Vintage Grand Prix attracts more than 250K people to Pittsburgh

| Sunday, July 21, 2013, 11:09 p.m.

Matt and Marcie Weinstein took a spot in the shade on Sunday to watch the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix for at least the fifth time in the 10 years since they moved to the city.

“It's one of the highlights of why we love living in Pittsburgh,” said Matt Weinstein, 41, of Squirrel Hill. “I'm originally from California. When you want to go to car races, you had to buy tickets and go to a professional track, and here it's open, free, and it feels like it's part of the neighborhood.”

The Weinsteins and their children, Nate, 7, and Abby, 5, were among 250,000 people who attended the 31st annual event over 10 days in Schenley Park, including 50,000 on the finale.

Sunday's version included 150 brightly colored classic cars and another 250 on display. The car engines roared and occasionally sputtered, and helmeted drivers waved politely to spectators.

The event has raised $3.2 million since 1983 for the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and the Allegheny Valley Schools. Grand Prix spokesman Steve Weber expects this year's event to generate $250,000.

John and Dotti Bechtol both raced. They own a 1972 Porsche 914-6, 1972 Alfa Romeo Spider, 1964 Mini Cooper and 1959 Elva Mark IV.

Standing in a racing suit rolled down to his waist, with piping that cools him off in the car protruding from his shirt, he recounted going to his first Grand Prix here in 1999. He told his wife that he had to race.

“I said, ‘You're not going to have all the fun,' ” said his wife. She said she was one of five female drivers in Sunday's race.

“On a good day, she'll be faster — her car is quicker than mine,” he said, correcting himself.

John Bechtol has raced on other tracks such as Watkins Glen, but he said they are more forgiving than Schenley Park because a driver can go off track and recover.

“When you get off that surface,” he said, pointing to the road, “you'll hit a 4- or 5-inch curb. You don't see that at any other track. In addition to that, you got trees, stone walls, monuments, steps with railings. You can't lose focus.”

Grand Prix cars can go over 100 mph but average 75 mph, Weber said.

David and Susan Ward have attended the race six or seven times. He likes how slow the cars go. That's right — slow.

“You can't see NASCAR,” said David Ward, 50. “The cars fly by you in half a second, and here you can see them come around the bend. You can see the driver.”

Jonathan Kersting, 40, of Edgewood displayed his gold 1976 Porsche 911S Targa at the race. The convertible features a hounds-tooth interior. With the rear hood up, he revealed a 200-horsepower engine.

It was once owned by Joey Kramer, the drummer for Aerosmith, Kersting said proudly.

Childless, Kersting raved about the car like a bubbling father would his firstborn. He had wanted the car since he was 10 years old, when a neighbor who was an exotic car dealer gave him a ride in one.

“He showed me what that car could do in a cul-de-sac,” Kersting said.

Growing up, Kersting built model cars of Porsches, Lamborghinis and Ferraris and plastered the walls of his room with pictures of them, not Farrah Fawcett-Majors.

“I didn't care about chicks,” he said. “I cared about cars.”

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or

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