Monterey, CA — What’s so jaw-dropping about Courtney Crone isn’t the stats featured on her resume (more than 360 races, 16 championships in four racing series). It’s not even her love of vintage race cars (although unique, as females make up a small percentage of vintage racers). It isn’t the absurd amount of knowledge she possesses about various types of cars, either (ask her about motorcycles, midgets, sprint and formula cars, oh my).
What makes jaws drop when watching Crone race is her age.
She’s 18 years old.
She just graduated high school (straight As to boot, in case you were wondering).
While she has spent more than a dozen years already racing whatever was put in front of her, the next phase of Crone’s professional motorsports journey has just begun.
Crone will be racing the 1972 Elden Mk-8 Formula Ford owned by Paul Pfanner at this weekend’s Rolex Reunion event at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca in Monterey. It’s the first Reunion appearance for Crone as a racer — something HMSA President Cris Vandagriff not only supports, but celebrates.
“Courtney is one of those racers that you just want to see succeed in this sport,” Vandagriff said. “She is tough and confident but also just about the most personable racer you will meet. She has the attitude and ability to achieve all her dreams in racing and it’s exciting to see young blood joining an event that celebrates and honors history.
“Participants like Courtney joining the ranks of vintage racers honor the history of motorsports more than anything else could.”
Crone grew up attending the Reunion with her dad — vintage car master mechanic Jack Crone — but this is the first year she will be racing the 11-turn road course. It’s also the first time she will be racing in a car that has history more than twice as old as Courtney Crone herself.
“I’ve always loved trying to go as fast as I could,” Crone said. “I love winning, and racing has given me a place to really challenge myself. That’s why I keep doing this because it makes me happy and I love what I do.”
Did you read that? She said she keeps racing because she loves it. Normally that would sound crazy coming from the mouth of a recent high school graduate. But Crone hasn’t been much of a normal kid. She was barely walking before her dad put her on motorcycles or in go karts.
“The minute I was old enough to really walk, I was always on something with an engine and wheels,” Crone said. “The Christmas before I turned 5 my dad got me a
quarter-midget. I got into racing because of my dad but I stay in it because I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Crone has grand career plans that could be boosted with her first career vintage race appearance. Another form of racing is just another chance to win for the first time all over again. She said she responded with a resounding “YES” before the invite to race the Elden was even complete.
“My dad preps and maintains formula vintage cars mostly now and I’ve been going to the reunion since I was very little,” Crone said. “My dad always took me to the races and I have a fond appreciation for vintage racing so this is something I have wanted to do and be part of for some time. When the offer to drive Paul Pfanner’s Elden came up I was just so happy and couldn’t accept soon enough.
“Growing up around vintage racing has allowed me to be around the people like my dad, and Paul and Cris and listen to the stories and it’s given me the opportunity to be as close to the history as possible without really being in the past. Driving that car will allow me to be that much closer to the sport. Racing was spectacular back then and I just love it.”
If anyone understands the implications of putting Crone in the Elden at the Reunion, it’s Pfanner. This isn’t just any car and it certainly isn’t just any race. The Southern California native co-owns media properties such as RACER magazine, RACER.com, Vintage Motorsport magazine, VintageMotorsport.com and has also published SportsCar magazine for the SCCA since 1984. Pfanner has followed Crone’s career, methodically selecting the opportune time to put her behind the wheel of the storied Elden.
“The Monterey Reunion is literally living history,” Pfanner said. “You get to experience what it’s like to be in various periods of motorsports in real time. The sights, the sounds, the people you’re around at this event are among the most important in the history of motorsports. There is an energy and electricity in the air that I haven’t found at any other event.
“The repeatability is incredible. It continues to deliver and that’s what makes it special. The track and its location is hallowed ground in global motorsports. It takes you back to the origin of sports car racing. This is especially relevant in this 50th anniversary year for both IMSA and Formula Ford. I respect HMSA’s Cris Vandagriff for his astute decision to include the class in the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion’s 50th Anniversary tribute to IMSA because few remember that the very first IMSA event in October 1969 was Formula Ford race.”
So why would someone so embedded in the history of the sport, at the most prestigious event in the sport, turn the car over to a rookie teenager? It might just be a little history repeating itself.
“I started in a car just like this Elden when I was 18 years old,” Pfanner said. “This is a great class for young people and Courtney is a young driver that I have been
watching develop. She is very special. She is talented and brave and very, very fast. She’s already raced in more than 360 events in quarter midgets, midgets, sprint cars and motorcycles and at 13, 14 and 15 years old she was beating very experienced men. Just kicking their butts.
“Courtney wants to win the Indy 500 someday and I honestly believe she will win that race. She’s that special. She’s confident and smart but always learning and you don’t meet people like her every day. She is the age I was when I began my own journey and when I see the passion and determination and willfulness, it reminds me of someone. She is a little braver then I was, so I would bet on her any day.”
Crone recently logged several wins at WeatherTech Raceway. She’s earned multiple SCCA Majors Formula F victories driving a modern Piper FF earlier this year. She has plans to race vintage events again… even before she gets behind the wheel of such a historic race car for the first time at this weekend’s Reunion.
“She bridges the past to the present like no one else can,” Pfanner said.
Pfanner has raced many cars on many occasions. But nothing compares to his love of the Elden Mk-8. His eyes landed on an ad in Autoweek in the early 1970s and nothing has been the same ever since. Pfanner has raced the tangerine orange Elden five times in 32 years. Alan Holly has raced it seven times, winning from the pole twice, including the 20th anniversary of Formula Ford at Willow Springs International Raceway.
The history of the car is a list of careful caretakers who carried the legacy forward.
“Automotive Development originally sold my Elden Mk-8 AM72 20 when it was new to the car’s first owner, the late Charlie Wright, in the fall of 1972,” Pfanner said. “He owned and raced it until 1974. It was then owned by my friend Scot Keller who today is the curator at The Le May Car Museum. The third owner was club racer Leo Pilichowski who sold it to me in 1987 and it remains in remarkably original condition without ever having been restored. This car is a true time warp with original 1970s Armstrong shocks, steel wheels and a mild 107 HP Minister uprated engine that was last rebuilt by Jay Ivey in 1998. None of this discourages Courtney because she embraces the authenticity and the challenge.
“Our Elden Mk-8 still carries the original Automotive Development decal on its engine cover that was placed there by AD co-founder Paul White more than four decades ago. His business partner was Jules Williams who won the first-ever SCCA Formula Ford National in March 1969. I’ve raced this type of car countless times and I always come back to them because they are simple and honest.”
Courtney Crone may be driving the Elden this weekend, but her father got his hands on it first. Jack Crone was a young racer working at Automotive Development when he and Pfanner first met. They have remained close friends and Jack Crone did all the prep work for the Elden, ensuring it is as race-ready as possible for his daughter. The car had not been raced since 2008.
“For me this car is a talisman to how I began in the sport,” Pfanner said. “Formula Ford has been part of my motivation since I first laid eyes on an Elden Mk-8 on a December evening in 1972 when I was only 18 years old — the same age as Courtney is now. Although, I dreamed of someday racing at Indy this was not my destiny. I sincerely believe that this is what destiny holds for Courtney.”
For someone so young, she already seems to understand how important this weekend could be in motorsports history.
“I’m so excited to be part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Formula Ford because it means something to be a little part of history,” Crone said. “I want to do well and just run a good, fun, clean race and finish well. I’m looking forward to enjoying every minute of the event.
“I’ve never run a vintage event before and I know a few people I will be racing against, but not everyone. I know the track very well and I know it’s going to be a lot of fun and something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.”
Time. Only time can tell how well Crone will do at her very first vintage event — an event that honors all the time in motorsports history. If history has anything to say about it, she might just win.