If your life doesn't generate good stories, you need a new life. Some stories are only funny in retrospect, usually the ones involving pain and misfortune. This was one of those which had us laughing while it was happening.
Watkins Glen has a long and storied tradition. Before today's racetrack was built, races were held on country roads, and ran right through the middle of town. One of the really cool events attached to the US Vintage Grand Prix race weekend is the Grand Prix Festival of Watkins Glen. Its a big Friday evening party. Race cars are caravanned from the track to the middle of down town. Then they are flagged off for two laps of the old road circuit. The event draws thousands of people, and a host of high bucks vintage racers. This is the story of how my buddy, Jim Pesta, planted us square in the middle of it all.
I first met Jim on the Ocean to Ocean rally in 1986. It was a 7,000 mile rally celebrating the 50th birthday of the MG T-series cars. Jim had quit his job to go on the tour. He had also convinced a tire dealer to give him a new set of Goodyears. Not only did Jim turn out to be one of the most friendly and helpful people I've ever met, he also has a gift for gab, which came in very handy at the Festival.
1997 was the 40th anniversary year of the Collier Brothers Trophy race for MGs, so we had a large contingent of MG race cars. When the time came to head for town, Pesta asked if I would like to drive for him. It seems he had convinced the sheriffs responsible for the caravan that he was an official videographer making a commemorative film of the event. Of course, to properly film the caravan he had to be at the front. While Jim was busy filming, he needed me to drive.
With the big lie given and received, we parked at the front of the line. Heading off toward town we had literally millions of dollars in pedigreed racing hardware strung out behind our "official" video car. Upon arriving downtown, the up side of Jim's bluff came home to roost. No sooner had we stopped in front of the starter's stand, than we were inundated with local media. "Tell us the historic significance of this car." Hmm, think fast and act casual.
One should be aware of the state of Jim's TF. The car was pretty much as it was the day it started the Ocean to Ocean tour. Of course, in between it had been subjected to countless miles of hard use. The front shocks were gone, it jumped out of gear, some unknown event led to the bonnet being sprayed in primer, heck there was a tow bar like RVs use mounted to the front bumper. As a plus - considering the circumstances - it had a race number on the door (from some long forgotten event) and the Goodyear stickers still adorned the fenders above the now balding tires.
So what was it about this car which made it famous and worthy of pole position? Admitting the truth was not an option. Let's see, the car had participated in a rally. Among MG T owners it was a major event, so it would be legitimate to say it had participated in a major international rally (the rally did finish in Canada after all). It would also be true to say it had participated in numerous rallys, and the car was in its "original" condition. Never tell a lie, just don't offer up all the truth. Jim and I must have woven some pretty good tales. We didn't get kicked out, and the journos seemed suitably impressed.
With the ball rolling, next up was the official starter, a former SCCA flag man and blow hard, or some such thing. With due gravity he explained the signal for starting engines and the signal to start. "What, you mean like waving the green flag or something?" Next to us was an original MG TC with its original driver, Denver Cornett, who had in fact been there in 1948 and deserved to be there now. When the green flag dropped we roared off up the main drag. The car duly popped out of gear at a critical moment, but who cared at that point.
The old Glen road circuit is comprised of beautiful country roads and famous locations, like the stone bridge where Denver rolled his TC in 1948. Jim really was shooting video, so we moved forward and backward through the crowd of race cars, passing and being passed. At the end we raced down Franklin Street and across the traditional start/finish line in front of the Schuyler County Courthouse, the least deserving car, but likely having the most fun.