In our modern chaotic world where it is often difficult to feel grounded, arriving to The Mid-Ohio Vintage Grand Prix is like being a bright-eyed kid opening presents, surrounded by smiling family on a meaningful holiday. As you get closer to the track the little tell tale signs prime the excitement; a road sign “Mid-Ohio 8 Miles”, a scenic hill with sports cars sailing away in the distance, your favorite steakhouse by a drive-in movie theater, and that last turn where surely even the toughest State Trooper would give you a thumbs up if you let your car off the leash a little and sing its way through the gears. You have arrived. The red roofs and entryway contrast with the surrounding lush green trees and the party has started. Welcome to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Oddly enough Vintage Racing at Mid-Ohio is the perfect spectator sport for everyone from retired baby-boomer tinkerers to millennial smart-phone wielding tech geeks, and even their significant others. That isn’t a sales pitch, just look around and you’ll see they are all here, hanging out amidst the beautiful trees and grassy hills of a park-like setting, sharing laughs and car stories.
Others are walking around the sea of sports cars in the infield car show, pointing at the new races happening every half-hour all day long, and waving to the drivers on their cool down lap to show their appreciation. When you are here at Mid-Ohio, it becomes your entire world, and it feels just right.
The Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio has been hosted by the SVRA for decades and brings out many of the most incredible cars from history. Even some present day racers mix it up in genuine racing where 0.01 of a second can make the difference. It is exciting to arrive and see the paddocks chocked full of race rigs overflowing into the grass.
This, I have deemed the car guy’s yearly gauge on the health of our economy. A lot can be said for the growth of vintage racing when you clearly see that Jaguar and Land Rover are prominent sponsors and have brought out their entire line up of cars for the public to have complimentary opportunities to autocross an F-Type or even off-road a Land Rover on what looks like a motocross track.
Each year, Mid-Ohio treats spectators who drive a sports car to VIP car show parking in the infield at no cost, and even give every driver a complimentary event shaker glass. Saturday is a massive British car show. Sunday is every sports car you could imagine scattered across the grass like a giant bag of spilled candy. When lunch time arrives, all the sports car drivers go to their cars and line up for the chance to drive a couple of laps of the race track. It’s great fun for everyone to watch and ride.
Naturally, they send out the pace car to keep those who are feeling a bit saucy to a reasonable pace. But it is fun to see people have a “little go” around a corner or two, often to the laughter (or the pucker factor expression) of their passengers wondering what the ride home might be like. Later, stories are told of the daring parade laps by spectators while having a laugh and giving some serious thought to enrolling in the Mid-Ohio School to later get their racing license — perhaps to be part of the racing show next year. Two hours later, the same people are walking through the paddock window shopping race cars and reading the race car “for sale” signs hung at the entrance of the bathrooms. Its all part of the experience at Mid-Ohio!
The races are indeed great and hook everyone. It is truly a sight to see a field of ’60s and ’70s muscle cars sliding their way through the turns, while painting black stripes on the asphalt from thunderous throttle applications. If that isn’t quite your cup of tea, the variety keeps coming.
I saw a young woman enthusiast so excited to watch the Mazda Miata Heritage Race, that she jumped up on the fence to see the start. I saw grey-haired men laughing and punching each other in the arm, entertained to watch a Mini and a Lotus battle it out lap after lap. I saw college students lose their minds over a modern IMSA Ferrari 458 and a gorgeous silver Mercedes AMG SLS, while following live lap times on their smart phone app.
The lady spectators, who mostly enjoy the setting and spending time with their men, joke about which car is cuter — the Bugeye Sprite or the Isetta. Even jaded racing drivers show a cocky smile of appreciation for the gleaming black big-block Shadow Can-Am car. It was lurking in the pits like the most ominous medieval gargoyle; you aren’t really sure if you would want to see it come to life for fear of what fresh hell it would unleash upon the village.
Mid-Ohio and the Vintage Grand Prix has grown its way into my own life as a longstanding tradition over other events and venues. This track (and event) is the perfect balance of a welcoming atmosphere at a world class venue, a well-run event with a fun and friendly crowd, and exciting action in a serene, natural setting.
This year, I was there as a driver and even got to stand on the podium a couple of times, But what I took away from the event, was seeing young people reacting to an exciting world, just as I did when I first attended this event as a kid years ago.
Tradition is very important to all cultures around the world. Our car culture is no different. We have our holidays like watching the Indy 500, the Monaco Grand Prix, or the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Even though this year’s event brought rain, everyone found a silver lining.
With a little down time, our team gathered around for a enthusiastic game of Texas Hold ‘Em, with hardware being used as Poker chips. Those who stuck around until the evening were fortunate to see a gorgeous double rainbow to remember the weekend by. The Vintage Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio will forever remain that one family holiday were everyone got along and laughed so hard they cried. Make it your next tradition.