The second of the bimonthly SCCA National races, at Virginia International Raceway, was short but sweet. Under the joint sponsorship of the SCCA, VIR, and the Danville Squadron of the CA.P., only four races were programmed, but each in its own way provided enough to make an interesting afternoon for the record (for VIR) crowd on hand.
Over the past three years VIR has become something of a paradox; while we have yet to hear a driver knock its beautiful 3.2 miles, spectators find action on the course hard to see, and it has gotten an opposite reaction from that group. In all fairness, the course is hard on spectators. Spread over 1200 acres with a dozen turns of varying radii and climbs and dips, it is bound to be. So the poor money-paying watchers are either forced to walk from vantage point to vantage point or sit in one spot and see perhaps a mile or so of the circuit. While our sympathies may be with the spectator we feel that this is true of any long road circuit, whether it be Elkhart Lake, Le Mans, or the Nurburg Ring. Yet VIR does put on some good races, and to its credit does not try to pad the program with races for every marque in existence. They may not give 10 hours of racing, but what they present is interesting and run with dispatch.
The feature race started on a troublesome note that, for some cars at least, didn't improve much. It went like this: the RSK's, the Ferrari, and the Sting Ray were in the front positions with 10 other cars ranging from Charlie Sarle's AC-Jag (the only B-modified car in the race) to M.R.J. Wyllie's Mk 17 Elva. The drivers were given the "wind-em-up" signal from Tex Hopkins and checked for a show of hands. Hopkins noted that a Corvette to the rear was having trouble, walked back and motioned for the car to be pushed to start it. He then ran back to the line, checked hands again, and again was stopped by the petrified Corvette. Running up the line again he motioned for the car to be pushed off the grid. In the meantime, all the cars were still revved up, and as Tex passed Thompson going to the rear for the second time, the Sting Ray began to heat up, so cutting the engine he sat back to wait out the delay. Thompson had no sooner leaned back when up charged Hopkins, called for a show of hands, took three giant steps and dropped the flag. Unfortunately, in the confusion he had missed Thompson frantically waving both hands and the race started with the Sting Ray dead on the grid. Everybody got around the car without incident, much to Hopkins relief, but Thompson was forced to wait out the last car before he could leave the line. Holbert took an immediate lead with Penske right behind him, and as they passed out of sight into the uphill chicane the Sting Ray could be seen roaring through the group of slower cars. Coming around on the first lap, Thompson had more than made up for lost time by moving up into 4th place. Holbert still had the lead and now was averaging a good 79 mph, only one sec off the record. Penske was in 2nd followed by the grey Ferrari driven by Connell, who was vainly trying to stave off the Sting Ray. On the 3rd lap Thompson had taken 3rd and by the 5th had passed Penske in one of the corners as if be were standing still. In the meantime, 5th-place Sarle had blown the car's clutch fracturing his leg, putting the AC-Jag out of the race. and briefly putting the yellow flag out.
By the 7th lap of the 40-lapper the picture had changed even more. While Holbert still had the lead, the gap between him and Thompson had closed down to less than 2.5 sec. and Penske was out of the race. No, Penske didn't leave the road, or even blow his engine; a $1.25 oil pressure sending plug had blown, spewing all his oil out, and dumping him just as effectively.
The picture now of Thompson in the big Sting Ray pushing the Holbert Porsche through the corners was a complete opposite of the race two weeks before at Marlboro where the RSK's seemed to run circles around the bigger car. But push Holbert he did and by the 10th lap he had the lead, was 2 sec up on Holbert, and had broken the lap record. Not satisfied with this, Thompson dropped his lap times from the record 2 min 24 sec to an amazing 2 min 22.2 sec, or well over 81 mph. The Sting Ray was now 7 sec ahead of the Porsche and both cars were lapping the 4th and 5th-place cars.
While all this fury was going on way, way up in front, there was quite another battle going on for 3rd between Wyllie's Elva (with a home-built de Dion rear end), Baptista's Lotus Le Mans, and another RSK in the hands of Chuck Cassel - Connell's Ferrari having dropped by the wayside with a broken oil line. By the 20th lap Baptista had worked his way around Wyllie, but not without a. bit of metal-to-metal contact which gained him a black flag and took him out of the race. Wyllie briefly held 3rd, only to be passed by the Cassel RSK.
With the field well spread out on the 25th (as a matter of fact there was a long silence between Holbert and Cassel in 3rd), another of the freakish accidents that plagued the weekend turned up. Thompson was still in front, but by only 2.5 sec, when midway through the first chicane the Sting Ray went into a lazy spin off the course and settled in the boondocks. Holbert then passed him and gained a 42-sec lead before the Sting Ray got back on the track. And that was the old ball game for the day.
Holbert had the lead and no one was even close enough to challenge him. Thompson, while still a clean 2nd, was running on 7 cyl and having brake trouble (he had been busy trying to pump them up when he lost the car in the chicane), so could do little to catch up. As the flag dropped, it was the indomitable RSK of Holbert to the fore, with Thompson in 2nd. (and suffering from carbon-monoxide poisoning from fumes in the cockpit), and the Cassel RSK well back in 3rd.
While the turnout for the VIR race was small (80 cars) it, as usual, showcased some good racing despite a plethora of troubles. Unfortunately, the future of this lovely circuit appears to be somewhat doubtful. The last few races have not gotten the gate that is necessary to keep this million dollar plant in operation and it is rumored that it is up for grabs. The reasons for its possible demise are given as lack of enthusiasm in the area, its rather out of the way location, and the above-mentioned cost of putting on races, the combination of which supposedly is making it a losing. proposition.
It would be a shame to lose one of the two only natural road circuits in this country. What is perhaps needed is a publicity-wise organization, lacking since VIR's conception, that could get up two or three well-advertised events, such as endurance or Formula Libre races, which would draw back the interested people who were much in evidence when the track first opened. As we mentioned, it has won the enthusiasm of the drivers who have raced there, and that is half the battle.
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