Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Stories - “In Their Own Words”

Photo for Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Stories - “In Their Own Words”

NAMGAR Member, Greg Prehodka, provides a report and participant comments on the recent Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix where the MG was the featured marque. (Photo by Mark Sherman)

"Thanks to all the folks below who replied to my request for some of their personal comments and stories on this year’s Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix at Schenley Park, where for its 30th anniversary, MG was featured. This is not an article, but just a collection of individual stories - mostly from MG racers. Over 50 racing MGs were entered – INCREDIBLE – record breaking! From Pre-War MGs to MGB’s. Enjoy their reflections. Plus this event has raised somewhere around three million dollars for local charities over the years! Feel free to share these stories with others who may have interest - or use this (or parts thereof) in club newsletters (share the joy). Go to the end for supporting resources on the event."

Letter to MG Vintage Racers

"On behalf of the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Association (PVGPA) and all the spectators who came to the event, I would like to thank all of the MG owners and drivers who made the 2012 and 30th anniversary such a special time. At last count, there were over 50 MG cars/drivers that came from all over the country. Many were old returnees but many came for the first time. The cars were superb and the driving excellent. All are to be thanked and commended for putting on a fantastic show.

"We hope that everyone had a wonderful time and will seriously consider returning again. We will certainly do everything we can to ensure that you enjoy yourself in the future.

"We would appreciate all comments and suggestions that you may have to make next year’s event better. Please send them to me at the address below.

"Thank you again for making our 30th Anniversary such a success. We wish you the best for 2012. Great racing.'

Richard D Barnes – Competition Director, PVGP.

“In Their Own Words”

"Many VRG'ers (Vintage Racer Group) are probably recovering from the weekend right now, so allow me to get this started ... the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix at Schenley Park was simply fantastic! I don't enter very often, in fact this was only my second time as a driver (been there numerous other times to hang out, or help) but I think this has to rank among the best ones ever. That's really apropos for the 30th running of the event.

"It's not a VRG event - the entire production is staged independently by the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Association, and of course it is open to vintage racers from any club so a lot of VRG members go -- plus a lot of people & cars you just don't see anywhere else. The weather was near-perfect, in fact on Saturday the question was "is it always this cold in Pittsburgh in July?" Well it wasn't actually cold, but compared to the usual summer haze, 70 degrees and overcast made for a very comfortable day. Sunday was sunny and warmer, but not oppressive at all.

"Dick Barnes (competition director) & company did a really good job with race groups, pretty evenly divided, well matched cars, I suppose there were a few moves & adjustments during the weekend but it looked like everyone had some good partners to race with. There were very, very few incidents and I know of no 2-car incidents -- I believe the handful of problems were single-car, at least two of them caused by mechanical problems, not driver error. It was a remarkably safe weekend, a testament to the PVGP organizers.

"MG was the “Marque of the Year” and there were over 50 MG's entered, everything from a couple of Pre-War cars up to some pretty hot MGB's. The Sunday all-MG race was great, everyone played well with others as far as I could tell. I saw plenty of point-by's and good judgment by the faster drivers.

"I haven't counted the overall entry list, but it must have been a near-record entry, or maybe the all-time record. The paddock was full! And I'll bet they set a new record for spectators, as the weather was picture-perfect on Sunday.

"If you've never done this event, it truly is a must-do. I know you hear that all the time about lots of events, but it really is true about the PVGP. There is nothing like it anywhere else in North America. The volunteers are amazing, the crowds are simply incredible -- it is the largest spectator event in Pittsburgh, bigger than any Steelers game, Pirates game, U of Pitt football, anything! Just think, you will have more people watching you than watching Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger! The fans are so enthusiastic, you really feel like a hero just for showing up with your little old sports car to race. Yes, the race circuit is treacherous and very, very difficult -- but you simply adjust your outlook and drive well within your limits. The faster drivers understand the situation and are generally careful when passing the newer entrants. There were something like 35 first-timers there this year -- and yet, a very safe weekend overall.

"I did the back-to-back races this year -- BeaveRun (oops, PittRace) the weekend before, and Schenley -- a lot of work, but worth it. I was on such a high last night when I got home, I told Janet "if they had another race next weekend, I'd go back!" Well OK, I may not do the double every year, but I'll certainly go back to Schenley more often than I have in the past. It is an absolutely amazing event!"

Mark Palmer, MGA # 185, Pa.

"My plan this year was to have Tom Malloy trailer my car (from California) to Lime Rock and Watkins Glen with his three race cars; turned out the cost was thru the roof so barely 3 weeks before the event I decided to tow myself to PVGP for the 3rd year in a row. This time Becky and Bertie (our Keeshond) would come along. We had a trouble-free tow both ways, warm but not so bad as last year. Instead of pitting on the grass with a larger group of prewar cars I tucked in between Manley Ford (MGTD) and Steve Konsin (Lester MG) and everyone helped each other with changing rear ends, brake shoes, and the like, except me. I came with a well-prepared car and just sat and watched the other guys scramble. It is true my dynamo (which also drives the camshaft) had packed it in and I ran the weekend on the battery, resulting in a greater and greater misfire as the race went on. Still, I lapped 6 seconds faster than last year--maybe I'll figure this track out in another year--and I have to thank the scorers for placing me and recording lap times, for I had no transponder. Long time volunteer corner workers (they man the chicane and are responsible for that target!) the Smakula Family and I reunited our Bluegrass band and played to a small audience in the paddock on Saturday night. What a great event!"

Mike Jacobsen 1934 MGNA Special, # 99, Ca.

"This was my first time at the PVGP. I enjoyed every minute of it. I have been racing my MG Midget for 6 years now on many tracks. But this event tops it all by the difficulties represented by the layout and the absence of protection and safety space. 22 turns and no way out! My walk around (for first time drivers here) was beneficial, thanks to Bill my instructor. The walk around, practice and qualification made me learn the track quickly. Every turn is a challenge, but this lay out allows to link easily many turns. The sharp ones are tough. You always have to shift to get the right speed in and out of the turns. There are superb turns like the one before the bridge that you can take flat out.

"It takes courage and intuition and solid pace and control inside you to get you rolling fast. This is a track that require full respect. Every millisecond you gain is a victory. I started at 2:37 at qualification, got down to 2:36 in the Sunday morning race, and then 2:35 best lap time at the all MG race. For a first timer, I am pretty happy with my results.

"I have to say thanks to the MG TD, TC and all drivers who despite the situation (some very fast despite their weaker brakes) were real gentlemen racers and let me go by. I did the same with faster MGs, finding spots to let them past me. When someone is pushing you in every corner, it is a sign that you must give up...

"A superb thanks to the track workers! This is a formidable gesture of attention and great understanding of what racing is all about. I always felt secure even if I did not know what was coming around a turn which allow me to gain confidence and speed around blind corners. I loved the hay bail chicane. I never touch a hay bale (I think) but it required me to use a lot of finesse. That is the word I think that summarize this race and this track: it requires finesse to get the best out of it, not pure speed. My best friend Alain with a Fiat Abarth won for the second year in a row the under 1liter title. He has been racing at PVGP for 5 years. He did it with finesse and consistency.

"Tough to pass on this track, but most of the time you can find spots to do it because most drivers are gentlemen. I did encounter some drivers (MG) that were not but I will learn to prepare for the challenge next time.

"My car was fantastic and did its job with no hassle. It was well prepared by my mechanics and I was well supported by my crew Line. Thanks to the organizers and to everyone, we had a fantastic time.

"If people have photos of me and my car and want to share them I would love it. I have a video of the MG race taken from my Hero camera in my car. If there is a way or if someone wants it, I am prepared to send a copy of it."

Amyot Bachand, MG Midget #63, Quebec

"A ride in the park' – the 30th PVGP at Schenley – we were blessed with lower temperatures, moderate humidity and almost zero rain, except for Friday (not a race day). Considering all the challenges to organize such a huge event with so many volunteers, the event again unfolded with apparent ease. The “course” is what it is and one of these years hopefully some of the bumps will be smoothed or maybe I should just adapt my suspension?

"My MGTD was running well after an engine rebuild – thanks Jim Boffo - so much so that the fast lap was 6 seconds faster than 2011 and was fast lap of the group by a few tenths. I broke a half shaft in the Mambo Combo Sat. afternoon and yet again, the MG volunteer spare parts department (thanks Steve Konsin) enabled a relatively quick fix. Stephen K. Jr faithfully followed my example and also broke a half shaft. Almost all was to no avail as my passenger door decided it would be a permanent air brake on the 2nd lap of the Sunday race, until one of the corner workers at the top of the Serpentine re-secured it. That set me back to 12th and so the final podium finish of 3rd was extremely welcome – I think I had more fun doing that than watching Manley wiggle his (TD) rear, lap after lap !!

"Doesn’t really matter where you finish - you just have to be there."

Mike Barstow, MGTD # 450, Ca.

"I had a great time on the track this year with my MGA. With a 5.12 rear end I installed, I definitely was set up right for that track. I had the same engine, tires and car and reduced my time by 8 seconds consistently. It was definitely worth the effort to have the rear pumpkin built for my car.

"I feel I have done what I can at that track and will not be returning next year. Many other tracks to tackle. I was not running 6/10th and I didn’t see anyone else doing that either .I am sure I was racing at 9/10ts and there were many, many ##### to the wall racers also. When I saw the brown MGB wrecked in the stone steps while I was on the course I was very happy and surprised to see the driver walk away. I found myself running hard and then over-braked for tight turns. I loved the experience but hated the danger surrounding the track. Far too many walls and curbs for me.

"Great time, great experience, time to move to the next track for the next challenge."

Steve Schultz, MGA #60, NJ

"While a well prepared car certainly will help you perform better, the major factor will always be the person behind the wheel. Smoove (Steve Schultz) has been driving consistently at a higher level. He's managed to drop his times everywhere he runs every time he goes out. The car hasn't been improved as much as his ability to move the car has. It's really quite outstanding how much he's improved these last couple of years. It's nice to see him tutoring the younger drivers now. This last race he spent a lot of time with Donny Lighting and you all saw how spent Donny was after each session in his ultra rare EX-240Z.

"I think an increasing sign of Smoove's confidence has been his recent ability to initiate meaningful conversations with women with great posture. Yes, that does need some work, but like his burgeoning driving skills the future looks very interesting."

Storm Field, MGA # 330, NY

"I don't remember having as much fun racing as I did at PVGP this year. Then again I remember the last time I had this much fun was PVGP in 2010 (the last time I was there). It was great spending time with the Joisey Boys, of course (all of "youse!") I think the TD is perfectly suited to this course. We had a great turnout in Group 1. I think there was good competition at all levels. The cars were well driven (almost all of them) and I did not see anyone driving over the limit this year (as I have in the past, when we were grouped with U2L). My car ran well up until the penultimate lap of our last event, when my clutch started slipping. (I think that must be where all my oil was going.)

"Thanks to all of you for making the weekend a memorable one."

Mark Sherman, MGTD # 607, NJ

"I think Mark Sherman is right on many points. First that the Joisey Boyz once again had a great race weekend and secondly that his car was the most perfectly matched for this event/venue. I watched his group several times and was impressed by how under control they were. On the other hand, I think Steve Schultz observation on our group 3 activities and those of group 4 (driving too hard) are just as spot on. I found very few drivers...myself included, driving the course at 6/10. I think I was doing 8/10 mostly and dialing it up or down from there depending on where I was at the time. Nothing wrong with that if everyone remembers where we are driving and why. "It's not a race!" We are putting on a show. In the last race I drove until my MG started to bog down and when that happened I pointed everyone by and just pulled in. Why mess up someone else's race?"

Storm Field, MGA #330, NY

"This was the second year we raced at Schenley Park at the PVGP. Storm Field (A), Mark Sherman (TD), Tom and Kim Leavy (B), Butch O’Connor (A), Rachel Prehodka-Spindel (TD) and I (A) brought our MG’s along with Crew Charlie Tregidgo and Nick O’Donohoe. Somehow, There was a joke started by Storm Field four years ago in which he called us Joisey Boyz Racing. That name stuck and today you will usually find most of us at MG events. We have also adopted Don Mei and his 240Z. He swears it was the next MG to be designed and built back in the day. Nick O’Donohoe created an MG logo for the hood of the 240Z out of blue tape and so Don is now part of Joisey Boyz Racing. Tom and Kim managed to get there early and secure a nice piece of real estate in the very tight pit area so we had a great area to enjoy the sights and sounds of Schenley Park during the race weekend. We had a wonderful time. The circuit is very challenging and a driver must really pay attention as there is little room for error and this is a real street circuit with all the normal obstructions.

"It can only be said that racing with good friends and having a good time is as good as it gets. The Joisey Boyz all headed home with equipment in good shape and wonderful memories of an old style street circuit race. If you haven’t raced at Schenley park I highly recommend to include it on your list."

Steve Schultz, MGA #60, NJ

"What a magical weekend. As this was my first time at the PVGP I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and enthusiasm of everyone involved. The track walk for the rookies was very helpful and fun (even in the rain). I really enjoyed being in the paddock surrounded by MG ‘T’ guys. It was great to see and talk to folks I have not had the pleasure of seeing in along time. I guess I am hooked. There is no coincidence that a T car has been the logo for the PVGP: the course was made for these cars!"

Cheers. Rob Orander MGTD #247, NC

"And huge thanks to Tom Chisholm for being a true gentleman on the track. I was in the red MGA just ahead of him. As you can see in the video, he passed me once, I managed to pass him back later. But there are a couple other places I can see on the video where he could have made another move and probably gotten past me for 3rd place. My tires -- particularly the fronts -- were shot after about the third of fourth lap and the car just wouldn't turn in. Kudos to Tom for not doing anything too aggressive. I've already told Tom I owe him half the case of Spaten I got for 3rd place -- it should have been scored as a tie!"

Mark Palmer, MGA #185, Pa

"This was my first trip to the PVGP, and as always the MG event was the highlight race. For the first time in this car, I suffered with some brake fade with this course being so tight, but what a fun place to race. A small altercation with a patch of oil and a hay bale caused the first self-inflicted body damage in 66 events with this car. As usual, there were numerous MG people to help bang out the fender and get me into the next race without delay. What a great bunch of people!"

Richard Navin, MGB #246, Ontario

"By all accounts, it was a very successful PVGP for MG, as well as PVGP charities. Although we ended up with only 171 MGs in the Marque of the Year show, the quality of the entries was very good and we got to meet a lot of nice MG folks. Many of the MG people attending PVGP for the first time, this year, have indicated that they will be back, again, next year. Another plus is that we had more (way more) MGs at PVGP (both show-side and race-side) than Triumphs, so I can razz my Triumph club buddies for the next year, at least. J

"Sadly, for me, I had to miss most of the racing due to the need to be present at the Marque of the Year display area for most of Sunday (not to mention Saturday). But what I did get to see looked VERY good, from an MG perspective. I sure do hope all of the MG racers, who were there this year, will return for next year’s event. My sons have both said (and I have witnesses) that, if I get my race car put back together (’66 MGB, or my late partner’s ’64 Midget), they will do all of the thrashing necessary, on race weekends. So, if I have a good winter in my workshop, you may have one more MG racer at Schenley Park, next year.

"Thanks so much for all that you and your group did for PVGP this year!"

Bud Osburne, Greater Pittsburgh MG Car Club

"What a wonderful event! I try to add a new event every year and this year, it was Pittsburgh. And I'll be back! I brought my 1932 MG J2 and it was a ball-if a little scary to drive around the park. The pavement is a mess and the bouncing in a cart sprung car- especially approaching the bridge gave me a moments pause more than once but that is the only negative in the entire weekend. The other drivers were sane and kind (I am slow in this car), the volunteers and staff were tremendous, the organization stellar and the people of Pittsburgh were universally kind and friendly. Really, our entire group commented on the fact that everyone we met from spectators to the hotel staff to people on the street just were wonderful and unhurried. I had never been to Pittsburgh before and was really surprised by its beauty and its people. If you have not done this event before, I highly recommend it. It is not the most heavy duty racing but it is a wonderful street course and a fantastic weekend."

Scot Fohrman, 1932 MG-J2, # 11 IL.

"I’ve raced at Pittsburgh many years with my MGTD, including the inaugural year of 1983. Unlike a race track which has run-off areas, this course is made up from a connection of seven different public roads, each with their own unique characteristics. There is no “Margin for Error” here! Now that my daughter Rachel had 5 years of racing my MGTD under her belt, I decided she was finally ready to take a shot at Pittsburgh, and I would be her head wrench (what a great way to spend a weekend with your daughter!). There was a wonderful turnout of MGs for it and we set up camp with the “Joisey Boyz”. Rachel went out for practice Saturday morning and all was going well. I was ready to sit back and enjoy the weekend! She volunteered to give “Lunch Rides” at the Saturday noon lunch break – good kid. But while on the course, the brake pedal on the TD started going down. Needless to say, you need good brakes at Pittsburgh! By the time she got into the paddock, the brake pedal was almost to the floor, and brake fluid was coming out of the left front wheel! Was our weekend over!! PANIC! I pulled the brake drum and inspection revealed a leaking wheel cylinder. What was I to do now? I don’t bring extra wheel cylinders to my races! I started asking around if anyone had wheel cylinders or rebuilding kits. To my surprise, MGTF racer Andy McSwigan, who lives in the area, said he was pretty sure he had a rebuilding kit at home. He drove me to his house, we started rummaging through his boxes of car parts, and YES - SUCCESS! Front cylinder rebuilding kit, which he most graciously gave to me. On the way back we stopped at an auto parts store where I picked up the other items I need to do the repairs. Back at the track, I removed the wheel cylinders, honed them out with 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper (I improvised by using my finger to rub the sandpaper around the inside bore of the cylinders), cleaned up everything, and then reassembled it all with the new parts. Rachel helped me bleed the brakes, and I crossed my fingers. She tested the MG, and said brakes were fine. And they worked well the rest of the weekend! Weekend saved!

"We also had one other most unusual problem. I check out my MG before it goes out for a race - which I was doing Sunday morning for Rachel. I took off the radiator cap, and set it on the car’s hood to check the water. I left the car for a while. When Rachel’s race group was called up to the false grid, I went to put the radiator cap back on. But “WHERE WAS THE CAP?” This is not like a small screw that’s easy to loose! We looked everywhere as they were calling the cars to line up? This wasn’t fair! To miss a race for lack of a radiator cap!! Most all the MG T’s had already gone to the false grid! Was Rachel going to miss the race? I ran down the paddock road, and sitting there was Michael Jacobsen with his 1934 MGNA Special, who was not going out in this session. I pleaded my case to him, and he graciously let me borrow the radiator cap off his MGNA, and it fit my TD. Rachel just barely made the race! Best we can conclude, is that some spectator walking by, decided it would be a nice souvenir to have from the weekend! May they be infested with lice! Later on I found that Robert Orander had an extra radiator cap with his spare parts, and he loaned it to me for the rest of the races.

"Once again - THANK YOU to my MG friends – always there to help another MG racer!!

 “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers!”

 Greg Prehodka (crew), #53 MGTD, Pa.

"A week before moving to the University of Colorado to work on my master’s degree, I made the last minute decision to race in my fathers place this year at PVGP in his MGTD. I had not been back to the Pittsburgh course since 1993 at the age of 5. Needless to say, I did not remember much about the event.

"After several warnings about the perilous nature of the course from both of my parents, I was somewhat nervous about racing on the track, but my nerves quickly subsided as excitement took over after the walking tour of the course on Friday with my instructor. It looked more like a fun drive I would take in my Mini than a race course, and I couldn't wait to get out in the MG. Things were looking good after my first session on the course in my dad’s MGTD Saturday morning. But then, while giving touring laps around the course at lunch, my brakes went soft. Fortunately, I was able to safely make it back to the paddock. There, dad determined that one of the front brake cylinders was leaking severely. Numerous MG racers came over offering whatever help they could, but without a replacement cylinder it didn't seem like there was much hope to get the MG fixed. But, we finally found MG racer Andy McSwagin who lived near by, and he happened to have a cylinder rebuild kit at his home! By the next morning the car was ready to go, and I was able to participate in all of my scheduled races on Sunday, including the all MG race.

"Overall, it was a great weekend, on a fun and unusual (and dangerous) track. Definitely a great way to spend my last weekend on the East coast!

Rachel Prehodka-Spindel, MGTD #53, Co.

Click here to watch a racing video of PVGP from Mike Barstow’s MGTD

Click here for PVGP photos taken by Mark Sherman (please give the photographer credit if you use his photos in any publication}

Click here for Sunny Sonnenrein's photos of the car show and race.

Email Greg Prehodka - he has a number of his personal photos of the event, and Mark Sherman’s “MG Race Driver’s Group Photo”, that he is willing to share.

Race results are available on the PVGP website

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Last updated on August 21, 2012.