Stephen Cox blogs about a new event designed to draw short-track fans back to the mecca of motorsports.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has announced a new event that will be held in the first week of September and hopefully pump up sagging attendance at the Brickyard 400 stock car race. A quarter-mile dirt track will be constructed inside Turn 3 for a USAC midget race,
Speedway president J. Douglas Boles told the Indianapolis Star, “The short track community in a lot of ways is the heart and soul of racing, so… we thought, ‘Is there a way we could connect with that short-track guy or gal who spends their weekend at the local track on Saturday?’ And we thought this was a good way to experiment with connecting with that fan base.”
I have an idea that might help. It’s not original, but it’s effective. Let’s start with the track’s biggest event – the Indianapolis 500 – and see if the results don’t trickle down to the Brickyard 400 and every other event held at the Speedway.
If the Indianapolis Motor Speedway wants short track fans to return to the grandstands, why not allow short track drivers to participate in their premier event, the Indy 500? That concept worked quite well for over half a century. But in recent years the Speedway has promoted a new “ladder” concept and a top tier spec racing formula that has all but barred short-track drivers from participating in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
In late-2016 I asked Boles if he wanted short-track drivers returning to the Speedway. He responded, “First and foremost in my mind is just really safety… I’d love to see 50 or 60 or 70 cars entering and guys just being able to decide that they have a driver who’s running at Putnamville and we’re going to give him a shot to run at the Speedway. I just don’t think it’s practical anymore.”
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is now paying the price for that attitude. Yes, the short-track community is the heart and soul of racing, and no, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has not the slightest connection to that fan base. At least they openly admit it now.
The cure is simple. Open up the Indy 500 formula and end the spec car era. Encourage short-track drivers to make the Indy 500 their career aspiration. Then you won’t have to beg short track fans to return to the grandstands in May or September. You won’t have to construct special dirt tracks and hold special midget races to con short-track fans into buying weekend tickets to major events that otherwise hold little interest for them. If short-track drivers race at Indianapolis, their fans will follow. No gimmicks required.
Is there anyone in the halls of power at IMS with the will to make that happen? I’m not holding my breath, but there’s always hope. For the first time, the Speedway’s president is openly admitting that they’ve managed to utterly destroy their once inseparable bond with the short-track community. At least they see the disaster that’s resulted from 25 years of bad decisions that have alienated short track drivers and, inevitably, their fans.
That’s worth something. Perhaps it will eventually spawn the best news we’ve heard from Indianapolis in a long time.
For many people, renting a vehicle is a matter of convenience, whether it’s exploring a foreign country, moving house, test driving a car to get a feel of it before you buy it, or simply getting from A to B. However, car rental can also afford you the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the type of motor that’s out of reach for the majority, such as the latest supercar or a vintage vehicle from the 1930s. Although such vehicles are not typically listed as available for hire there are companies who can supply them on request.
In this article we take a closer look at 10 cars that offer that extra touch of class for your special occasion, whether it’s a wedding, a graduation or simply an event where you want to make a big impression.
1. Bentley GTC Continental
One of the most refined and elegant of British cars, the Bentley GTC Continental is a soft top tourer that offers a great driving experience alongside classic looks and elegance. It’s been available since mid 2003, and features a series of different models and configurations.
The twin-turbocharged V8 outputs more than 500 bhp while managing some impressive eco-credentials, but those looking for a car to make a statement will be happy with any of the magnificent machines available. Considering the vehicle’s solidity and size, it can speed to 60 mph in a touch under 4 and a half seconds, placing it firmly in the top bracket of rapid luxury cars. With an 8 speed gearbox and electronic management, the GTC Continental offers a smooth, easy drive with some serious power at your disposal.
The Bentley name often suggests a certain stuffiness belonging to an older era, but this latest offering is anything but bland or dated. It has sporty features and contemporary fittings, such as LED lights and a spoiler, while its internal fittings retain the luxury and class you’d expect from this marque. With elegant dark wood trim and classic leather interior furnishings, the Bentley is a car that offers thrills and luxury in equal measure.
2. McLaren MP4-12C
If you are lucky enough to get your hands on one, the McLaren MP4-12C may just be the most thrilling rental car available. Hitting the roads in 2011, more than a decade after the F1 concept car was withdrawn from production, the MP4-12C has added to McLaren’s growing legacy as manufacturer of the greatest supercars of the modern era. With a staggering top speed well in excess of 200 mph and a 0-60 time of 3.1 seconds, the power and visceral impact of this 620 bhp supercar are near impossible to beat.
The two door coupe is blessed with astonishing 21st Century looks too, its carbon fibre shell styled with sleek curves and lines to give it a dynamic kerb appeal. Inside, the manufacturer has created a so-called driver zone that is space age in appearance and functionality. With an abundance of safety features and superlative road handling, the limitless power is well controlled, with great performance throughout the gears. It is built for track days and racing, of course, but to make an impact on a special occasion, the throaty roar and magnificent looks of the MP4-12C are very difficult to surpass.
3. Mercedes S Class
German automotive giant Mercedes has produced many great cars over the years, and the modern S Class is up there with the best. It’s ideal for weddings and special events, either as a fitting alternative or stylish accompaniment to the more traditional Rolls Royce or Bentley. With loads of interior space, luxury finishes and great kerb appeal, the S Class blends German efficiency with elegance and refined touches.
In driving terms, the S Class is excellent. Superb suspension and handling mean that the cars are a pleasure to drive, while the range of engines offers power and precision driving. The German giant has even built a range of frugal diesels that can top 60 mpg if you’re seeking economy to go with the high levels of refinement. While the S Class won’t rival a supercar for speed or acceleration, the wonderful ride and fantastic looks more than compensate. This is a grown up car that will thrill with its drive experience every bit as much as its sportier competitors.
4. Aston Martin DB range
A name synonymous with both the golden age of British motoring and the modern era, various generations of Aston Martin have turned heads as iconic cars driven by James Bond. From the 1960s DB5 to the exclusive DB10, the manufacturer has offered vehicles which scream style and cool from the movie screen to the open road. Hiring a “Bond car” will give you a terrific Aston Martin driving experience and one which is guaranteed to appeal to almost every motorist.
The DB5 boasts classic lines and a kerb appeal that’s hard to top, while the DB9 adds contemporary supercar looks to the range. The latest models boast top speeds above 190 mph, while retaining the instant recognition and stylish touches honed from more than 100 years of manufacturing history. Aston Martin is a worldwide icon, and the chance to drive one of the classic models is hard to resist; with effortless handling and luxurious interior touches, arriving in one of the DB range is a great way to make a superb first impression. You can enjoy an Aston Martin Experience by
5. Lotus Elise S1
The smallest car on this list, the Lotus Elise series 1 punches far above its weight when it comes to striking looks and incredible performance, making it a brilliant car to take out on the open road or track. The car was first released in the late 1990s and yet boasts a look perfectly suited to today’s motorist. It is extremely light, its aluminium chassis and pared down design bring the car in at a fraction over 730 kg.
Unlike many of the other cars on this list, the Lotus doesn’t boast huge power, but it doesn’t need to – the S1 can hit 125 mph from a modest 1.8 litre engine and just 118 bhp. Road handling is magnificent, making this a driver’s dream; it sounds and feels vastly more powerful than its bare numbers would suggest, and offers a stunning visual to boot. It is minimalist inside and offers far fewer refinements than competing vehicles, but then very few of its rivals can offer the sheer enjoyment of the S1 out on the road.
6. Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder
Supercars don’t come much cooler than this. The Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder offers a sumptuous performance and driving experience with a classic Italian look that will turn heads on and off the road. Simply firing up the engine reveals the delights to come, and with a top speed over 200 mph the Gallardo backs up its kerb appeal with all the power and blistering speed you could need.
The V10 engine puts out over 550 bhp, and with a zero to 60 time of less than 4 seconds, the Gallardo is extremely quick off the mark. However, the superb lines and fabulous Lamborghini looks mean that this car will get everyone’s attention even at low speeds. The driving position is perfect, and you’re surrounded with stylish touches and sumptuous finishes at every turn. With an array of safety features, such as stability control, handling the Gallardo is straightforward, and the easy power gives the driver an unmissable experience. This is simply one of the finest supercars ever produced, and one that’s well worth experiencing, even for a few hours.
7. Morgan Plus 4
A remnant of the classic motoring age, when gentlemen took to the roads in style. The Morgan Plus 4 is a beautiful car, with the ultimate in post-War visual appeal complemented by a great driving experience and no shortage of fun. The car was initially produced in 1950, and can top 100 mph with ease. Its four cylinder engine is not sluggish either, capable of reaching 60 mph in under 10 seconds; impressive performance in a car of its vintage.
There have been various models of the Plus 4 over the years, including a version released in the early 2000s. However it’s the older models which offer the most striking appeal; two seater motoring doesn’t come much finer than this. Of course there are few of the refinements of the modern luxury car, but the timeless looks, smooth ride, and surprisingly good performance outweigh any lack of hi-tech features. The on-road experience is excellent, and the car itself makes a fantastic statement, epitomising British motoring elegance.
8. Porsche 911 997 Turbo Cabriolet
The 997 is one of the newest versions of the classic 911 series, and has a power and style all of its own. From the blistering sub 4 second 0-60 time to the top speed above 190 mph, this modern supercar can rival the thrills of any of its competitors. With its distinctive shape and guttural sounds pouring out from the 470 bhp engine, the 997 Turbo Cabriolet is a real eye-catcher. There are few motoring thrills that offer more appeal than taking this classic sports car out for a spin and putting the foot down on a clear road.
As with many cars on the list, the 911 is a car best enjoyed solo or with great company on the open road; its tight interior and low road position add to the enjoyment and make driving this superb sports car an absolute joy. Forget practicality and convenience, this is one rental car that is to be savoured for its driving experience alone. You’ll get plenty of admiring glances to boot, though mainly from drivers trailing in your wake!
9. Ferrari 458 Spider
Another in a long line of superlative Italian sportscar manufacturers, the Ferrari name has been synonymous with driving thrills since the late 1920s. Its founder, Enzo Ferrari, passed on his dream of racing glory to establish what would become one of the world’s premier automotive powerhouses.
The 458 Spider was named as Supercar of the Year in 2009, and with good reason; a top speed of 202 mph and a blisteringly quick acceleration to 60 mph in a fraction over 3 seconds give it class leading performance levels, while the brilliant steering, road handling and ride are as good as you’ll find in any motor car. Its visual impact is stunning, a tribute both to the legions of Ferrari designers and to the added input of racing legend Michael Schumacher.
To fully enjoy the experience, put down the roof on the convertible 458 Spider; the top down motoring afforded by this Italian gem is hard to beat. It is guaranteed to impress on a special event or occasion, and is an equally brilliant car to enjoy alone.
10. Rolls Royce Phantom
Of course no list of prestige rental cars would be complete without the Rolls Royce Phantom, a classic icon dating back to its first model in 1925. Perhaps the most desirable car for British weddings, the Phantom not only oozes style and sophistication but has practicality into the bargain, with acres of room inside and wide doorways making it ideal for a graceful entrance and exit. Whilst many couples and parties opt to pay extra for a chauffeur, the latest incarnation of the Phantom is also a terrific car to drive yourself, with more than 450 bhp at your disposal and a powerful 6.8 litre engine under the hood.
With every possible added touch of luxury, the modern Rolls Royce Phantom is a blissful driving machine, while passengers can relax in the ultimate style and comfort that this magnificent vehicle offers. Each vehicle is hand-built and fitted and no two models are identical, thanks to bespoke features and touches which make every Phantom unique. Few cars make as dramatic an entrance or leave as big an impression as the Spirit of Ecstasy-led Phantom.
The real 427 Mystery Motor, unlike the Z11, was not available in a car, or to the public. You had to have serious NASCAR cred to get one of the 20 built.
In the 1960s, Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen always seemed to be one step ahead of GM Chairman Fred Donner’s anti-racing missives. While running Pontiac, he had supported the Super-Duty Group that later, after he left, managed to get 421 Catalina Lightweights to drag racers before the axe fell. Then he moved on to Chevrolet in 1961 and supported the RPO Z11 drag racing and clandestine NASCAR 427 Mystery Motor projects. Both pure racing programs survived even though GM was officially out of racing. In the case of the Mystery Motor, everything was conducted through Chevrolet’s backdoor.
The 427 Mystery Motor’s real function was that of a “bridge” between the old school W-Series 348-409 and the next-gen 1965 Mark IV big-block. It used the same bore/stroke block – 4.31-inch bore and 3.65-inch stroke – as the Z11 engine. But that’s where the similarity ends. Unlike W-Series engines with combustion chambers in the cylinders, the Mark II NASCAR engine utilizes canted and staggered-valve (Porcupine) heads with conventional chambers. This style head debuted in production 396-427 Mark IV big-block engines, affectionately dubbed “Rat Motors” by enthusiasts!
Although developed primarily as a NASCAR race engine, Chevrolet did produce a singular variant for street applications, shown here with Ken Kayser, right, who had been Business Case Manager for the Mark IV big-block at Tonawanda. The Mark II in street trim, displayed for many years at GM’s Tonawanda, NY engine plant, was built to justify the expenses of building a racing-only engine. It is possible that at some point the project was referenced internally as RPO Code Z33. That would have been done only to disguise the 427 as an optional production engine so as not to attract unwanted attention. Interestingly, the Mark II engine was not produced at Tonawanda, the facility best known for Mark IV 396-427-454 engines.
Part of the mystery surrounding the Mark II engine can be attributed to its planned public debut on February 24, 1963 at the Daytona 500. The first couple of engines were shipped to Smokey Yunick for use in Chevys being prepared for the 500. Junior Johnson and Johnny Rutherford were two high-profile racers originally slated to run this engine. However, Mark II 427s were in two Z06 Corvettes competing in the 250-mile American Challenge Cup, at Daytona on February 16! This was a race for sports cars and one-offs, not NASCAR stockers. Few people at the time realized that two of the split-window Sting Rays in the Challenge Cup had Mark IIs under their hoods. They were actually the first big-block Corvettes.
Smokey Yunick prepared two Corvettes like NASCAR Grand National stockers and installed Mark II engines, sparked by magnetos with HD three-speed transmissions. Scheduled drivers were Junior Johnson and Rex White. During practice, Junior was not comfortable with how his Corvette was handling at 160 mph and decided not to drive. Bill Krause replaced him and went on to finish Third. He beat other Corvettes, Ferrari GTOs and Porsche Carrera Abarth GTLs. Paul Goldsmith driving a Pontiac Super-Duty 421 Tempest, won the three-hour race, followed by A.J. Foyt driving a Nickey Corvette! Bunkie was not unhappy!
Johnny Rutherford driving Smokey’s #13 car finished 9th, the best finish for a Mystery-motored Chevy. Rutherford lapped the track at 165.14 mph, setting a closed course record. A broken distributor in the #3 Ray Fox/Holly Farms Impala sidelined Junior. Junior won 7 of the 55 Grand National races in 1963, including the Charlotte 400 in October. With no factory support for the engine, the car was parked in 1964. Junior’s iconic Impala, as last raced, survives today. It’s at RK Motors, Charlotte, NC, https://www.rkmotors.com/
The 427 Chevy Mystery Motor, along with other super-high-performance cars and engines from the period including the Z11 Chevy drag cars, are showcased in Marty Schorr’s new book, DAY ONE, https://www.amazon.com/Day-One-Automotive-Journalists-Muscle-Car/dp/0760352364/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493561421&sr=1-1&keywords=Day+One+by+Martyn+L.+Schorr
Spring Classic hosts vintage Nitro-fueled drag cars and legendary racers from the 1960s to 1990s.
The distinct cackle of Nitro Revival will be coming to the Monterey Peninsula during the second annual Spring Classic on May 18-20. The gathering of vintage and restored Nitro-fueled drag cars and legendary drag racing personalities will take place at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca during the iconic facility’s vintage racing event. Feature activity will occur on Saturday, May 19. Nitro Revival: Drag Cars At Laguna Seca celebrates motorsports eras from the Sixties to the Nineties.
Nitro Revival brings the sights and sounds of the early days of front-engine Top Fuel dragsters and other organized hot rod racing back to life with a large lineup of fully restored machines. It serves as a reunion for racers from that era and gives fans the experience of a drag racing museum come to life. Fuelers will do push starts with period-correct push start vehicles and burnouts. There will also be a large turnout of classic street rods and hot rods. The Saturday event will close with a “Line of Fire” that will have the cackling sounds of vintage drag cars echoing through the rolling hills of the scenic Monterey Peninsula.
“Nitro Revival is a unique car show with unique vehicles that celebrate drag racing,” said Steve Gibbs, Nitro Revival producer. “Laguna Seca is an iconic place with a facility that can accommodate the growth of Nitro Revival, and we are able to add a historical drag race element to their event. There is a lot of drag racing history on the Central Coast and Bay Area. Monterey also has a lot to offer as a destination.”
Nitro Revival will enhance the paddock experience of the three-day vintage race held May 18-20. The 11 run groups of approximately 200 historically-correct sports and racecars that will run on the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course during the Spring Classic range from 1966-‘74 Can-Am to 1974-‘94 Stock Cars to Historic Motorcycle exhibitions.
For more information about Nitro Revival and other events at Laguna Seca, please visithttp://www.mazdaraceway.com/
Stephen Cox blogs about auto racing’s long-standing tradition of grid girls being the next casualty in the war for political correctness.
It was early 2015 when the World Endurance Championships (WEC) got rid of them, and Formula 1 may be next. Director Ross Brawn of Liberty Media, the new controlling group of Formula 1, recently said that the tradition of grid girls is being reconsidered. For the uninitiated, “grid girls” are the pretty women who stand beside the racecars prior to many events to hold grid markers and sponsor signs, and, well… look pretty.
Traditionally, grid girls have dressed to look attractive and feminine. That’s all well and good. Recent years have seen (some of) them dressing more and more scantily. In my opinion that’s not so good. But if I don’t like it, I’m still free to stay home. And that’s good.
This is precisely why I don’t attend boxing matches and MMA fights, by the way. The ring girls aren’t just dressed attractively. Some of them are downright indecent. So I stay home, shut up and mind my own business. The girls can keep their jobs, the fight promoters can put on the show they like and everyone is happy.
What, precisely, is being accomplished if Formula 1 decides to defend women around the world by firing hundreds of women around the world? The girls that needed these jobs will no longer have them. The girls who aspire to be models, spokeswomen, media personalities or actresses will have one less avenue available to enter their chosen field. The grid girls are not being well served by getting fired. The only people satisfied by their unemployment are people who demand that their agenda be dismissed no matter what the cost may be to anyone else.
Have you see auto-racing enthusiasts protesting and rioting against grid girls at the last race you attended? Me neither. Motorsports series are not firing grid girls in response to an overwhelming mandate from fans.
They’re doing this to please people who have little or no interest in motor racing, who may never attend an auto race, and who, in some cases, oppose the very existence of the sport. By definition, these are not people who are willing to live and let live. If they were, they would refuse to have grid girls at their book burnings and witch hunts, but leave you free to have them at your auto races.
Racing officials need to understand one point very clearly – these people will not become fans once you fire the grid girls. Auto racing is a loud, dangerous, fatality causing, fossil fuel burning; cut throat competition that does not award trophies for participation. These people hate you. They are not suddenly going to embrace you as a forward thinking intellectual simply because you caved in to their demands and kicked a few recently unemployed women to the curb.
If this artificially manufactured non-issue needs to be revisited at all, it should be revisited solely on the basis of what the teams, their fans and the grid girls want rather than on political pressure to conform to the demands of outside groups who don’t care one whit about the sport. Make your own decision and listen to your own fans and we’ll be happy no matter what the outcome may be.
If I don’t like it, I’m free to stay home.
Stephen Cox is Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions Driver, Super Cup Stock Car Series & EGT Championship, and Co-Host, Mecum Auctions on NBCSN. Sponsored by http://www.mcgunegillengines.com/