VARA’s 23rd Annual British Extravaganza – Union Jack Challenge

The 23rd running of the Vintage Auto Racing Association’s annual British Extravaganza saw an eclectic mix of race-prepared cars manufactured in the UK compete on the track at California’s Buttonwillow Raceway Park (a couple hours drive north of Los Angeles) in the “Union Jack Challenge,” with a companion car show also serving to showcase British sports cars. Lucas Oil Products was the presenting sponsor of the event —which also featured a full compliment of Open Wheel, Production, Sedan and Sports Racing-classed cars, with a special Historic Race featuring pre-war cars dating back to 1911.

Lucas Oil Products was the event sponsor for VARA’s British Extravaganza. They donated a multitude of gift packs for the racers. Here are just a few of the lucky vintage racers who collected products. Photo by Jeanette Bourke

Well-known British marques like Austin-Healey, MG, Morgan, Sunbeam, and Triumph were represented in the field, as well as some unusual entries like a Turner 950S, Daimler SP250, and Lotus Eleven LeMans.

VARA assembled the field in six Run Groups, which essentially were comprised of small-bore Production (1), Sedans (2), Historic pre-war (3), big-bore Production (4), Formula cars (5), and a mix of fast cars (6).

There were 36 small bore cars gridded up to start the action for Group 1, with Josh Rodenbush and his Volvo P1800 earning the pole position. He was followed by Harris Koenig in a Renault-sports racer and Brian Howlett in a Triumph TR4A. Sunday’s flag race saw Koenig cross the finish line first, followed by Mark Francis in an Elva Mk.7, Howlett (Third), and Rodenbush (Fourth).

Lots of diversity in Group 1, exemplified by Steve Sanett’s gorgeous 1957 Lotus Eleven LeMans, the always-fast Volvo P1800 of Ken Rodenbush, and the unique 1960 Seller Quicksilver D/SR driven by Kaid Marouf. Ken’s son, Josh, won the pole with another Volvo. Photo by Brad Eells

VARA’s sedan classes are always hotly-contested. The Group 2 qualifying saw Sam Smith’s BMW 2002 set the fastest lap and grab the pole. He was followed by Steve Bristling in a Datsun 510 and Ken Blasco (BMW).  Smith again dominated the field in the Flag Race, followed by Troy Tinsley in a Datsun 710, and Blasco’s 2002 BMW.

The tightest, most competitive racing in VARA can be found in Group 2, the Small-Bore Sedan classes — shown gridding up prior to the on-track frenzy. The BMW 2002 of Sam Smith prevailed, with Troy Tinsley Second in a Datsun710. Photo by Brad Eells

Nostalgia reigned supreme in the Group 3 race for Historic cars, with John Kerr (1932 Miller-Schofield Ford), John Miller (1951 Morgan), and Peter Giddings (1932 Alfa Romeo) qualifying 1-2-3. Kerr won the Flag Race on Sunday, with Giddings —who had the fastest lap time— a close Second. Bernard Dervieux was Third in a 1950 Allard.

Pre-war cars added to the flavor of VARA’s British Extravaganza, with the unique 3-wheeled Morgan of Larry Ayres in front of this group. The race was won by John Kerr in a 1932 Miller-Schofield roadster. Photo by Mike Phipps

Group 4 was comprised of a variety of big bore machines, with Karim Marouf’s 1984 Marcos GT taking the top spot, followed by Maurizio Brandhoff in a Factory Five Daytona, and Australian George Vidovic in a Python (“Down Under” Cobra replica). The same finishing order held true for Sunday’s Flag Race.

Karim Marouf’s Marcos GT was the fastest of the Big-Bore Group 4 cars. Here Marouf is being chased by Australian George Vidovic in his Python — a “down under” Cobra. In the flag race, “Maui” Brandenhof (FF GT40) slipped between them for 2nd place. Photo by Brad Eells

Formula cars participated in a multi-race series, with Saturday’s Flag Race topped by Stewart Paterson (Ford Crossle), Kinnon Marshall (Lola 440), and Bob Hatle (FF DB3). Sunday’s edition saw Marshall take the top spot, followed by Paterson and Hatle.

A strong contingent of colorful Formula cars were on hand at Buttonwillow Raceway Park. On the left is the Crossle of Kinnon Marshall, who qualified on the pole. “The Series” race was won by Stewart Paterson in a Lola 440, with Marshall finishing second. Photo by Brad Eells

Dave Torrey lead the pack for qualifying in Group 6 with his Lola T-592, Bill Barham was next aboard a Lola T-250 and Michael Denering following closely in a Lola T-492. For the Flag Race though, it was Paul Lisec crossing the finish line First in his Ralt FSV, Nicholas Coe next in a Swift DB3, and Rupert Bragg-Smith filled out the podium with his Lola T-492.

The “Union Jack Challenge” saw a variety of British-built cars do battle, with Todd Gerstenberger taking top honors with a Lotus Elan 26R, followed by Steve Phillips in an Austin Mini Cooper S, and Chuck Gee in a 1970 Triumph Vitesse.

The featured “Union Jack Challenge” race featured about two dozen Small-Bore cars of British lineage. Todd Gerstenberger emerged out of the pack to win with his red Lotus Elan, and the Austin Mini-Cooper of Steve Phillips came in Second. Photo by Mike Phipps

After taking the summer off, VARA will finish the season with events at Willow Springs (September 15-16 and November 10-11) and Buttonwillow Raceway Park (October 6-7). For more details on these events, check out VARA’s website here.

Enjoy this gallery of photos from Brad Eells!

Photo gallery

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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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