I just stepped back in time. I am watching a mid 60s Mustang come down the infamous Turn 12 at Road Atlanta. Before I saw him I could hear the downshift as the car came through the left-right chicane and then the thunderous roar as the small block V8 launched the Mustang over the top of the hill. The shriek of an engine near redline echoes through the hills surrounding Road Atlanta as the scent of high-octane race fuel hangs in the damp spring air. This is what the 2009 Classic Motorsports Walter Mitty Challenge is all about.
The Mitty is in its 32nd year and has grown to be the one of the most prominent vintage racing events in the U.S. This year also commemorated the 25th anniversary of Grassroots Motorsports, Classic Motorsports’ sister magazine and sponsor of the infield Speedfest activities. The Mitty brings together vintage and historic race cars from the earliest days of motor racing up through today. Instead of sitting in a museum gathering dust these cars and their intrepid drivers are brought to life in their natural element.
The grand marshal and most honored guest of the event was Bob Tullius. Bob was the driving force behind Group 44 Inc. which was the first professional racing team. It’s hard to imagine but “race car driver” was not a true profession until Bob and his partner Dick Gilmartin quit their day jobs in 1964 to race full time. Group 44 became a powerhouse team in the SCCA and IMSA racing circuits. A collection of famous Group 44 cars were on display and were even driven on parade laps of the track. The sound of the TR8 and its angry little V8 was the highlight of my day.
Wandering through the pits I was greeted by friendly drivers/owners eager to share the story behind their machines. One such driver was Tim Holland and his green 1966 K-code Mustang. His car had been converted to race use in 1967 and has only rested a few years since then. Tim pulled the car out of storage a few years ago and put it back on the track where it belongs. If you look at the dash you will see a collection of plaques that prove this car’s historical value. Another driver/owner was David Nikolas in his 1981 March 817 Can-Am car. What makes this car special is it was sponsored by Paul Newman’s racing team. David has a whole photo album dedicated to this car and its famous racing past.
The event was dogged by sporadic rain showers but spirits were not dampened. Once the track was deemed safe the drivers charged back out into the fray. Tearing down the front straight in a 60s era race car on a wet track takes nerves of steel and quick reflexes. More than once I witnessed a driver coax their car around a corner with multiple flicks of the wheel while the rear end danced across the asphalt. It was this kind of driving expertise that made me appreciate the passion that is involved with this type of racing. It would be much easier to build a modern car with all the latest technology but to embrace the history of a vintage race car and make it perform is an art.