Flashback Friday—It’s All About the Show by D. Randy Riggs—from the May/June 2012 issue of Vintage Motorsport

D. Randy Riggs shows the Lister-Jaguar he was racing at Sonoma to a local family who came out to see what vintage racing was all about. Photo: Riggs Archive

What is the one thing vintage racers and vintage race sanctioning groups or track owners can agree on? Nothing, you say? Well, aside from the obvious “having good weather,” I’m going with “more spectators.”

Think about it. What can be better for a driver than to look up in the stands and see them filled with happy faces ready for some excitement or fans lined up along the pit wall to get a closer look, soaking up the sounds, sights and aroma of historic cars warming their fluids awaiting the signal to move out behind the pace car? In the paddock, seeing your race car surrounded joyously by admirers isn’t half-bad either. And every track operator’s dream is to see a long line of vehicles at the pay gate so the race weekend is a boom instead of a bust.

Easy for me to say, right? Or as one of baseball’s greatest heroes, Yogi Berra, might put it, if people don’t want to come out to the vintage races, nobody’s going to stop them. So it’s all about the show.

In remembering the old adage about only having one chance to make a first impression, all of us who participate in vintage racing (drivers, mechanics, crew members, track workers, security, flaggers and PR people) must remember that on any given race weekend, there will be spectators who are here for the first time. So that first impression is crucial in making sure that they return—the mind’s eye that can ratchet up or down based on one bad or good experience.

Speaking for myself, when I’m in my paddock and I see folks interested in the car I happen to be driving, I always ask if I can answer any questions and to the best of my knowledge give them a brief history of the car and what it’s like to drive. If there is time and the car has easy ingress and egress, I invite them into the cockpit and give them a rundown of the controls. This goes over especially well with kids, and if the parents have a camera (and who doesn’t nowadays?) I make sure to ask if they’d like a photo of themselves with the car and their kids, and most of the time they take me up on it. That way, once they get home, there’s a reminder of how much fun a vintage race weekend was and they’ll probably be back next time the vintage cars come to town.

The tracks are on the point for first impressions, seeing to it that a spectator’s experience is a positive one. From the ticket takers on, it can go down or uphill in a hurry, so reasonable ticket prices, ease of parking, good signage, clean restrooms, ample trash/recycling containers and quality food choices and service need to be far more than mere functionally palatable—”memorable” should be the goal here.

Car appearance should be something special, too. At times I’m surprised to see in the thousands of photos I select each year for this magazine, cars that I would not publish a photo of, yet somehow have managed to be accepted to race at a vintage event. They may have passed tech and added an entry fee to the sanctioning group’s bottom line, but that’s not the way to tickle the perception meter in the right direction when cars you send to the grid look like a scruffy morning-after mess.

While we’re at it, no for-sale signs on the car either as it sits in the paddock, and jettison signage on windshields advertising a business. If it wasn’t on the car as it was raced new, then it shouldn’t be on it now either. We already see enough revisionist history in the mainstream media and school textbooks.

If you’ve got a special-interest vehicle that would look great in the paddock and there’s a space for it, park it in place of a modern rental car. Let’s make vintage race car paddocks even more of the show than they are now. The Monterey Reunion has the right idea here and how I wish it would catch on everywhere else.

At my local races I always make sure my Morris Minor van is on display when there’s room for it and I use my ’67 Honda 305 Super Hawk as a pit bike. Special interest vehicles only add to the experience. They’re cool. They’re neat to see. Bring ’em out.

That way maybe we’ll be using another Yogi Berra expression to describe a favorite vintage race: “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”