SAAC 22—Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin 1997
22nd Annual SAAC Convention
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin 13-17 July 1997
CobraCountry coverage by SAAC’s Greg Kolasa
This year SAAC headed into the great American midwest (Wisconsin, to be precise) for the 22nd Annual Shelby American Automobile Club Convention.
We’ve been into Michigan before, and this was the first time SAAC’ers took to the long, fast, rolling, 4-mile “Road America” track at Elkhart Lake. The track is rich in history, and unusual in the fact that it’s probably the only track around that exists in the same form in which it was constructed some 40+ years ago.
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Rob Walton (Incline Village, Nevada) taking his Cobra Daytona coupe on a spin around the track.
Events began On Sunday 13 July with early registration, swap meet setup and tech inspection. “Fast Track” was running a driving school at the track, along with a Porsche Club event, and it was the first opportunity to see some actual driving at Road America. It was also a first chance to become acquainted with what was to become a standby feature of the entire convention (and vintage races following, for those lingering for that event):the mosquitoes! Swarms of ’em. I’m not talking about an occasional bug or two, I’m talking you better not even think of going outdoors for anything longer than a nanosecond without having been thoroughly sprayed up. Apparently, Wisconsin was subjected to its “100-year” rain only a few weeks before, and these little buggers were the result. Each year, there seems to be a unique hot commodity at the swap meet, and this year it was definitely “Off” (the insect repellent) preferably the industrial strength “Deep Woods” variety.
Lee Holman (Charlotte, NC) shows (at right) just how low a GT40 is (40″, hence the name “GT40”) as he passes a ’69 Shelby on the main straight. The car is his newly-built GT40 P/201, the first of 16 “continuation” MkIIs built by him.
Another MkII was Ken Quintenz’ (Columbus, Ohio) GT40 P/1016, shown at left. This is the 3rd-place finishing car driven by Ronnie Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson. What glitters isn’t (all) gold: the dayglo pink patches were employed to prevent confusion with other gold-painted GT40s during pit stops.
Sunday, 13 July: Tech began at noon (Sunday), and ran until 5:00pm, with the usual mélange of Shelby stuff being run thru: Shelby Mustangs, Cobras and repli-Cobras, late-model Mustangs and GT40s of every variety. The weather was cooperating (more about this later!), and everyone started settling in for the event.
Monday, 14 July: Tech and registration set up early, and cars started piling in for the ritual “pink and white forms, please, step on the brakes, show us your helmet, coolant catchcan OK”, etc. etc. .Track began running as usual: tech until 8:00am, driver’s meeting at 8:00, first-timer’s driver’s meeting at 8:30, first group out at 9:00. SAAC chief Rick Kopec conducted the drivers’ meeting, which covers the rules and regulations of the event, culminating in a focus upon the track itself–the layout of the corners, the fast areas, the slow ones, and so on. Following wrap-up of that, it was to the cars for the first group out, “A” cars. Running began, and almost immediately it looked like this was going to be one of “those” open tracks, with a late model Mustang sliding off into one of the corner gravel traps (the victim of an uninitiated driver mistakenly running in too advanced a group). The mêlée was sorted out and soon the “learning curve” was showing its form, with convention and Road America staff and corner workers falling into a routine.
No helmets and smiling little faces indicate that these are the “Kids’ Laps”, always an SAAC favorite.
The Swap Meet (or ‘Boot Sale’ for you Shelby buffs in Britain) got going full-steam ahead in the upper paddock, and SAAC 22 was off and running. As usual there were five run groups, A thru E. ‘A’ was reserved for the competition cars, guys with a handful of track and/or vintage racing experience, with B and D, C and E being the intermediate and novice groups, respectively. Two sessions ran, then it was lunch time, with the traditional “Kids’ Laps,” run at seriously reduced speeds. As you may surmise, the term “Kids” takes on a very broad definition, with “kids” falling into the 8-62 age category Seriously, it’s a good time for anyone who isn’t running a car to hop into a car with a camera, and shoot the track (cameras aren’t allowed in the later passenger session, for obvious reasons). Later on in the convention there were 88 cars running in the popular Kids’ Laps sessions.
The popularity of the Kids’ Laps can be gauged by the better-than 70 cars in the hot pits, ready to take to the track.
The Passenger Lap sessions were run behind a pace car to keep the speeds somewhat sane (although one intrepid pace car driver, mindful of not running too slow .a pace, managed to give his passenger a “driver’s eye view” of a 180 in Turn five!). The remainder of the passenger laps were run without incident. Track ceased at 5:30 with the completion of the ladies’ session, and all headed off to their respective hotels/motels/bed and breakfasts for the evening.
The engine room of Ken Thompson’s (Denver, North Carolina) beautiful MkIIB replica, built essentially from scratch, and well-nigh impossible to distinguish from an original MkII.
One of the exciting moments came when Mike Davis (Huntington Beach, California) went a bit wide into Turn 14, and launched his ’66 GT350 thru the chainlink fence. The ‘hook’ returned his wrinkled car to the paddock. Particularly impressive was that Mike’s ‘Stang was back in action and on the track only a few days later.
Archie Urciuoli (Riverside, Connecticut) in J-11 (shown at left), sporting a ’67 MkIV chassis completed in the ’80s. The car is a virtual clone of J-5, the Foyt/Gurney Lemans winner. Here he decelerates for Turn 3.
Tuesday, 15 July: This would be a rerun of the day before, with the exception of the tech seminars beginning at 1:00pm in the tent that would later serve as the dinner/evening program location (more about this later!). The event started some years back as a tech seminar (or rather, series of seminars) “taught” by people with an unusual amount of knowledge on a particular subject. It was the place to learn specific, often intimate details about Shelby machine history. The event changed more to a question-and-answer format beginning several years ago. The highlight for the ’65 and ’66 Tech Tables was the appearance of GT350 Project Engineer Chuck Cantwell. It’s an humbling experience to be sitting at a table, the designated “expert” on the ’66 Shelby, when along comes the man who orchestrated the entire project! A super guy, Cantwell spent a whole bunch of time talking and answering questions about the Mustang.
Dave Felstein (Terre Haute, Indiana) and CSX2229 at the races. This car has morphed over the years from a mild-mannered (if that term could ever .be rightfully employed to describe a 289 slabside Cobra) street car into a full-blown vintage racer.
Can’t swing an real Cobra or GT40? No problem: there were scale-model kits aplenty in the paddock. These are masterfully executed ceramic car sculptures.
Wednesday, 16 July: This would be the last day of open track, but not of the convention. The day started out fairly normally, with registration, tech, drivers’ meeting and open track-running going off without hitch. By now, all were really getting into the “groove” of open track, and this seemed to be the smoothest-running day of all. The evening would contain the BBQ dinner and evening program, a chance to hear a few words form the guys “who were there,” guys like Chuck Cantwell and Peter Brock, drivers such as Bob Johnson and Tom Payne, and of course, the man with his name on all of our trunk lids, Carroll Shelby
A sky with an attitude: track running continued normally, although there were rumors of some severe thunderstorms in the area, and with this being located in the tornado belt, track safety personnel kept a watchful eye on the weather. Near 3:00pm, it started taking on an unsettling persona. The ladies’ running began, with the sky assuming a dark, ominous tint, although the nasty weather was still to the north. The open track ended, and cars were shut down as the SAAC’ers began filling the big dinner tent. It was about this time that the elements started picking up in tempo. The first hint was when the entire tent started lifting to the heavens (not a good sign); several of the tent poles buckled and the tent sides began wildly flapping in the “breeze.” Then came an public-address system announcement that 70+ mph winds were only five minutes away, and all should head for the nearest under-track tunnel immediately. The tunnel was packed with us SAAC’ers as rain came down in sheets. The tornado winds never really came; the heavy rains finally subsided, and we emerged from the tunnel unscathed. No tornado formed, although there were reports of one touching down a quarter mile from the track.
With a possible tornado only minutes away, why is this man (huddled with other SAAC’ers in the under-track tunnel) grinning? It’s because when he evacuated the tent, he had the forethought to bring his dinner plate!
Thursday, 17 July: The last day of SAAC 22. The day began cloudy and cooler. This was Carshow Day for popular vote and concours cars. Shortly after arrival at the track, rain started falling, but it soon subsided and the skies brightened. Cars were toweled off; the voting began, judged for the concours, and by show participants for the popular vote show. Today would be the first day of practice for the historic races, so wandering thru the carshow area also provided one an opportunity to look over some of the machinery participating in the weekend’s historic races. The swap meet continued, and early afternoon saw the awarding of popular-vote carshow trophies.
Friday, 18 July: Historic Races: Friday was the second day of vintage race practice, and saw the relocation of the Swap Meet (those vendors who remained) to the lower paddock. Vintage racers practiced, and twice during the day “King” Shelby arrived to hold court. It’s not necessary to say that the man attracts people like sugar attracts ants, and there was always a rush to purchase tickets for Mr. Shelby’s autograph sessions.
Is a caption really necessary?
“Ol’ Shel” at one of the afternoon autograph sessions.
The evening would see the parade of race cars from the track to Siebken’s Resort (an Elkhart Lake institution) for the evening concours in the streets of downtown Elkhart Lake. The streets would be crammed to overflowing with people, so many that it was nearly impossible to see the cars until one nearly tripped over one. Some of the Shelbys that ran the open track event would be competing in the historic races, so here Was a good chance to see the cars really close up. Just before dark (some of the racers were sans headlights), the cars fired up and paraded back to the track.
Saturday would be another vintage race practice session in the morning and qualifying in the afternoon. The evening would see the same type of parade to Siebken’s, this time with sports cars. Again, the streets of Elkhart Lake overflowed with cars and spectators, and just before dark, off they again went, back to the track.
Viewed from the start-finish bridge, this how a session of SAAC opentrack looks.
Historic Race Day, Sunday 20 July: The good weather still held. Warmups in the morning and the racing started later on in the morning. Group 6 of the vintage races was a group heavily populated with the Shelbys and Cobras that were seen at the convention open track. Just after lunch there was a special all-Shelby race to commemorate Shelby, the honored marque at this year’s races. Carroll Shelby took a “lap of honor” in one of his new CSX4000 component Cobras, following a pace car with the strobe lights flashing. Track personnel maintained that the pace car was to call more attention to Shelby in the Cobra, although many felt it was to keep him from cinching the lap belts down and sticking his foot in it. He completed the lap, parked the Cobra, and said a few words Road America was one of his favorites because it was still the same track as it was when it was built in the ’50s. He said it hadn’t been “improved”like so many of the other tracks, and when asked which car he favored in the all-Shelby race, Carroll quipped “Well, I sold them all, so it’d be kind of nice to see them ALL .win.” The all-Shelby race was won by Carl Schiffmeyer (Barrington Hills, Illinois) in his ’64 Cobra, and he accepted the trophy from Carroll. Group 6 ran later in the afternoon, sometimes looking exactly like things did in the ’60s with GT350s, Cobras and Boss Mustangs circling the track; in the end, the Shelby hardware was handily upstaged by a platoon of Corvettes. Oh, well, one can’t win ’em all.
Next year’s (1998) SAAC22 convention: Charlotte Motor Speedway,
Charlotte, North Carolina 8-9-10-11 July, 1998
This 22nd Annual SAAC Convention coverage was ready for you to view on 8 August, 1997, courtesy of Greg Kolasa of SAAC and the staff of Cobra Country!
Editor’s note: Greg Kolasa is the Hertz and GT40 Registrar for SAAC, and has owned SFM6S1900 (a black/gold ’66 Hertz/Shelby GT350H) for over 15 years, and has built several GT350 and GT40 models for feature articles in “Fine Scale Modeler” magazine.
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