The inaugural U.S. Vintage Racing National Championship this weekend at Circuit of the Americas won’t resemble Formula One or NASCAR, and Austin vintage racer Mark McIlyar said that should be a plus for fans.
Regarding Formula One, McIlyar sniffed, “Twenty-two identical cars show up. Big deal. And how often do they pass?”
He dismissed NASCAR, meanwhile, as a group of nearly identical cars with different decals.
“As far as the spectator is concerned, it (vintage racing) is far better than Formula One or NASCAR … There’s tons of passing that goes on,” said McIlyar, who will drive a 1971 Chevrolet Corvette this weekend. “There is a car for everybody out here. This is the big dog.”
Organizers said the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association’s first national championship will draw more than 500 cars from around the country. Their drivers will compete in a dozen classes for , well, bragging rights. It’s a competition for car lovers, not highly paid professionals.
The races, though intense, also double as rolling museums. There will be former Formula One cars screaming around the 3.4-mile circuit, American and European muscle cars from the 1960s and 1970s, and even some very vintage race cars built before World War II.
“The pre-war guys, they wear leather helmets and goggles,” McIlyar said.
Tony Parella, president and CEO of the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association, added: “Watching those cars from the teens and the ’20s is a hoot.”
Parella will race two cars here, a 1934 Chevrolet Indy Car and a 1958 Corvette. He estimated that the total value of the cars at the circuit this weekend would be $100 million. It could have been more. He said he had to turn away about 350 applicants to keep the races manageable.
Parella said the vintage racers are a varied group.
“There really isn’t a typical driver. They’re in their 20s to their 60s,” he said. “You have everything from CEOs to blue collar, working folks.”
There are, however, vintage racers who invest a lot in their hobby.
“Some of these guys have $1 million race cars,” McIlyar said. “I’ve seen $6 million cars … Some of the guys have trailers like they do in NASCAR. The owner just shows up and races. He doesn’t get his hands dirty.”
McIlyar said he sold his software business to National Instruments in 1996. He had always liked old cars and decided to take a year off and learn how to build a car, tearing down a 1965 Mustang to the bare metal. He later did the same with the ‘71 Corvette that he spent $50,000 rebuilding and now races.
“I’m a self-taught, shade-tree mechanic,” McIlyar said.
The vintage races are short; many will last 30 minutes. Their short duration means the drivers won’t have to change tires or need a pit crew. It also means drivers will have some time to chat with fans, who will be allowed in the open paddock.
“We’re really excited. We plan to host this race every October,” Parella said.
U.S. Vintage Racing National Championship
Friday-Sunday, Circuit of the Americas; individual-day tickets cost $25