VARA University Brings Newbies To Motorsports

Here’s your humble author being readied for a session aboard his trusty steed, a 1962 Daimler SP250 that’s powered by a tiny 2.5L Hemi V8. (photo by CaliPhotography)

How do you attract newcomers to motorsports? It’s an important question that spans the entire spectrum of auto racing. VARA, the Vintage Auto Racing Association, has been doing something about it since 1974 in the form of their annual “VARA University” program held on the second weekend in January at Buttonwillow Raceway in California. It’s grown from educating a handful of novices to today’s “sold out” status with over 100 attendees.

The culmination of the weekend’s training is a series of abbreviated races for prepared cars (must have roll bars, fire extinguishers, etc.) This “drill” is designed to teach the procedures for a rolling start. (photo by Bill Holland)

While VARA’s racing classes are typically based on cars manufactured through the 1970s, plus some exceptions for later Trans Am and NASCAR Cup cars, plus recently added first generation of Mazda Miatas, the “U” is open to most anything up to and including the latest muscle cars. The grids are populated with an eclectic mix of vintage race cars, a squadron of ex-LBGP Celebrity Challenge Toyotas from Danny McKeever’s Fast Lane Driving School stable, plus the aforementioned Camaros, Challengers and Mustangs–not to mention some potent BMWs and Porsches. Demographically speaking, attendees ranged from Millennials to Baby Boomers.

At the conclusion of the racing session the participants gathered for a group photo. Those without prepared race cars got to cheer them on. (photo by Bill Holland)

Thanks to VARA members donating their time as instructors, grid workers, track time and everything else involved, the cost of the “U” is a fraction of what a standard high performance driving school charges for a Two-day course. The course is filled with hands-on activity, and also includes skid pad, slalom and braking training —not to mention ample classroom and track time. The instructors at the University are all experienced competitors who undergo special training to ensure participants receive high quality drivers training. As for the curriculum, drivers will be reviewing a program which has been developed by Danny McKeever’s Fast Lane Driving School —based out of Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, CA and VARA. Danny himself is a past Chief Instructor for SCCA and has trained numerous celebrities in conjunction with the Long Beach, Denver and Cleveland Grand Prix events.

Virtually any vehicle can be used —safe operating condition notwithstanding. Here a Mazda, Mustang, Mini and a vintage racer practice their line. (photo by CaliPhotography)

Upon arrival, attendees are grouped by experience, ranging from total beginners who have never been on a race track to seasoned racers who turn to the “U” to hone their skills. This allows the program to enhance anyones ability, regardless of how much track time or experience they have.

Participants also did some slalom drills. The driver of this new Stingray obviously cut it a little close with the cone (photo by CaliPhotography)

VARA vice president John Wilkins has presided over the volunteers for a number of years and has seen a dramatic increase in participation. Post-event feedback indicated that a sizable number of first-time attendees were interested in pursuing organized motorsports activities. Mission accomplished!

The big moment, of course, is taking the green flag…followed by a mad dash for Turn 1. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed and no sheet metal (or fiberglass) was harmed. (photo by Bill Holland)

If you or anyone else you can think of might be interested in joining, or learning more about VARA, can join the fun and keep tabs of VARA and its “University” at

Among the various “exercises” that VARA University attendees took advantage of was the skid pad (photo by CaliPhotography)

Specially trained veteran VARA competitors served as personalized instructors. Here a trio of drivers and instructors practice the optimum line at Buttonwillow. (photo by CaliPhotograph)

About the author

Bill Holland

Bill Holland has been involved in racing and the performance aftermarket since the 1960s in the capacities of racer, speed shop proprietor, journalist, street rodder, designer and advertising/PR/marketing professional. Along the way he’s raced Top Fuel and Funny Car, been editor of NHRA’s publication, National Dragster, was involved in off-roading as publisher of SCORE News, built a variety of Featured Vehicles for the SEMA Show, as well as a Track “T” that was a Contender for the AMBR award. He currently races vintage sports cars. Bill was inducted into NHRA’s California Hot Rod Reunion Hall of Fame in 2017.
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