SCD: What are the criteria for getting a car accepted into the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion?
CV: The first qualifier is its race history. Let’s say you have a Porsche Speedster that was just a street car and you converted it, versus a Porsche Speedster that has been a racecar since the ’50s. The racecar since the ’50s is going to be accepted all day long, and we don’t necessarily accept it on its condition, or how close to a concours car it is. I prefer a car that has patina and has raced its whole life.
Kenny Epsman is a great example. He’s got a Torino and a Monza. The Torino is absolutely original. Kenny’s Monza is absolutely original, has never been repainted, the paint isn’t the best, but it’s original. I look at it and say it is one of the best cars out here. It’s like Pebble Beach, Pebble has cars that have been restored beyond their wildest imaginations and then they have original cars. So those are the first two qualifiers. Then you have a bunch of cars, several cars that are similar, several cars have race history to some degree. Then you have to take the cream of the crop. Obviously we are going to take the cars with the best history. We’re really fortunate with this event we really get the cream of the crop with the cars. This year’s Pre-Reunion was just phenomenal, the quality of cars we got; and the Rolex event as well. In 2004 when we featured Ferrari, we had 27 of the 36 250 GTOs. I’ll never forget watching those cars come down out of Turn Nine and looking at Steve Earl and saying, “Who’s going to call the insurance company on this thing? Not me.” It’s never happened before. To think of those cars being worth $25 to $30 million dollars today and then being on the race course is pretty staggering.
SCD: What are the criteria for getting a driver accepted into the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion?
CV: Basically all the drivers are accepted, unless they have a history of having problems. Often times, professional drivers don’t have a good mentality for historic racing, and what has been explained to me is that they were always paid to go out and win races, be at the front of the grid and win at all costs. And often, professional drivers, retired drivers, don’t have the mentality to back off and let someone else have the corner. The biggest thing is we want safe drivers. We have fabulous, phenomenal cars, and our participants are high-profile guys, but I don’t care if he is a high-profile guy, selling bread or if he is the CEO of some Fortune 500 company. They are still important and the safety of the participant is paramount with us. Obviously, if a driver isn’t being safe we take him off the track. Our philosophy of having no tolerance for contact is unique in the country. Everybody, all the vintage organizations, has that policy, but not very often do vintage organizations put guys on a trailer for hurting their car. Our view is that if you do damage to your car or someone else’s car, you are excused for 12 months. No discussion. That allows us to get truly the premium cars, the quality cars.
SCD: Are you going to extend the Rolex Reunion to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday following the Pre-Reunion?
CV: That’s not my call, that’s Barry Toepke’s call. We have expanded it this year (2010) to include Thursday. I don’t know if we would go beyond that. I see us kind of joining the Pre-Reunion and the Reunion closer together, but not necessarily racing on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, but more on-track activities. I don’t see us expanding the on-track racing. One of the things we have to be sensitive to is that these cars are sensitive, and they’re old cars, and they break. We are not trying to wear them out.
SCD: Do you think 600 cars is the maximum you can do in three days? Would you like to have more cars, or do you want to cut it back?
CV: The size of the paddock really dictates the amount of cars we can take. The track has expanded the size of the grids, this year to a maximum of 40. In the past, this event has had a similar number of cars. Trans-Am cars are a perfect example. I’ll never forget one year we had 45 Trans-Am cars. Again, you look at Trans-Am cars and they are all documented racecars. If there are 45 of them, and you’re trying to pick the cream of the crop, an owner has a documented race history car, and then we tell them they can’t run this year because there is no room. It’s difficult, paddock-wise, facility-wise; 600 is really a lot of cars. If we could get our participants to look at what Goodwood does as an example, where you are invited to participate with your car and bring basically a fishing tackle box for tools, then 600 cars would not be a problem. Unfortunately, that’s not the American philosophy. It would be nice if we could have the resources to build covers like they do at Goodwood so that the cars are protected, or tent the facility and just say flatly, no one comes in with a transporter, no one comes in with a trailer or support vehicle. Then we could be successful at getting 600 cars. It is really a difficult task. For the first time this year the event is not allowing regular street cars into the paddock. I’ve always said that the paddock is part of the race weekend show, so we want the guys to have a nice paddock display. Have the cars in the front being displayed prominently. I’ve asked guys to do story boards because that‘s all about the story. We don’t want to showcase a Ford Taurus. Sorry Mr. Ford, but that’s not going to happen. We say if you have a neat car, if you have an Monza Ferrari, yes, that‘s something of interest to the participants. We can help enhance the show by taking out the Taurus and the Lexus cars, and putting in what Gill Campbell terms the cool cars.
SCD: With many of the cars on track selling for multiples of millions, do you find this affects the racing?
CV: I have an off-the-wall philosophy about that. I say the more expensive the car, the easier it is to race. I think, with the philosophy that we promote for our events of no contact, we are very restrictive with the drivers and the cars being safe. Arrogantly speaking, the cars that we get out here do not run the East Coast events. A lot of these cars come from the East Coast; they won’t put their cars in harm’s way. We have been able to get away with promoting the philosophy that this is a non-contact sport. Hence we get the great cars. I think that guys are very careful with million-dollar cars, and they usually have professional guys looking after them and are careful with them. They are prepared well and have very few mechanical problems. So, I think the more expensive the car, the easier it is to race.
SCD: Do you own any vintage or historical cars?
CV: I don’t anymore. I’ve been really fortunate to own just about everything I’ve wanted. I don’t have the mentality to run a race event and to run a car. I’m at the racetrack 15 weekends a year, and I have a son in high school trying to get to college. So, I don’t have a problem sitting on the sideline right now. Like I said, I got my license in 1973, so I’ve been able to do this for a really long time. All through the ’80s I was running three events a month. Some were around the country and I was really fortunate enough to spend a fortune. I will never forget my sister, she was the bookkeeper at the dealership, coming to me at the end of one year and asking, “Do you realize how much money you spend?” I said never add that budget up again. Again, things and circumstances change. I don’t have the money to do those things I did in the past. My last car was an Alfa GTV that had been sitting for years, and I figured that by the time I would want to run it again I would have to restore it. So it was OK to let it go and let somebody else enjoy it. In the mid ’80s I was on a mission to collect all our family’s racecars, and I did OK with that. Then I got to the point where I was fighting my dad about driving the big cars, so I sold them and they went to great keepers of the flame. And they are out still there. I recently found one of our most successful cars, which was an MGB that Ronnie Bucknum drove for us. Honda took Ronnie Bucknum out of our MGB and put him directly into the Honda Formula One car.
SCD: Which one car interests you most?
CV: If I could have any car in the paddock, I would have a GT40. I spent a lot of time running 40s, absolutely love them. It’s similar to a Can-Am car, just easier to drive. With the Can-Am cars I was never comfortable driving at my limit of ability. With the GT40 I was able to run very competitively. I thought I could drive them well and was close to probably 8/10ths of what the car was capable of. But I was lucky enough not to be at the back of the pack, and was often times at the front. The GT40 is a great car, a phenomenal car.