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Fanfare: Motor Skills

| Monday, July 17, 2006

Cut the top off any car, and you get a thrill. Cut the top off a stick of dynamite like the cars competing in the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix and you get an explosion. Engines sounded like a stampede of wild horses in Schenley Park, where drivers were separating the winners from the windbags in qualifying heats.Now in its 24th year with 180 drivers from as far afield as Sweden, Canada and the Eastern Seaboard, it ranks as the largest of its kind in the country -- and runs as smoothly as a Rolls.

The weather gods smiled on Saturday's party tents and the auto world's sweetest love songs ... the kind you might expect to see in a museum behind bulletproof glass. Classics with pedigrees. Lamborghinis. Rolls. Ferraris. Porsches. Beamers. Benzes. And no fewer than 200 Jaguars, this year's marque car and class queen. A display attended by thousands of enthusiasts who didn't seem to care if the rear storage compartment might hold a set of golf clubs.Trust me, nobody kicked these tires.

Now the race-bred wheels, so pristine they look like they've just rolled off the assembly line, were closer to the course in the paddock area.

"It's the best vintage road race in America," allowed Jerry Morici, of Clifton, N.J., whose cars were cooling in the shade. This is his 24th race, but now his son and grandson are taming the high crowns and hairpin curves of the challenging course.

Here's why the PVGP is such a hot draw. The passionate men and women, the 1,000 darlings, who have kept it in high gear from the first checkered flag while delivering $1.9 million to the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and the Allegheny Valley School . Folks like race director Mike Connelly who takes his vacation every year just to work as a volunteer.

Between cars and drivers, we spotted Grand Marshal Bibie Boerio , managing director of Jaguar Cars in London (and Latrobe native!); PVGP board chair George Jacoby and Pat ; Lynn Swann with sons Shafer and Braxton ; Dan DelBianco ; Linda and Stanley Pittler ; drivers Bob Gett and Bob Paltrow (Gwyneth's uncle!); Deborah and Eric Hessinger with Haley and Maxwell ; John Mills ; Andy McSwigan ; Dr. Bill Swartz ; Dick Scott; Carolyn Wean and Alan Patterson ; Beth Martin; Gigi Saladna; Tom Solomich; Mary Withrow and Larry Rhoades ; and Rich Haeflin .

Plus Dan Torisky (he co-founded the race with Myron Cope); George Patterson; Don Brown; Steve Weber; Lou Krebs and son Landon; Dorothy Gordon; Tim Bradford; Mike Rynerson; Jodi and Bryan Amos with Alex and Sam; Dr. John and Dolores Smith Barber ; Kate and Paul Pigman with daughter Emma ; Mary Kay Poppenberg ; and WQED's Ted Sohier , voice of the PVGP for 24 years.

Licensed to thrill, the event is free, open to the public. It also garners gobs of good will and tons of great press for our fair city.

Summer Song

The grand glam gang of the Pittsburgh Opera Association were Puttin' on the Ritz at its splendid summer soiree. Benno Janssen 's magnificent Longue Vue Club perched above the Allegheny River was Saturday's setting that saw swells in black-tie or white dinner jackets and ladies swanning by in soft feminine numbers at cocktails on the terrace to Shirley DiIanni 's delightful pianissimos.

Jack Purcell , our town's dean of music, was back on the bandstand "for one night only" with his high society beat since this crowd loves to dance almost as much as they love the opera. A round of raves for the menu as well.

Tripping the light fantastic were chairs Cicely Monsour, Rose Kunkel Roarty (with Dr. Joe ) and Anne Hasley (with Ray ); POA prexy Michel Franklin and Dr. John ; Patty and Dr. Alan Barnett ; Dr. Pearl and Dave Figgins ; Yvette and Erik Lawson ; Louise Hartman ; Loretta and Ed Crum; Rose and Dr. Mike Kutsenkow; Carol Sirianni; Marsetta and Dick Schweiger; Barbara Orwid and Alexander Swiecicki; Merrill and Dr. Miroya Stabile ; and Isabelle Andrews with Joe Contosta .

In the Pink

Interior designer Craig McDonald 's sense of style extends beyond the stunning Shadyside abode he shares with Dan Catanzaro . An avid practitioner, he has taken gardening to an art form. But there's not even a hint of the riotous array of fragrant jasmine and Gabriel trumpet trees from the front gate. Or that an arm-long list of botanical marvels in full-throttle are deftly blended with Victorian bird cottages, a gazebo and splashing pond ... the setting for a party they graciously hosted for the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force .

Food Glorious Food catered the soignee bash with its "pretty in pink" dress code that wrapped the eve in cotton candy and candlelight.

Although it was not a fundraiser, checks totaling $6,300 that filled a graceful urn at the entrance went directly to the cause. An idea of the 200 guests who gave with their hearts: Larry Leahy and John Vandegrift ; Dr. Elliott Kramer and Bill Modrak ; Caryn Rubinoff and Craig Dunham; Bob Kmetz; Mary McVay and son Tim ; Bob Davis ; Lora and Perry Sigesmund ; Jim McDonald and Larry Karnoff ; Pam and Ken McCrory ; Katherine Krause; Sherri and Gary Wilson; Jan and Neil Rosen; Hugh Beswick ; and Rebecca and Greg Greenleaf .

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