2019 SVRA Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational

In the six years of its running, the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational has undergone a few changes, and this year, the event moved from its original Fathers’ Day-weekend date, pushing back to early August.  Carrying over from prior years, however, was a fan-focused atmosphere, and a schedule that interleaved Trans-Am events with SVRA classes.

In order to squeeze two Trans-Am classes and the ever-popular Pro-Am event into the weekend, on-track events kicked off on Wednesday with testing.  Thursday brought practice sessions, and Friday’s schedule held two qualification sessions for each group.

In qualification for Groups 5, 7, and 11, Travis Engin led the first session in a 2005 Audi R8 LMP with a best time of 1:24.232.  Jacek Mucha gave up a little over a liter of displacement to Engin’s Audi, but trailed his time by less than a second at 1:25.030 in a 2006 Swift JMS 016 CP.  The second qualification session for this group fell late in the afternoon, and the only time to better the morning times was Mucha, who clocked a 1:23.373 on the hot afternoon track.

Many of the Group 6 cars (and drivers) had a busy weekend — pulling double duty in the VROC Pro-Am race as well as running in their normal Group 6 events.  Peter Klutt led the first qualifying session at 1:36.541 in his 1969 Chevy Corvette, followed by Gary Klutt’s 1:37.673 in another ‘69 vette, and Carlos de Quesada at 1:38.708 in a 1973 Porsche 911.  Once again, afternoon times failed to top the morning times, with Scott Borchetta managing a session-best 1:38.734 in his 427-powered 1972 Corvette.

Formula Fords are featuring prominently in vintage events all summer long, and SVRA drew a strong showing of the open-wheelers at Indy — large enough to split into two sessions.  Group 2b was the first to record times on Friday, led by Geoff Brabham’s 1:31.778 in a 1971 Brabham BT35-26.  Travis Engen was back on-track, clocking the runner-up time in a 1970 Chevron B17b,   Continuing the trend, afternoon times dropped off, but Brabham held onto the top result.

Small-bore sports cars were up next for qualifying when groups 1, 3, and 4 raced the clock.  John Nash led the first session in a 1962 Lotus Super Seven – a full five seconds ahead of the field at 1:50.001. Scott Fraser turned a 1:55.970 in a 1958 Austin Healey Sprite, and Devin Boucher was right behind in a 1963 Kellison Mach 5.  Nash also led qualifying session 2 – again, just a bit slower than the first session, but this time Heather Barron was second-quick in a  1972 Caldwell D-13 FV, and Fraser was third.

Up next, groups 10 and 12a moved forward a few years and up a bit in displacement.  Andy Pilgrim grabbed a 2011 Ferrari 458 GT3 and began a weekend-long clinic with a five-second gap at 1:27.756.  Chasing Pilgrim were Bruce Raymond in a 1985 Pontiac Firebird and Matt Gritt in a 2007 Chevy Monte Carlo.  Any guesses how Q2 turned out?  Yeah – not quite as quick.  Pilgrim managed a 1:29.773, followed by Samuel LeComte in a 2006 Chevy Monte Carlo and Bill Hefner in a 2011 Cadillac CTS-VR

Groups 8 and 12b hit the track around mid-morning for qualifying, led by Troy Ermish’s 1971 Datsun 510 at 1:44.80, and followed by William Alverson’s 2006 BMW M3 and Tom Clarke’s 1967 Porsche 911.  Lo and behold, the second qualification session yielded some better times for this group — Howard Liebengood’s 1:42.442 in a 2006 BMW M3 was best, followed by Alverson, who also improved.  

The group 9 cars were fast and competitive.  Jacek Mucha led the first session in a 2006 Swift JMS17 CP.  His 1:25.496 narrowly led Mark Sherwood’s 1995 Ralt RT41 at 1:25.813 and 

Travis Engen’s 2001 Lola T97/20 at 1:26.754.  Second-session times for this group were posted early in the afternoon, and didn’t move the mark much from Q1.  Mucha, Sherwood and Engen led the session with times in the 1:25-1:27 range.

Last to qualify before lunch and again at the end of the day Friday were the rest of the Formula Ford cars of Group 2a.  Andy Pilgrim was fast in this group, too, posting a 1:41.872 in a 1973 Crossle 25F, but Kim Madrid trailed by less than half a second in her 1978 Crossle Formula Ford.  Second-session times dropped off, with Pilgrim still on top, chased by Chris Arrogante’s 1979 Crossle 35F and Ray Stephens’ 1978 Crossle 32.

Saturday’s feature races started at 8am sharp with Groups 1, 3, and 4.  Fast qualifier John Nash started strong in his 1962 Lotus Super Seven and finished with a comfortable 4-second gap over Scoff Fraser’s #79 1958 Austin Healey Sprite despite a late-race caution.  Doug Radix (1955 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL) gave up third early, but reclaimed the final podium spot by the midpoint of the race.

In the group 2a feature, Andy Pilgrim paced the field and kept the other 34 starters in his rear-view mirror.  Wes Allen worked his way up from sixth on the grid in his 1978 Eagle DGF to take the runner-up spot, and Chris Arrogante was third in his 1979 Crossle 35F.  Tony Jimenez picked up several spots in the closing laps, taking fourth from a 12th-place grid spot.

Pilgrim hopped out of the Crossle he drove in group 2a and straight into his group 10 Ferrari 458 GT3.  Starting second in the group 10 and 12a first feature, he moved into the lead before the first turn and stayed there.  Samuel LeComte was another early mover, working up to the runner-up spot in his 2006 Chevy Monte Carlo.  Polesitter Bruce Raymond wound up third in his 1985 Pontiac Firebird.

In the first feature for groups 5, 7, and 11, the top three qualifiers swapped several spots in some great racing on their way to the podium.  At the end of ten laps, Travis Engen led in a 2005 Audi R8 LMP, followed by polesitter Jacek Mucha in a 2006 Swift JMS 016 CP and Carlos de Quesada in a 2013 Riley Daytona Prototype.  Outside the top 10, Alex MacAllister grabbed a ton of spots in his 1971 McLaren M8F, moving up from 29th to13th before withdrawing.   

Engin had to hustle to the grid for the Group 9 race next, starting in third in a 2001 Lola T97/20 behind Mark Sherwood’s 1995 Ralt RT41 and Jacek Mucha’s 2006 Swift JMS17 CP on pole.  Engin moved into second  and began a great dice with Mucha.  Engin and Mucha traded the lead several times, winding up with Engin on top, Mucha second and Sherwood third.

The second cadre of Formula Fords were up next, with Ron Hornig’s 1971 Brabham BT35-20 on pole.  Hornig gave up the lead to Geoff Brabham, but grabbed it back again late the race.  Jeremy Treadway moved up a spot from fourth to take the last podium spot in his 1981 Van Diemen RF81.

The last feature of the morning was race one for groups 8 and 12b.  Although the car count favored the 60’s and 70’s coupes and sedans of group 8, the more modern group 12 cars were a bit quicker.  Howard Liebengood started outside pole in his 2006 BMW M3, trailing William Alverson in another 2006 M3.  Alverson hung onto the lead for a bit, but Liebengood claimed the lead a couple laps in and posted fast time on his way to the win.  Ron Pawley was third in his 2004 Lexus IS300.

Following TA2 practice and touring during the lunch break, the fan walk and opening ceremonies for the Vintage Race of Champions kicked off.  The pro-am event has been a featured part of SVRA’s Indy event since it began, and for 2019, Indy is joined by VIR and Road Atlanta to become a three-race points championship.  The 20-car field featured pros from a wide range of racing disciplines paired up with car owners of group 6 corvettes, mustangs, and the like — known for their ground-pounding motors, but not so much their brakes.

The 25-lap race started with the amateur drivers behind the wheel.  A mandatory driver change pit stop kept the running order shuffled with most cars stopping in the lap-5 to lap-10 window.  Peter Klutt and Edward Sevadjian started on the front row in a 1969 Chevy Corvettes, and stayed in tight formation until their pit stops.  By lap 10, both front-runners were working their way back up through drivers who’d not yet stopped to switch to the pro drivers of the  pair, and by the two-thirds mark, Geoff Brabham had worked back to the front in Peter Klutt’s ‘vette, but retired a couple laps later, ceding the lead to Willy T Ribbs in Sevadjian’s ride.  

In a scary moment late in the race, Lyn St James ended a great drive when she pushed up in turn 14 and took a heavy hit to the speedway wall, resulting in a finish under yellow.  St. James spoke to fans during the event Sunday, confirming her overnight hospitalization and James Heck’s intent to rebuild the 1964 Corvette.  Finishing order for the VROC had  Willy T Ribbs first in Sevadjian’s Corvette, followed by Bobby Labonte in Gary Klutt’s 1969 Chevy Corvette and Boris Said in Jim Caudle’s  1969 Corvette.

SVRA took a little breather after the VROC event while Trans-Am ran a TA feature race and TA2 qualifying, and then many of the same VROC cars were back on-track for the Group 6 first feature.  Scott Borchetta made this race look easy in his 1972 Chevy Corvette.  Early front runners Carlos de Quesada and Jim Sandberg  had been running well in the top three, but both fell out of the event, leaving second to Jim Guthrie in a 1966 Shelby GT350 and Clair Schwenderman in a 1968 Chevy Corvette Roadster.

Sunday’s events began with a sixty-minute Vintage Classic Enduro with a mandatory pit stop.  As usual, the stop shuffled the order a bit, but the top three were pretty well sorted out in the first five laps.  The 1966 Shelby GT350 of Terry Lawlor and Scott Hackenson had to work up the order a bit from a sixth-place start, moving into third behind the 1970 Ford Boss 302 of John Cloud and Wally Dallenbach, and then moved into second prior to pit stops.  But once the dust of pit stops settled, the 1968 Corvette roadster of Clair Schwendeman / Alan Sevadjian was back where it started – in the lead and cruising to the win.  The Cloud / Dallenbach Boss 302 wound up second, and the Lawlor / Hackenson GT350 was third.

An enduro for Historic GT and GTP’s was next, and also featured a single pit stop.  Unlike in the prior enduro, however, Travis Engen built a solid lead and stopped late in the event in his 2005 Audi R8 LMP, and never dropped from the lead of this race.  Andy Pilgrim wound up on the lead lap in second in his 2011 Ferrari 458 GT3, and Brian Elliott as third in a 2007 Elon DP02.

By mid-morning, we were back to feature racing, beginning with the second Group 1, 3, 4 feature.  The backfield was busy in this one; fourth-place Hunter Barron had to work up from a 15th place start to get there, for example, but the top three were well-sorted, finishing in the same order as the first feature:  John Nash, Scoff Fraser, and Doug Radix.

Groups 8 and 12b followed suit with an orderly top 5 and a lot of shuffling behind them.  William Alverson improved a step from the first feature, taking first in his 2006 BMW M3.  Troy Ermish made good on his fast time in Q1, moving past Ron Pawley to take second in his 1971 Datsun 510.  Pawley’s 2004 Lexus IS300 wrapped up the podium in third.

Travis Engen and Jacek Mucha picked up right where they left off in the first group nine feature.  They swapped the top two spots throughout their second feature, giving fans a great show in the process.  Engen and Mucha were chased by Charles Parsons’s 1976 Lola 332C, and Douglas Schumacher had a good drive, improving to 7th from a 14th-place starting slot.

Just before lunch, the first Formula Ford reunion race treated crowds to a great-looking 35-car starting field.  Travis Engen worked his way past Geoff Brabham and Ron Hornig to take the win in a 1970 Chevron B17b.  Brabham was second in a 1971 Brabham BT35-26, and Hornig was third in a 1971 Brabham BT35-20.

Following the lunch break, the second Formula Ford reunion race was another great show.  The last three laps of the event  saw the top three cars  swap spots around in close-quarters racing, with Jeremy Treadway getting back to the top spot prior to the checkered flag.  Treadway’s 1981 Van Diemen RF81 led Dan Cowdrey’s 1970 Titan Mk6 and Thomas Gaffney’s 1975 Lola T342.

Group 6 wrapped up a busy weekend with their second feature race.  The herd had thinned a bit by Sunday afternoon, but Scott Borchetta was still showing the way.  Second and third places climbed up from a little deeper in the field, though.  Scooter Gabel started ninth in his 1973 Porsche 911 but worked quickly up to second.  Third place went to Scott Holley, who  drove up from eleventh in his 1963 Jaguar XKE, getting past Clair Schwendeman late in the race.

A twenty-car field lined up for the second group 5, 7, and 11 race, with the familiar duo of Engen and Mucha out front and once again, traded first and second throughout the ten lap race.  Wes Allen cruised to third in his 2010 Elan DP02.

The final SVRA event Sunday afternoon was the groups 10 and 12a feature 2 race.  Bruce Raymond drove up from third in his 1985 Pontiac Firebird for the win, followed by Scott Borchetta’s 1981 Buick Regal and Jason Braun’s 1984 Chevy Camaro.  With SVRA racing wrapped up, Trans-Am closed the weekend with their TA2 cars on-track.  SVRA’s next event: Watkins Glen from September 5-8.

Welcome Matt Breeden 

Just prior to SVRA’s Brickyard event, SVRA announced the addition of Matt Breeden as President, freeing up CEO Tony Parella to focus on more strategic initiatives for SVRA and Trans Am.  Mr. Breeden was good enough to sit down with me for a few minutes during Sunday’s classic enduro, and we discussed his new role.

Mr. Breeden comes to SVRA with a strong motorsport background, including roles with the Champ Car World Series and INDYCAR.  When Parella approached him earlier this year, Breeden was already familiar with the series.  As the series grew, Parella felt he’d gotten too tied up with the day to day operations, and told Breeden he was looking for help so Tony could free up more time for the sales and relationship aspects of the business.

Asked about balancing operational tasks and vision, Breeden told me he’s ready to draw on his broad experience.  “My background is both on the operations side but also the strategic side,” he said.  “So I’d like to bring a lot of that skill set where I can see the big picture help Tony craft that vision for the SVRA.”

On growth: “Growth is certainly where we want to be,” Breeden said.  “I think that’s the point of this move.”  Breeden is also looking to keep growing the fan-friendly environment at the track, and “we’ve got to tell the world about it.”

On balancing the competitor experience and the fan experience: “We want to create a more mainstream motorsports experience that appeals to the fans as well.”  By balancing the fan experience and leveraging sponsorship relationships, SVRA can create an amazing experience to attract fans, “which allows us to race at places like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Road Atlanta and Watkins Glen, Laguna Seca and Circuit of the Americas.”

Breeden also reflected on his introduction to the SVRA at that first Brickyard event back in 2014.  “I didn’t quite understand what it was because at the time the idea that an organization outside of IndyCar or NASCAR or Formula 1 or Moto GP was going to come here and use the facility in any meaningful way – completely foreign.”  But when SVRA brought 700 cars and he saw “people everywhere”, Breeden was convinced.  He’d likened vintage racing to something like Monterey, but, “they get here, and these guys are really getting after it.”  Breeden was hooked, and when Parella contacted him earlier this year, Matt jumped at the chance to talk.

Breeden will be traveling with the series, so look for him the next time you’re at an SVRA event and welcome him to the vintage racing family.

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