Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix revs up for another lap
The 19th edition of the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix races starts Saturday and runs through Sunday following a preview week of car displays, rallies and other activities leading up to the main event.
Eight classes of vintage sports cars will wind their way through the Schenley Park racecourse in what has become one of the most respected vintage car events in the country, says Scott Township resident Mike Connolly, Grand Prix president and race director.
Connolly says that, despite an uncertain economy, entries in the Pittsburgh charity race are at an all-time high. The entry fee for racing a car is $150, and those who display their cars can pay anywhere from $15 to $100 to show the cars.
'Vintage racing across the country is generally down for all events due to the economy,' Connolly says. 'Yet our entries are up 25 percent. We have 190 cars racing this year, considerably more than last year's total of 145. We've never had that many entries.'
And it's not just the quantity, but the quality of the vintage models that makes the Vintage Grand Prix such a premier event, Connolly says.
Spectators will be able to view classic MGs, Jaguars, Mercedes, Ferraris, Cobras and other legendary sports cars tackling the challenging 16 turns and 21 corners of the 2.3-mile Schenley Park track.
'You have to go to Pebble Beach or Monterey to see the kind of cars we will have,' Connolly says. More than 150,000 race enthusiasts are expected to turn out for the practices, qualifiers and races, which will speed to a thrilling climax from 12:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Connolly, one of the founders of the Grand Prix, says he is impressed each year by the number of volunteers who turn out to help with the race. About 1,400 people this year will pitch in to help direct traffic, control crowds, drive shuttle buses and assist with other tasks.
'I'm flabbergasted by the public's support,' Connolly says. 'Even 15 years ago, I never believed we'd be where we've been over the past two years.'
In its 19 years of existence, the Vintage Grand Prix has raised more than $1.3 million for its two benefactors, the Allegheny Valley School, which is headquartered in Coraopolis and serves mentally challenged adults and children, and the Autism Society of Pittsburgh, which is headquartered in Monroeville and serves 4,000 families in western Pennsylvania.
Veteran driver and honorary race director Alan Patterson, who lives in Shadyside and works in Sausalito, Calif., also has been with the Vintage Grand Prix since its inception.
Patterson is driving his two race cars, a 1953 Allard and a 1958 Elva formula junior, in the races. He's also bringing along his vintage Jaguar E-Type to display in the park's Paddock Area.
Patterson's Allard will be one of 10 Allard race cars and 11 show cars, examples of the British automobile that has the distinction of 'the only European road racing car with American horsepower - namely Cadillac engines,' Connolly says.
Patterson has driven his cars in venues from the East Coast to the West Coast and says Pittsburgh offers one of the best tracks for vintage racing.
'Pittsburgh is a natural city for this type of race because of its topography,' Connolly says. 'But more than that, Pittsburgh is a big sports town, and everybody's a sports car enthusiast, too. During the Vintage Grand Prix, Schenley Park is a rolling museum of beautiful and historic race cars.'
More than 500 sports and luxury sports vehicles will be featured Saturday at the top of Schenley Drive for British Car Day, an annual event sponsored by the Western Pennsylvania Triumph Association.
Adjacent to British Car Day will be a collection of Bentleys, the Grand Prix's Marque of the Year. Other European and Japanese automobiles will be on display on the golf course, between the clubhouse and Flagstaff Hill.
Still another display will focus on American cars, including classics, customs, hot rods and muscle cars. Greg Farrell of Glenshaw is helping to organize the car shows.
Farrell says he and his wife, Christy, volunteer at the Grand Prix because they enjoy the variety of races and displays and the comradery among the car owners.
'What amazes me about this event is that any kind of special-interest car is welcome,' he says. 'You may have a Ferrari, but you can have a lot of fun looking at Deuce Coupes. It's a real family atmosphere that different generations can enjoy.'
Most of the car shows on Saturday offer same-day registration for those who decide to bring along their favorite model and join the festivities.
|Grand Prix Motorcyclists|
The ride will begin at Ladbrokes in Harmarville at 9 a.m. and end up in Schenley Park at 11:15 a.m.
Bikers will then take a parade lap of the race course and gather in front of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, where they can enjoy lunch and entertainment.
Each biker donates $25 per bike and $10 per passenger to participate.
The event is one of several new directions the Vintage Grand Prix is taking to keep itself fresh and exciting to its growing number of spectators, says president and race director Mike Connolly.
The total attendance figures from a week filled with car cruises, car shows, kickoff rally and vintage races should surpass 300,000 spectators in Schenley Park and at its various locations around Pittsburgh during Vintage Grand Prix-sponsored events.
At 12:20 p.m. Sunday, the Beaver Valley Jumpers skydiving team will descend on Schenley Park to deliver the official flags of the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to signal the start of the races.
Accepting the flags in the traditional ceremony will be Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey, Grand Prix co-founder Myron Cope and Jean Caliguiri, wife of the late Pittsburgh mayor Dick Caliguiri, whose administration first sanctioned the Vintage Grand Prix races in 1983.
85 percent are between the ages of 21 and 50
52 percent are male
48 percent are female
77 percent have college or post-college degrees
62 percent earn more than $75,000 per yer
58 percent have school-age children
84 percent are married
57 percent are professionals or executives
21 percent own their own businesses
71 percent travel by air four or more times per year
57 percent rent cars four or more times per year
42 percent live in the suburbs
15 percent live in another state
20 percent live in Pittsburgh