You might excuse John Fippen and Rusty Bell if they’ll feel a little like ringleaders at a three-ring circus during the Mechanics Bank Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio, June 27-29. After all, there will be some 250 or so cars on the sinuous 2.4-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with its 15 turns, all moving in some manner of fast, and the colors, sights and sounds on the track will change almost minute-by-minute as the excitement mounts, sweeping the folks in the seats along with it. Someone has to keep tabs on it all, and that’s where Fippen and Bell, the two Mid-Ohio track announcers, come in.
Craig Rust, President of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, calls the Mechanics Bank SVRA race weekend a “wonderful start to our season of racing. It has a bit of everything and gets everyone into racing mode each year.”
The Sportscar Vintage Racing Association is one of the oldest and largest of the vintage racing organizations in the United States. The SVRA has 11 (count ‘em) racing groups with names like Ferrari, Lola, Mustang, Triumph Spitfire, Trans-Am and Aston-Martin, each featuring its own cars and during the Mid-Ohio race weekend that means that there will be something like three dozen sprints, mini-races, as well as two Enduro races, one of 60 minutes and the other of 90 minutes, as well as the special Can-Am Mini Challenge event celebrating the 55th anniversary of the ubitiquous Mini marque.
For many fans, the battling Minis are the jewel in the SVRA racing weekend.
Jon McKnight of the SVRA details how things work once the sprints have begun. “We green flag the cars in that particular sprint onto the track, they race for their alloted time, usually 30 minutes, and once the race is done, we make sure to clear the track of any crashes and or debris, and green flag the next bunch onto the track, ready to race. And it goes like this for hours. So one race will have a rolling start at 1:15 p.m., and the next will go at 1:45 p.m. and so on.”
Keeping track of the action
“Announcers are very important because so much is happening at any one time and the announcer will explain delays, tell fans what’s up next, as well as the final results of the previous run, and generally keep eveyone in on what’s happening,” says McKnight
Fippen concurs, “We’re not up in the booth to talk for the sake of talking; we are there to inform people and we have to walk a fine line against talking down to the newcomers to motorsports – and there are a lot of them at an SVRA event – and the people who come every year. We can’t water down the experience and we’re very conscious of the fact that timely information during the day’s racing will enhance the experience for everyone in the stands as well as the competitors.”
After more than a quarter century announcing motorsports, Fippen believes that an SVRA racing weekend is an ideal introduction to live racing for the neophyte.
“You can’t experience a true race weekend at home with a huge flat screen and surround-sound because everything you see or even hear there is filtered. Here you can sometimes differentiate between the classes or the cars by the smells, some use pretty exotic fuel mixtures and experienced race fans can smell their favorites coming even before they see or hear them. The colors, the noise, the smells and the fans all around you reacting to these things makes a weekend event like the Mechanics Bank weekend at Mid-Ohio a very special entertainment event.”
And every now and then, the fan in the seats learns to cock an ear at the announcer to find out what really is going on.
“Another benefit of the SVRA weekend is that paddock access is free and you can get up close to the cars. Their owners usuaully will only be too happy to tell you all about them and you’ll see how much love and care have been lavished on them by these people who are the true racing fans, even though many of them are racers as well. You can do the whole auto racing history of the 20th century by walking along the paddock on a sunny Saturday afternoon.”
Mid-Ohio holds the title of longest consecutive track for SVRA racing. “Fans have been enjoying top-notch vintage racing at Mid-Ohio since 1981,” says Jon McKnight. “The track has a special status on our annual race calendar and draws some of the very best crowds. It is a great experience and is entertainment with a capital E.”
With the slogan, “Some people collect art, we race it,” SVRA is a perfect curtain raiser for the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course’s 2014 racing season.
Tickets to the 2014 Mechanics Bank Vintage Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio are still available, visit www.midohio.com or 800-MID-OHIO to purchase.