History in Motion
FARMER’S KORNER – Those who like sports cars and fast driving have probably thought about what it would be like to race the winding road over Swan Mountain. Saturday, about 40 vintage car owners did what those drivers have only imagined.
Summit Historics in Breckenridge, a first-time celebration of transportation organized by Denver’s Mathews Racing and Nostalgia Racing to benefit the Summit Historical Society, drew classic cars, boats and bikes to Summit County this weekend. The event included the timed hill climb up Swan Mountain Road, as well as a “concourse d’elegance” show at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge and a banquet.
“From a history standpoint, sports cars – vehicles in general – are a big part of it,” said Randy Swan, Summit Historical Society executive director. “This is a unique event and that’s what we’re aiming for: historical attractions that bring people into Summit County.”
At the Riverwalk Center, classic vehicles ranging from vintage Willys Jeeps, Model T Fords, Deusenbergs and Cadillacs to CrisCraft boats and turn-of-the-century high-wheel bicycles were on display. The show included period music, judging and awards in various categories. Owners beamed as young and old spectators paused to have their pictures taken with the historic modes of conveyance. The show even brought out historic individuals, Swan said, such as Dr. John Smith, Summit County’s only physician for much of the ’50s and ’60s.
“He even brought out his finned Cadillac and his Nash American,” Swan said. “This is great history – of transportation, and Summit County.”
About 60 cars owned by members of Nostalgia Racing, a Denver club for racers and fans of older autos, tested their nerves on Swan Mountain. The club set up paddocks, or race pit areas, at Farmer’s Korner outside Summit High School. Classic cars braving the winding road included Austin Healys, Austin Coopers, Triumphs, Midgets, Minis, Corvettes, Porsches, Formula Fords and even a Datsun.
According to club member and classic racing aficionado Rob VanWestenberg, drivers get into the hobby for the adrenaline and passion for cars, but stay in for the friendship.
“We’re a good bunch of friends, but we’re also pretty competitive,” VanWestenberg said. “It’s like a lot of other hobbies – there’s great camaraderie. And we lie to each other, say how fast we went when we know we didn’t go that fast.”
VanWestenberg brought his 1965 Jaguar KE, 1965 Corvette and 1972 Elden Formula Ford up from Evergreen for the event. He’s an engineer during the week, but Saturday saw him dressed in full racing gear – fireproof shoes, Nomex racing pants and jacket and a helmet. He admitted it’s an expensive passion, pointing to his $120,000 in cars, but he said anyone can learn to drive like the club’s racers.
“It takes some money, but it also takes commitment and time,” he said. “But anybody can do it. All of us have gone through driving schools at some level or another and gotten certified, but it’s really all about getting used to the speed and getting to know your car.”
The event drew more than drivers, too. Race steward Chuck Wadleigh of Arvada used to race autocross, but for the past 37 years has worked on the sidelines of the races. Fellow race worker Carol Pennebaker has been helping keep car races flowing smoothly since 1961. The pair said there’s still plenty of adrenaline around the track to keep them coming back.
“The people are what make this great – I love them,” Pennebaker said. “And it takes both sides, the drivers and the crew, to put a race together.”
Just the first heat?
Organizers of the event hope to come back to Breckenridge and Summit County in future years. Members of Nostalgia Racing said there’s been a hole in their race schedule since Steamboat opted not to continue its racing event six years ago.
“We like to have a mountain event,” VanWestenberg said. “Steamboat was great, and it’s kind of strange they let it drop, considering it was their biggest weekend of the year – even over winter. We like to stimulate the local economy.”
And the racers said they like Breckenridge. The Summit County venue allows the club members to bring their wives and children, who, even if they don’t want to watch the races, can find something else to do. Some club members estimated twice as many women and families as usual attended this weekend’s event for that reason.
Mathews Racing partner Jimmy Aretakis said his new goal, and the goal of Nostalgia Racing, is to develop the Breckenridge festival and Swan Mountain hill climb into an annual event. Aretakis said the clubs hope to convince Breckenridge residents and officials, and the greater Summit County community, that the Summit Historics in Breckenridge event can complement the pre-Labor Day slowdown businesses typically see.
Aretakis said he and other club members are pursuing the possibility of building a closed race course at the gravel pit now operated by Alpine Rock north of Breckenridge. Instead of bringing 60 cars to town, he said, such a venue could draw as many as 200 cars.
“We’ve already designed a track, we’ve got a club member who’s an engineer to do the work pro bono and another who’s a lawyer familiar with these types of deals,” Aretakis said. “We can do this, it’s just a question of how much the town wants it.”
Breckenridge Mayor Sam Mamula could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or email@example.com.
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