2007 MGVR Focus Event - Mid Ohio

MG Vintage Racing - North American Style
(as written for MG Enthusiast Magazine)

 By Greg Prehodka


There are many vintage races held across North America, with over 30 different vintage racing organizations, and usually at least some MGs show up at most races. But the major influence in MG racing in North America is a group known as the "MG Vintage Racers (Newsletter)" or "MGVR." They have over 250 members who race MGs. Although not a race sanctioning organization themselves, once a year they partner with one vintage race organization to have them include special all MG races at their event, and then all MG racers are encouraged to enter that event. These partnerships have produced the largest annual turnout of MGs for vintage races in recent years. MGVR compliments that event with their own paddock area, dinner, and special MG awards. For 2007 they partnered with the Vintage Sports Car Drivers Association (VSCDA), - which is centered in the upper mid-west of the US - for their race event at the Mid Ohio race track in October. MG racers came from all over the US and Canada for this event, a number of them traveling well over 1,000 miles to attend. "It was a 1,600 mile round trip for me but worth every penny and many came a lot further… But meeting all the people, old friends and new ones was the best!" – Peter Ross, MGPA

Besides being able to race their MGs in the VSCDA's regular classes, the MGs were also given three special "All MG" races – one for "Fast MGs," and one for "FASTER MGs," plus a special featured "MG Denver Cornett Memorial MG Tag Team Handicap Race" that was orchestrated by MGVR. All this track time even had some MG racers wearing out a set of tires during the weekend, as many logged over 200 miles on the track in the 3 day event!

Sixty three MGs showed up to have a go at it, ranging from a 1932 MG-J2 C-Type, to MGB-V8s. The weather gods blessed the event with sunshine and temperatures in the 60's. But more than the challenge of the racing, it is the love of MGs and the friendships between MG racers that bring them together. MGTD racer Mike Lewis has his own view of who the winners were:  "Did we win? It depends on your point of view and definition of winning. Of course 1st, 2nd and 3rd could be called winners. What about all the other vintage racers that went knowing they wouldn't beat the fast cars? I say they are winners! What about the those who had breakdowns & did not finish or missed a session? I say they are winners! Why? Because they were there and participated. There is a rare kind of camaraderie that exists in vintage MG racing. So who were the losers? Again the answer is simple. The losers are those that didn't participate that could have, because they missed the camaraderie."

Friday was practice as drivers began learning the rhythm of the twisty 2.3 mile long course with its 15 turns and many elevation changes (See Mid Ohio on the web at: www.midohio.com).  During practice, MGB racer Richard Navin, had problems and was ready to pack it in. "After two sessions on Friday, I completely fried a bearing destroying both the spindle and hub. I thought my weekend was over, but encouragement and yeoman's work by several racers - particularly Mike Kusch and the amazing John Targett - got me back on track for Saturday's qualifying. Many thanks to everyone who helped make the weekend a success."

Racing was the main attraction, but camaraderie and dinners are also part of the tradition of "Focus Events". Chris Meyers, Editor, MG Vintage Racers Newsletter:   "MGVR's Friday evening banquet was fantastic, with over 140 enthusiasts gathered at the Deer Ridge Golf Club to share food, drink and camaraderie. Saturday evening's MGVR / VSCDA joint banquet was over the top with a packed house at the Lexington Elks Club. Of course the big news was that Linda Yates was selected for MGVR's "Bill Parish Master of Speed Deception Award" as a MG person most enjoying MG vintage racing, and MGVRs' "Spirit Award" winner was MGTC racer Frank Mount, as selected by a vote of his peers. Frank's first race was 49 years ago in an MGTC!"

By Saturday racers were getting their lap times down, and the first of two all MG races, went off later in the day. This was for the "Fastest" MGs, but with one special MGTC in it. "Safety Fast Race Number One was for As, Bs, and Midgets. That race had ONE vertical MG in it, in the capable hands of one Martin Walford (from England). Mr. Walford had a practice lap in the 1:53s - fastest lap turned by any T-car EVER at Mid Ohio! Alas the TC's transmission gave up the ghost on Saturday." - Manley Ford, MGTD.

Sunday Morning saw the second all MG race for the "Fast" MGs! Mostly Ts with some As and Pre-War MGs. "It was fantastic to see how well the supercharged MG J2's of Curt Liposcak and Bill Goulette went, and it was great to be able to circulate with Tom Moore and Jack Heist in their TC and TF respectively. It's amazing that Tom and Jack drive their race cars to the track all the way from Illinois (over 350 miles) - race them - and then drive them back home!" - Peter Ross, MGPA

The featured race of the weekend was Sunday afternoon’s all MG Tag Team Race. Most vintage races these days are scratch races and the winners can almost be crowned before the race begins. So to give everyone the hope of winning, and to add to the “fun factor” of the race, a Tag Team format was chosen. This particular format has been most successful recently, but it take a bit of organizing. The concept is simple. The handicapper makes up teams of 3 cars, where all "Total Team Lap Times" are about equal. The first group of cars get a rolling start, do 3 laps, come into the pits, and tag their team's second car, which does 3 laps and comes in to the pits to tag the team's third car, which does 3 laps and takes the checkered flag. But there are unseen benefits too:  "One of the great things about the tag team concept is that you really get to know folks you may not have had close contact with before. Getting to meet and know my team members added a great deal to my experience. After the driver's meeting our team huddled and went over our strategy. As the weekend progressed, the Tag Team race seemed to take on more and more significance and you did not want to let your teammates down!" – Butch O'Connor, MGB. Plus the Tag Team Race was about FUN! "We went to the tag team meeting and understood all the rules for it and decide we would try to win the event, but if we didn't we were going to have fun trying." - Lou Marchant, MGA

Crowds gathered to watch the tag team MG race. It was named in honor of MG racer Denver Cornett who passed away last year. Denver participated in the first US sports car race after WWII in 1948 with his MGTC, and in his later years raced that same MGTC in vintage races. He was a friend of many of the MG racers, and was sadly missed. So the first 10 MGs got a pace lap and then the green flag, as they were off! They did their 3 laps and came into the pits as everyone was cheering! Once stopped each one gave their lanyard to their team's runner, who then ran down pit lane and put it on the arm of the team's number two car driver who was lined up Le Mans style, ready to go out. The number two team car then went out for its three laps. But one of the important basics was to be sure to counted your laps!

"Unfortunately I don't even have an explanation for why I came into the pits after just two laps. Trust me, I felt so terribly bad for my team and it put a real damper on my spirits for quite a while. I felt the disbelief present on the grandstand and from my team mates through all the layers of Nomex I was wearing, and after sitting still for quite a few seconds the starter let me go out again to turn in my 3rd lap. One question will remain unanswered: Did my faux pas cost my team the podium?" - Torsten Kunze, MGB

So then the 3rd team cars went out for the final laps of the race. Lou Marchant's memories: "The key person on our team was Keith Murphy our team runner, who knew every second counted and he had to retrieve the lanyard and get it to the next driver as fast as possible so we could have a shot at running better times than the other teams. Ed did a fantastic job racing his TD with newer and faster MGs in the first group. Butch then turned good times in his MGB in the second group and then it was up to me to finish the race. As I sat there with my MGA running, scared the battery would die, all I could hear was my heartbeat pounding in my ears while I thought to myself one last time to not screw up and drive the fast line. Then Keith dropped the lanyard in my lap and it was show time! Once out, I passed a couple of cars but didn't remember how many cars were launched in front of me. Then I knew that it was over when I saw the checkered flag. The first clue I had that our team WON the race was when I came into the pits and everyone was clapping, cheering and giving me the thumbs up. Manley Ford (TD racer) was on his knees bowing to me with his hands over his head and that really cracked me up! When Butch, Ed and Keith told me our team WON I was thrilled! We parked our cars in front of the podium and had a team photo. Then we went to the podium and were awarded the champagne and silver cups in celebration! Ed sprayed our friends with his champagne which made everyone run way! It was a very special moment when Denver Cornett's son, Denny, handed me the bottle of his dad's favorite whiskey. We decided our Team Captain, Ed, will be the keeper of the whiskey, and he will bring it to each future MG Focus Event where we will all share a drink together and remember our victory and the man who loved racing his MG as much as we do - Denver Cornett."

MGB racer Jim Austhof also reflected on the Tag Team Race: "The tag team race was a blast and we got to meet Peter Ross and his wife with their PA, who were our team members, along with John Ruth who is a convert to MG racing (from racing his Ford Mustang!!). I was laughing to tears watching the winning team pop their Champagne corks on the podium.  It was a wonderful event! My thanks!"

This event was also remembered in many different ways:

"As the MGVR Focus Event chairman, I had the pleasure of being approached by many of the racers, corner workers, our photographer, and VSCDA officials.  Each and every person gave the highest possible praise for our professionalism, conduct, ability to laugh at ourselves, and many other things." - Dave Smith

"I stuffed a con rod through my block and was finished for the weekend. But I want you to know that a member of the Columbus Ohio MG Club volunteered the motor out of his street car for me to transplant right there so I could race! That's the MG spirit." - Bob Schoeplein, MGA

"The Mid-Ohio track is terrific, the amount of track time was just about perfect, and the MGVR driving standard, and racing attitude was about the best combination I have experience so far in my racing career. It is why I do this." - Richard Navin, MGB.

"It was one of those unbelievable weekends where - except for the oil screen - my TD ran well, so I was truly sorry to see it end Sunday afternoon!" - Jeff Brown, MGTD

Photo (1948 MGTC of Bob Grunau - 1954 MGTF of George Pardee - 1950 MGTD of Jeff Brown) courtesy of Daniel Mainzer.  This photo and others are for sale on line at www.mainzerphoto.com.

MGVR Editor: Chris Meyers
Online Editor: Christopher Kintner
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