Steve Earle drove vintage racing to 'Historics' heights
If you own a vintage race car, you need to thank Steve Earle for increasing its value.
Once upon a time, used race cars were considered nothing more than scrap; if they no longer were competitive on the racetrack, why keep them around? Simply remove any components that could still be used in competition and dispose of what could not, including the car itself.
Why, it wasn't that long ago that we reported that the championship-winning Shelby Daytona Coupes were about to be dumped at sea, scraped in a watery grave because they were used - and presumably used up -- race cars on which no one was willing to pay the duty taxes England demanded on such imports. Carroll Shelby finally came up with the cash and the cars were shipped from England back to the United States, where Shelby finally sold them, for a few thousand dollars each.
A couple of weeks ago, one of those cars was sold again - for $7.25 million!
Steve Earle didn't get a cut of that transaction, but perhaps he should have, because it was Earle who brought value to old racing cars by giving them a place, in face a showcase, in which to race once again.
Last month, Earle (shown here driving his C-type Jaguar) and his General Racing, Ltd., staged their 36th annual Monterey Historics vintage automobiles races at the old Laguna Seca (now Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca) racetrack on California's Monterey Peninsula, not far from where post-war American sports car racing (at least the West Coast variety) was cultivated on narrow public roads through the Del Monte forest at what we now all recognize as Pebble Beach.
The Historics - in fact, what we know as vintage sports car racing - was born when Earle, who liked and collected old racing cars, called some friends who also had old sports racers in their garages and suggested they all get together, get their cars back in shape and race them once again. Since then, vintage racing has grown into an automotive lifestyle, vintage race cars have multiplied in value, and instead of being trashed, last year's cars - from Indy and NASCAR to various sports car and drag racers - are being preserved to race again someday.
What all of this means is that we get to see motorsports history not in a museum but on the racetrack as we watch the cars raced by the legendary drivers of the past race again, and sometimes with the same legendary drivers at the wheel.
But for reasons as yet unexplained, immediately after the recent Monterey Historics, the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) announced that it would run not just the racetrack but the track's big vintage racing event as well.
"SCRAMP will produce an event that reflects the prestige, integrity and quality that fans and participants expect of the vintage automobile races held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca," the organization promised in a press release.
"This has certainly been a long and rewarding relationship with Steve Earle and General Racing," said Mazda Raceway manager Gill Campbell. "SCRAMP has always admired Mr. Earle's creation, which has brought historic car racing to the enthusiast on such a level."
And yet, for some reason, SCRAMP is showing Steve Earle and his General Racing the exit to pit road, and after next year to the paddock as well.
Next year, Earle will be part of a five-person "selection committee" (that will include the head of public relations for Mazda's U.S. sales arm) challenged with selecting the 400 or so cars and qualified drivers to be invited to the event. But after that, Steve Earle's organizational management - and his connections to the vintage racing community -- will be absent, and so will the Historics name, which Earle owns but has agreed to let the event use for one more and not transitional year.
After SCRAMP's announcement, Earle issued his own statement, saying that he'd been advised a year ago that "the economic terms for the agreement between General Racing and SCRAMP were no longer commercially viable for SCRAMP."
"I'm disappointed that we were not able to come to an agreement that would allow our event to remain in Monterey," Earle continued. "We are very proud of all that we have accomplished with the Monterey Historic Automobile Races, and I truly believe that we have brought something special to the community of Monterey as an event of world renown and the generator of substantial revenue for the local economy and the charities to which SCRAMP contributes.
"The purpose of General Racing, Ltd., is and always has been to encourage the restoration, preservation and use of historic, sports and racing cars. General Racing events and races are for the enjoyment of participants and enthusiasts alike."
The Historics are the biggest, but only one of the vintage racing events Earle has created in the last four decades. Now, he and his General Racing will now focus on the Wine Country Classic, held each June at Infineon Raceway in the San Francisco Bay area.
Darlington Vintage Festival
Cars and stars from the last 50 years of NASCAR and Indy racing are expected to participate September 26-27 in the second annual Darlington Historic Racing Festival at South Carolina's historic Darlington Raceway, which this year celebrates its 60th anniversary.
Mark your calendar
1-3 - Mecum at St. Charles, Illinois
8-10 - Kruse at Hershey, Pennsylvania; Barrett-Jackson at Las Vegas
9 - RM at Hershey, Pennsylvania
10-11 - Kruse at Biloxi, Mississippi
23-25 - RM at Toronto
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