Every year, the greatest vintage race cars in the world congregate at a little hillside track in Northern California.
I walked row after row, over and over. Step after step, mile after mile. I went up to the Corkscrew and back down. My ears hunted at every sound, Trans Am V-8s, Cosworth DFVs, Alfa twin-cams, and BMW racing V-12s. I saw long-nose Panozes and high-wing Chaparrals and Ferraris in every shade of red. Still I felt like I hadn’t seen a single car.
Porsche RSR next to the Williams F1 Car
This is the feeling of the Monterey Historics. Every year, a short drive from the oyster and caviar bar car shows that make up the rest of Car Week, vintage race cars take over Laguna Seca. Every pit stall fills up with something unique, irreplaceable jewels of every era. A 1960s Penske Camaro slowly rolls off a flatbed covered in coolant down one avenue while a 2000s diesel Peugeot LMP1 car loads up on another. Across from both sits a race car so old it has wooden wheels and the team brought its own forge in case of repairs.
BMW V12 LMR
A 1974 Porsche RSR sits next to a Williams FW08 F1 car from its 1982 championship-winning year next to a kei truck with its top cut off for pit ferry duties. The hot sun beats down on the unlikely trio, smoke from a barbecue wafting past them. It is a hazy, shimmery environment, or maybe some sort of gravity well. Every interesting old race car in the state of California is here. That includes all of BMW’s most treasured historic race cars, even the V12 LMR that so briefly stood atop the racing world at the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans.
My neck snaps as it fires into life in the pits next to me, my ears bleed as the driver blips the throttle like it was a horn, heat-soaked crowds parting ways as it makes it towards the track. It is mesmerizing, a white bar of soap with a further-developed version of the McLaren F1’s already-mythic engine.
In the heat, we all walk our way up to the Corkscrew, watching lap after lap as it grazes the pavement on its descent, tenderly delves back into the throttle as the course spills deeper downhill. I see two grown men, feet apart, camera to the eye, standing like twin statues at the fence, waiting for the cars to pass again. We were all there in unison, melting, trying to grasp at that feeling of recognition. Of seeing. Of knowing. Twisted up in these vintage cars, there’s a sense of understanding. That we might take them in in full, experts ourselves, like we were wise, like we had been there when they first raced, seeing those paint schemes new for the first time.
Each of these cars is some kind of history, some victory, some high point in motorsports or car design. There are triumphs in them. That’s the first wing car, that Chaparral. That’s the last Le Mans-winning Ferrari, that 250 LM. That’s the 787, the predecessor to Mazda’s wildly successful 787B, howling around the track. I feel their glow on my sunburnt cheeks, radiating up, as I walk past. I try to capture it in my camera, car after car, row after row.
Raphael Orlove Road & Track’s Deputy Editor who once got a Dakar-winning race truck stuck in a sand dune, and rolled a Baja Bug off an icy New York road, and went flying off Mount Washington in a Nissan 240SX rally car, and…