25th Annual Collier Cup Races at Watkins Glen

 


Event Poster by Bob Colaizzi

MG Collier Cup
25th Race 25th Reunion

  
Bob Colaizzi (driver's Seat) raced Jeff Brown's TD (Standing) in the 2009 Collier Cup race.

Its September 2009, as 53 MG racers hit the road headed to Watkins Glen, New York to race in the Sportscar Vintage Racing Associations (SVRA) Silver Anniversary all MG Collier Cup race. An MG race first run in 1985 in memory of the MG racing Collier Brothers. At it, Bob Colaizzi and Jeff Brown have something very special going on. As Bob slips into the seat of Jeffs MGTD racecar, a grin spreads across Bobs face. This MG has a familiar feel and look to him, and as he fires up its engine, the sounds of its rapping exhaust bring back a rush of memories from races of years past: Pittsburgh Mid Ohio Watkins Glen! Bob has a few more gray hairs these days, but the MG is almost exactly as he remembers it. Fits like an old shoe! Thats because this was his racecar in 1985 with which he was awarded the first Collier Cup, at this very same venue! Although it is now owned and piloted by Jeff, he graciously offered it to Bob to race in this historic 25th running of the Collier Cup! Now thats MG racing spirit! Lets turn the clock back and follow the trail of this most interesting MG story and those individuals involved, with all its twists and turns, and see how its threads tie it together over the past 25 years, and how they lead to this emotional reunion.

Setting the Stage

Vintage car racing was expanding in the early 1980s, with ever more MGs entering. In 1985 SVRA staged its first full vintage racing weekend at historic Watkins Glen, New York, where MGs have deeply rooted racing lore since 1948, when the first post WWII street race was held on its public roads. Sam and Miles Collier raced their MGs in that first race. Fast forward to 1985 where an old MG spirit gets re-kindled back to life but with a vintage spin this time. The Collier brothers - Sam, Miles, and Barron - made MG racing history in the US from the 1930s to the 1950s as some of the first MG racers in the US, as sports car racing took root. Sam died in a car crash in 1950 and Miles died from Polio in 1954. With great respect for their MG racing heritage in those early years, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) established their annual Collier Brothers Memorial Trophy Race in 1954. Initially it was an all MG race, with the MGTD Mk II of Gus Ehrman taking the first win. But as the years rolled along, there were less and less MGs competing in its class until there were none. So in 1985, Miles C. Collier got together with SVRA and they considered staging an All MG Vintage Race of some kind to re-ignite the original concept of an MG race in memory of the brothers. They also requested advice from me on how to structure it for vintage MGs, as at that time I was head of the MG Vintage Racers. They named it the Collier Cup, and in a new twist, the winner receiving the Collier Cup would be the MG racer in the race who best represented the Spirit of MG Vintage Racing, as determined by a vote of the MG racers. But how would the MG racing community respond to this new concept, and would it continue?

The First Collier Cup

Only eight MGs showed up for the inaugural race in 1985, including myself and Bob Colaizzi, both with our MGTDs. It was a start, and no-one could foretell its amazing future. In the spring of 1985 Bob had rescued a MGTD - as he says: from the dead - in a truck junk yard where the owner had driven it for some time, then parked it till the brakes froze.  He prepared it for vintage racing, and entered the first Collier Cup race that September with it. I dont recall which MG crossed the finish line first, - and it really doesnt matter, but when all the ballots of the MG drivers were tallied, Bob became the first MG racer awarded the Collier Cup for MGs! Bob recalling that event: The first Collier Cup was my second or third race, so I didn't fully understand the full meaning of the MG Band of Brothers when I got there. It just seemed like a good way to get extra track time. After receiving the Collier Cup I became aware how unselfish these MG folks were. But would there be enough MG racer interest for it to continue in the years to come? SVRA fortunately stuck with it, even though there were some lean years, as the list of MG racers receiving the Collier Cup grew and started becoming something like a Whos Who of MG vintage racing.

From A Dream to Reality

Bob actively raced his MGTD from 1985 to 1990. In 1987 he raced it at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, which was a unique vintage race on the public roads of Schenley Park in downtown Pittsburgh. Jeff Brown remembered being there with his dad watching the racing that weekend. Jeff had been around MGs since the early 50s when his dad had a MGTD and was active in the SCCA. Jeff: In 1987 my dad and I watched Bob Colaizzi go racing by us in his MGTD, and then winning his race. As he drove past us on his victory lap, waving his checkered flag, it was an emotional moment for both my dad and me, as I still remember the look in my dads eyes seeing Bob drive by, and I remember him saying to me Boy, wouldnt it be neat to restore my MG, and just go out there for a spin. Of course, in typical son response, I replied, Yeah, but it would be even neater to restore it and RACE it out there! It was one of those rare father-son moments, that I sometimes wish I had back to relive! At the time, they did not realize the foretelling of their emotions, and what lay ahead. In 1990 Bob started racing other vintage cars and sold his TD to Joe Rodman, who then successfully raced it for a number of years. In 1993, Jeff was chairing the British Car Day car show at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix and he needed some vintage cars for a pre-event display. Jeff: We needed some vintage race cars for a shopping mall promotion of the event, and someone introduced me to Joe Rodman, and he gladly let us use his MGTD for the display. That became the beginning of a close relationship between the two of us for many years. Later I would crew for him at some of his races, for several seasons, including races at Mid Ohio and Watkins Glen.

Then came the benchmark 1994 Collier Cup which really firmed up the event. In a very special effort to increase MG participation in it, MG racers Joe Tierno (MGA) and I (as head of MGVR) spearheaded a campaign to get more MGs out to compete in it. For the 1994 race we focused in on it also being the 40th anniversary of the SCCAs Collier Brothers Memorial Trophy Race of 1954. Up until now, maybe 10-20 MGs had been running in the race in past years, and there were concerns that SVRA might drop it. Joe contacted me in July of 1993 about it and I replied to him: With thorough planning and execution, I see the potential of 25 to 40 MGs for the 94 event.. Phone trees, letters, articles, etc. follow from both of us to promote it for nearly a year. Joe in March of 1994 wrote me: As of this date we have 48 MG entered so far I never dreamed of being close to 50 cars! To everyones amazement, by race day, 60 MGs entered to compete in it far exceeding anyones expectations, and it was the largest MG racing field anyone could recall! The Collier Cup was now on the road to becoming firmly established and well recognized! Jeff: In 1994 I crewed for Joe Rodman at Watkins Glen where he was racing his MGTD in the Collier Cup. A record breaking 60 MGs showed up to have a go at it! Joe graciously gave me, and his mechanic Jim, tickets to the Saturday evening party that the MG Vintage Racers were having in downtown Watkins Glen. It was there that I realized how the MG Vintage Racers were a truly unique bunch, bonded as much by their mutual self-respect, as their common bond of racing MGs. After that wonderful evening and the whole fabulous weekend - I came away with an overwhelming feeling of I want to be a part of this!

1998 became another MG benchmark year for MGs at Watkins Glen, as the 50th anniversary of road racing at the Glen was being celebrated and a new record turnout of 72 MGs showed up to race in the Collier Cup. Then in 2000 Jeff purchased Joe Rodmans MGTD so he could enter vintage racing and join the Band of Brothers the MG Vintage Racers.

Racing a Legend

Jeff took a drivers school, did some car prep on his newly acquired MG, and then entered his first race in May 2000 at the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia, in SVRAs Race at The Base. In Jeffs words: It was truly an old-style airport course, and everyone who raced there absolutely loved it! He entered a few more races with it in the next several years, as he developed a very strong tie with that MG. Jeff: I felt a very, very strong bond with the history of this particular MG, which I cannot explain adequately - even to my wife! But in 2007 I got more involved and did three vintage races with it Pittsburgh, Watkins Glen, and Mid Ohio - which each had their own unique flavor and excitement. My dad had passed away in 1997, but we kept his street MGTD. In July at the Pittsburgh race, I was qualifying in my TD racecar on Saturday racing around the street course. I looked up on the hill of the golf course overlooking me, and saw my dads MGTD parked there on display, as part of the British Car Day car show. The very same spot where I used to sit with him watching Bob Colaizzi take the checkered flag racing right there!. Now, you talk about both an emotional thought, AND a rare coincidence! So I truly do have the best of both worlds! I have a historic racing MG, PLUS my dads show quality MG!"

Over the years the Collier Cup race had acquired other sub awards within it from various sponsors. First MGA, - First Overall, -First MG Midget, and First MG T, as the events stature grew. In September 2007, Jeff entered his first Collier Cup Race. I was simply just thrilled enough to be able to finally race in the Collier Cup race itself - with the very same MG that had won the first one! But at the races end, I didnt realize that I had just won its T Cup trophy! (for the First MGT in the race). Well, after the shock of being awarded the T Cup - my wife said to me, "You really looked speechless up there accepting the T Cup. And believe me, I was! As if that wasnt enough for the year, it was followed by the MGVR Focus Event at the Mid Ohio vintage races in October. This became my first MGVR Focus Event - but it would NOT be my last! It was one of those unbelievable weekends where my MG ran just great, I got LOTS of good racing in, and I had such a super time with the MG gang all weekend long! I was truly sorry to see it end Sunday afternoon! It was the best race event I ever had! ..we few, we happy few, we band of brothers transcends more than what any of us experience individually! And one day Jeff would be backing up his words!

Respecting Collier Cup Heritage

  
TD #50, Bob Colaizzi driver.
Walter Pietrowicz photo.

Fast forward to June 2009 and the vintage races at Mid Ohio. Jeff is crewing for Joe Rodman and he just happens to meet Bob Colaizzi in the paddock. Recalling that Bob won the first Collier Cup in his TD, Jeff graciously offers him the use of his MG for the historic 25th Collier Cup race coming up in September and Bob accepts! Bob reflected: I always have thought the MG folks represented the very best of vintage racing. I still see or hear from most of the original group. I still paddock with the Ts when I can. Jeff Brown typifies the generosity of the group, by giving me a chance to race my old MG. Jeff is proof that MGVR racers are still the friendliest, most loyal of the sport.

And how did Jeff reflect on it: It was a distinct honor to have Bob back in the car. This MG is very unique, as it has some interesting engineering features, and I think that it is fitting that Bob returned for the 25th Collier Cup with it. My late father and I sat on the golf course at Schenley Park in 1987, when Bob won the T series race with it, and we saw him take the victory lap with the checkered flag. To now own and be racing that very same car is a truly emotional experience! I crewed for Joe Rodman with that TD at the 1994 Collier Cup, and to see all of those 60-some MGs lined up in pit lane after the race was absolutely breathtaking! In 1998 I had the pleasure of driving Joes TD with my younger son as passenger, in the re-enactment parade laps on the original street road racing course of Watkins Glen, and the Legacy that is MG racing became real for me.

So now 25 years later Bob would be racing in the 25th Collier Cup in the same MG in which he received the first Collier Cup! Bob: I was really looking forward to it, but was very worried about damaging Jeffs MG. As you all know, I can break a bulldozer. I was also concerned about being rusty and taking too long to safely adapt to the car. However Jeff hasnt changed a thing on it, and it only took me until turn two to feel right at home again!"

Jeff: "I really had mixed feelings asking Bob to take a turn in the car, for no other reason than after all his successes in the MG, and his GREAT success in his current ride, a Lotus Super Rocket - er, Super Seven - I knew that it would be less than satisfying for him to be back in the slower MG. However, I felt a strong inclination to put aside those fears, and recognize that he is still racing 25 years later and still winning, and it would give the 25th anniversary a significance that couldnt be missed for Bob, and for the MG Band of Brothers.

The Silver Anniversary Race

September 13th, dawned as a gorgeous sunny Sunday at Watkins Glen. At 11:30AM, the green flag dropped on the 25th running of the MG Collier Cup Race, as a swarm of MGs, with engines roaring, dove into turn one of the 3.37 mile race course! Of all the MG racers, Bob Colaizzi was the only one in the race from the first Collier Cup of 1985!

Bob:  "Starting in the race this weekend with a T series MG was like me playing golf Id better enjoy the ride in the cart, cause Im not going to score well.

Jeff:  "It really was thrilling to see Bob racing his old MG again each time he came down the front straight, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up I know he was struggling with the car, but he pressed on and did every lap proud! And he was most gracious about the tune of the car after all!

25th Collier Cup is History

The checkered flag fell on this historic 25th Collier Cup race, and after their cool down lap, all the MGs came in and were directed to park by the awards platform and drivers were told to go directly to the awards platform for something very special that had been kept a secret! Instead of there being one Collier Cup winner this year, as in years past, All the MG racers in the 25th Collier Cup Race were declared Winners by a vote of the MG racers! Each would receive a personal smaller Participants Collier Cup trophy graciously provided by the Collier family, along with a letter from Miles C. Collier to the MG Racers, which read in part: On behalf of my family, I would like to extend my most sincere thanks and appreciation for your 25 years of patronage in the Collier Cup and remembrance of my father, C. Miles, and my uncles, Sam and Barron, and their contributions to the MG marque in the USA and to the origins of modern American road racing.

I am pleased and genuinely honored that so many years after it all began there is still a large and active group who understands, appreciates, and enjoys racing the MG marque. I would also express my family's many thanks to the efforts of SVRA and their members for helping to establish and continue this now time-honored racing tradition.. Miles C. Collier

Each racer received their own Collier Cup trophy, plus other racing awards were given out, as smiles and congratulations were everywhere! MG racers then gathered together for a group photo, with so many beaming faces! These were memories to be cherished!

Bob: The awards ceremony couldnt have been better. Every MG racer a winner! I have thought a lot about my feelings before, during, and after the race and the same thoughts keep forcing its way to the front of my mind the real focus of the anniversary should be on people like Greg Prehodka, George Shafer, Manley Ford, Carl George and Jim Bok, who carried the Band of Brothers Banner much longer than I and are still doing so. And newer, but continuing in the best of the tradition, is a guy like Jeff Brown who brought these memories back for me. And, another nod to those who gave new life to the MG specials like my long-time friend Steve Konsin with his Lester MG; Then there was my pal Mike McLaughlin who stopped racing Ts, and Bill Parrish who is hammering around in his TC on Heaven's MGVR team."

What a beautiful ending to the 25th Collier Cup! Plus it had an extra special personal meaning for me. I raced in that first Collier Cup in 1985, am still racing the same MGTD now, and could have raced in this 25th one too. But instead, I chose to let my daughter Rachel experience the magic of her first Collier Cup race, as the torch is being passed. Seeing her out there racing in my MG was an even bigger thrill for me than when I was awarded the Collier Cup in 1994. The huge beaming smile on her face after the race was the BEST possible award I could ever receive, and that image will stay with me forever! MG vintage racing goes much deeper than just racing to win!

Greg Prehodka
October 7, 2009
Originally Published in the
New England MG T Registers  The Sacred Octagon


(The above article is available for publication)


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