Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix July 19 – 21, 2019 – ‘Report from the Field’
July 15th my wife Sam, our 2 Giant Schnauzers and I (Rick Frazee) started north on our 4 day journey to race our 1959 Morgan 4/4 at this year’s 37th Annual Pittsburg Vintage Grand Prix. Our trusty motor coach, Big Bird, had just come from the shop after having the rear bedroom slide and shower floor rebuilt. The repairs had taken much longer than expected and so we were pinched for time to tidy up and provision the coach. The first 3 days of travel were uneventful but Thursday, in Pittsburgh, became a test of determination to make the race.
At about 10AM Thursday we were ten minutes out from Schenley Park where the race is held; then we missed an exit off of I-376 and headed north to I still don’t know where. Our motor coach GPS usually just reroutes us but in this case it lost its bearings and I lost my trust in it which was probably my second mistake. 45 minutes later I got out my phone GPS and put in the desired location, now the coach GPS knows how wide, long and high we are while the iPhone thinks only of car size vehicles.
We were routed through a nice little neighborhood were the roads got tighter and tighter until we reached a rather steep hill going down to a flat road with a major roadway within sight about 2 blocks away. No choice so we headed down the hill but had to pause at the stop sign, at just that point we heard the grinding sound of the trailer hitch making solid contact with the pavement. We ground to a jarring halt! Tried to drive off but we were not pulling loose. Upon inspection I discovered the bottom of the hitch had dug about 6 inches into the solid asphalt pavement. Back in the coach I engaged the second rear axle, still only a lot of wheel spinning and tire smoke. I began to try to unhook the trailer and disassemble the hitch just as the local police arrived. They were most understanding and began directing traffic while I and a friendly local who stopped to help tried everything we could think of. I finally had to ask the police to call a wrecker. A small rollback arrived first and the operator agreed we’d need the big one!
With the arrival of a semi sized wrecker the police blocked the road. The wrecker crew connected 2 winch cables to the front and quickly pulled us free, the now detached trailer was loaded on the rollback and with police escort we all set off to find an open flat surface to readjust and rejoin the trailer. Our first stop was a large park-n-ride lot which the officer thought would accommodate the work. As soon as I made the turn-in I knew we were in trouble again. I stopped and explained to the officer that we would have a hard time getting the coach out even without the trailer attached. At the back of the lot there was just enough space to turn around to try to head out. He set off to find a better spot leaving me to get out of the lot. 2 attempts later to go the correct, one way, direction out we decided to head out the aisle we came in on.
As we nosed past a pick-up on the right that was out farther than the rest of the row a sharp twang on the left indicated we had made contact with the one way sign that we were headed past going the wrong direction. With a bit of urging from my copilot I tried to back off the sign which then snagged a window instantly turning it into 1000’s of small pieces of glass.
Pulling forward quickly cleared the sign and we headed across the street to a fire station lot to make the re-connection and pay the wrecker bill. After reassembling the hitch and connecting to our trailer we headed south to find the Schenley Park Paddock. Several circuits around Pittsburgh later we did find the proper entrance to the paddock area.
Very weary and now 4 o’clock in the afternoon we found the paddock which was already two thirds full. With a friendly golf cart escort we were directed to the loop end of the paddock where there was barely enough space to accommodate our 75 foot length on an almost level surface. Did I mention that there are 447 bridges in Pittsburgh all crossing each other? Or so it seemed.
Friday, a new day with a required driver’s meeting and walk of the 2.3 mile course. My wife chose to join us which was probably a mistake as our guide was great at telling stories about this corner or that rock wall and who crashed where on the track. It was an intimidating lesson with fresh pavement just done the day before, manhole covers, curbs, rock walls, elevation changes, road crowns, bridges and tar sealing lines that looked like a snake pit in one fast corner. I did not let her look over the side of the bridge.
The afternoon parade into downtown was hot and many of the race cars were steaming by the time we got to the designated section of downtown, thankfully not us. The parade route was lined with waiving locals and a lot of kids. We were parked in the middle of a street 4 race cars abreast and the open space was quickly filled with people asking questions and admiring the race cars. A large jewelry store had agreed to host the cocktail party and there was plenty of food as well as flowing beer and wine. After consuming our share and admiring the jewelry and watches (Sam didn’t find any she had to have) we went back out to the street which was now solid with kids and adults. We let probably 100 kids and a few adults sit in the Morgan race car and answered bunches of questions. What a great evening.
Saturday morning opened with practice session for all by class. We were class 6, the last racing group on the schedule. By the time we got on the track the sun was high and the heat was 95+ degrees. Humidity was like Florida with the cloud cover to match. The track was every bit as challenging as our previous day walk had suggested. The afternoon qualifying was super hot. Our class was all on the line at the appointed time but spent a bunch of extra time on the false grid while broken race cars from the previous secession were towed off and corner workers were resupplied with water. Finally, we got on the track. I had a fun session with an MGA and did manage to get around an Alfa and a Mini. Passing was very difficult and while the Alfa dogged me most of the session, he did not get back around me. I finished 11th out of 13 entries.
Sunday, race day was gray. The 15 minute morning practice was dry but big dark clouds drifted around the outside of the city. The Formula Ford race, 2 before our group, came limping back with stories of rain-water sheeting down the hills onto the track surface. The intermittent rain had stopped as FF came in and so I suited up and readied the Morgan to go out for the final race of the day. As I got seated and about to strap in the race car the rain came down again. To the relief of my wife I made the decision that I’d had enough and climbed back out of the Morgan.
The rain did stop once again and group 6 did go to the grid. I believe I heard them go off but their results were not posted on Race Monitor. We had just enough time to load the Morgan race car and our pit car, our MOKE, before the rain began again. Rain followed us to our stopping point that evening and again for the next 3 days to our home in Winter Park, Florida making driving our big rig a ton of work. It’s great to be home. The next month or so will be required to fix what we broke on the motor-coach, but the Morgan is almost ready to go again. We saw lots of familiar Put-in-Bay race faces and met lots of new friends.
Our next race will be at Put-in-Bay, Ohio in September
If you’ve never raced at Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park Vintage GP you’re missing the most challenging track I’ve had the pleasure of racing on. 20 different turns on most every kind of surface but dirt.
Oh my..what an adventure..I admire your positive attitude through it all…stay safe
Sounds like things went pear shaped for a while. Glad to hear y’all are back home now. Hugs to you both.
This definitely has all the elements of a potential movie script. Perhaps a sequel to the Robin Williams movie “RV”? Anyway. glad it all worked out.