Pattersons make racing a family affair, at home on Grand Prix course
Alan Patterson has raced vintage sports cars at some of the most prestigious tracks in the world — from Monterey, Calif., to Sebring, Fla. and Watkins Glen, N.Y., to the top historic racing events in France, England and Monaco.
But no track seems more like home to the veteran racer than the tricky street course that winds through Schenley Park at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix.
Patterson is one of the founders and the first race director of the Vintage Grand Prix. Next weekend's 31st edition has special meaning for the Shadyside resident, who will be joined on the track by three members of his family who share his love of fast cars.
Alan's son, Chris Patterson, of Oakland, Calif.; his nephew, Peter Patterson of Regent Square; and Peter's 18-year-old son, Spencer Patterson, will be among some 175 vintage racers who will test their driving skills on the challenging race course.
“I'm very honored and pleased that they're doing it as a sport,” Alan Patterson says of the family members who are following his lead as a racing enthusiast. “I don't want them to be Mario Andretti or Bobby Rahal. I just want them to have fun.”
Patterson is especially proud of Spencer, who has been racing only two years and has already garnered awards for his achievements. The 2013 graduate of Woodland Hills High School was honored this spring as rookie of the year by Steel Cities Region Sports Car Club of America, and he recently won two SCCA Kryder Racing Series Championship races at Nelson Ledges Speedway, Garretsville, Ohio, driving a 1990 Mazda Miata.
“His father has taught him well,” Alan says. “I give him lots of words of encouragement. Certainly, Spencer is a better driver than I was at that age.”
At the Vintage Grand Prix, Alan, Spencer and Peter will be driving Jaguar E-types in the Group 4: Historic Big Bore race, and Peter, driving a Lotus Formula Junior, and Chris and Alan, piloting MK 1 and MK 3 vintage Elvas, will participate in the Group 1: Formula and Open Wheel race.
Spencer says he could envision a career as an IndyCar or NASCAR driver, but, for now, he's preparing to enter Bethany College in the fall and is enjoying motorsports as a way to spend time with his family.
“I've been watching my dad since I was a little boy,” he says. “He made me want to race.” Spencer says he believes he is the youngest driver in the Pittsburgh vintage races and adds, “I'm very lucky.”
Peter has participated in vintage racing since 2002 and says the Schenley Park track is a true test of drivers' agility.
“The course is relatively dangerous with its off-camber streets,” he says. “You don't want to make a mistake in a very expensive race car.” While the drivers don't strive for speed, Peter says it's possible to achieve up to 120 miles per hour in his vintage Jaguar on the straightaway.
“The first rule in a vintage car race is, don't hurt the car,” adds Chris, who, at age 46, will be participating in his first vintage racing event. He decided to get involved because “the timing was right in my career to devote the time, patience and money to do it.”
The Pattersons also will be competing in the July 14 Historic Races at Pittsburgh International Race Complex in Beaver Falls.
“The fact that my father's still involved makes me proud,” Chris says. “To think that these are the same cars he raced in the 1950s is amazing. He's definitely the heart of the PVGP.”
Alan says he has not had a mishap or accident on the race course in 31 years of Vintage Grand Prix racing.
“I just drive as carefully as I can,” he says. “There is no trophy, no money, and you're not trying to beat the guy next to you. You're just out there to have fun.”
Later this summer, Alan will head to his next vintage motorsports race — the Copenhagen Historic Grand Prix in Denmark the first weekend in August.
Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.