Simanaitis Says

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PITTSBURGH VINTAGE GRAND PRIX 1996

WHEN WE last saw our intrepid vintage racer (yesterday; http://wp.me/p2ETap-298), he and his patron, Jake Jacobson of the Old Spokes Vintage Racing Team, were chasing each other in 1930s sprint cars around Jake’s backyard.

This was in preparation for my driving Jake’s Miller-Ford in the 1996 Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. Here’s my account, as summarized from Road & Track, December 1996.

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The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix’s Schenley Park circuit. Note its significant changes in elevation.

The PVGP circuit is near Carnegie Mellon University, with adjacent grassy slopes, changes of elevation—and occasional stone walls—characterizing its 20 corners in 2.3 miles.

Organizers maintain a description of the PVGP with video at www.pvgp.org. This year’s events are July 11 – 20, including those focused at Schenley Park July 18 – 20. The PVGP benefits the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Valley School.

Program1996

The 1996 PVGP, its 14th running, had a full array of races; mine being the Prewar Class. Its cars included a Type 37A Bugatti, an Aston Martin, a Bentley, a couple of early Ford specials—and both of Jake’s sprint cars, his Dreyer and “my” Miller-Ford.

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Prewar Class offers a variety of cars, some of them sans fenders. That’s me in the Miller-Ford.

Early in practice, I realized that the Miller-Ford was, after all, a sprint car. What with its rear-only braking—actuated by tugging that left-hand lever—the car felt best being tossed and caught with much sawing of the elbows. I noted in R&T, “I’m told the corner workers could see the smile on my face through the dark visor.”

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An open cockpit gives plenty of room for elbows. And, yes, I grant the probable ineffectiveness of the Miller-Ford’s rollbar (only optional in Prewar Class at the time).

I gridded fifth out of twelve cars, this solely because of a foolhardy late braking into the circuit’s haybale-defined chicane. Shortly after the race start, I got passed by Jim Carson’s Bentley and settled into enjoying the view—and profiting from his brake lights to get my left hand ready.

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Turning in while steering one-handed, braking with the other.

It’s Vintage Sports Car Club of America policy that “the pleasure of participating must exceed the desire to ‘Win at All Costs.’ ” VSCCA philosophy fits mine of driving fabulous cars at moderate speed, rather than the other way about.

And what could be better than chasing a Bentley up and down and around a twisty 2.3 miles?

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The obligatory arty shot; and a very good one at that.

Just before the checkered flag, Bill Vaccaro’s Type 37A Bugatti lapped us to finish first. However, VSCCA awards are given on criteria other than final placings. Indeed, I note with immodesty that Jake’s Miller-Ford and I received the Class Award for Prewar.

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Mon Patron, Jake Jacobson, on the left. I’m holding the Class Award for Prewar.

Having had such a grand time at the 1996 PVGP, I decided to try another gambit. The inaugural Monaco Grand Prix Historique was being planned for 1997 and Jake was amenable to our assaying an entry. Also, I was gratified to get potential funding lined up through Ford.

The Miller-Ford’s class at Monaco, Prewar Voiturettes and Grand Prix, would include Bugattis, Alfa Romeos and the like. In describing the car’s capabilities, I noted that a Type 37A took just about the full seven laps of Schenley Park to lap the Miller-Ford.

Our entry didn’t make the final cut, but a very kind letter from the Monaco organizers placed Jake’s Miller-Ford among the prime backup list. Jake kept the letter in his “toy box” of memorabilia.

I savor the memories, a grand Pittsburgh prix and a great Monaco potential. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014

The latest at eBay from DennisSells14:

Hummer press kit, c. 2006. “As wonderfully overbuilt as the car itself.”

Andy Warhol Cars, 1989 calendar.

Andy Warhol Cars, 1989 calendar.

Rob Roy calendar by Michelin. Many French vintage race cars.

Rob Roy calendar by Michelin. Many French vintage race cars.

One comment on “PITTSBURGH VINTAGE GRAND PRIX 1996

  1. Bill Urban
    May 23, 2014

    Dennis, thanks for the delightful reading and the sharing of good memories these two days.

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