coppola started the Race Group “D” sprint race on pole, and set fast lap before slipping back in the field. John Boxhorn (#89) took over the lead from Coppola and hung on for the remaining laps to take the win in a 1985 Lola 598 Sports 2000. Jim Shanel (#4) had another strong finish in his ‘89 Lola T89, and Jeffrey Porasik (#11) moved up from fifth to finish third in a 1986 Lola S2000.
Race Group “E” concluded Saturday’s racing with 23 cars on track. Despite a lot of position changes deep in the field, the sharp end picked up right where qualifying left off. Ron Soave (#25), Dylan Wittenauer (#32), and Doug Bruce (#71) started 1-2-3 and finished that way with Wittenauer and Bruce swapping 2nd and 3rd for a couple laps early.
Sunday morning promised great racing weather, with warm-ups under cool & sunny conditions. The Sprint-Midget 15-lap feature was the first race of the morning. Ron Soave (#25) started on pole and led early, but an oil leak forced him off mid-race, ceding the lead and ultimately the win to #71 Doug Bruce. John Salisbury (#34) had a strong drive, moving from 9th on the starting grid to finish runner-up in a 1962 Austin Healey Sprite, and #160 Duane Otness picked up nearly as many spots to move from seventh to third in a 1960 Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite.
Afternoon racing started shortly after noon with a 50th Anniversary Formula Ford 25-lap enduro, starting with a slim 11-car field, and it became apparent early that attrition was going to play a role in the finish. Seb Coppola (#89) had another excellent performance in his Alfa, but he’d turn out to be the only finisher on the lead lap. Frank Newton (#60) took advantage of the midfield attrition to advance from the back of the grid to finish second in a ‘71 Titan Mk6, and #1 Steve Beeler finished in third from third on the starting grid in a 1979 Lola T540. It appeared that the 25-lap distance may have caught a couple of these cars wanting for a fuel stop, as well, including the #24 of Todd Willing, who’d run well early.
Saturday’s class features began with Group “A” — Vees and Juniors. John Kennelly (#7), having no time in Saturday afternoon’s sprint, started at the tail of the 29-car field, but quickly fought to the front of the field. He’d wind up leading #92 Eric Coppock and #110 Alan Wong to the checkered flag — all three driving 1969 Lynx’s. Kennelly also had fast lap in this race, with a second advantage over Coppock.
The “B/C” feature started with a the #941 Taurus of Mike Miles on pole, followed by Najeeb Khan (#141) in a 1962 Jaguar E-Type convertible and Brian Kennedy (#94) in a ‘70 Mustang. The top starters remained close early, gapping the rest of the field a bit. The early pressure from Khan and Kennedy faded by mid-race, and Miles cruised to the win over Kennedy and Kahn.
Next up, the “D” feature started #81 Seb Coppola on pole. Despite close racing early, he’d hold on for another event win. John Boxhorn (#89) moved up one spot for second in a 1985 Lola 598, and Ron Smit (#35) picked up two spots for a third-place finish in a 1971 Royale RP9.
The final event of the weekend was the Group “E” feature, with 20 cars taking the green flag. Ron Soave (#25) led wire-to-wire in his ‘68 Sprite to wrap up a strong weekend. A standout among the newly-graduated students this weekend was second-place finisher Mason Hoeper (#146) who improved from 4th on the grid in a 1960 Elva Courier. Ryan Murphy (#317) rounded out the top three in a 1961 Triumph TR4.