WATKINS GLEN - While Tim Sager was happy with his fine finish Saturday in the Glenora Wine Cellars U.S. Vintage Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International, the Buffalo-based driver's best memory came from a far greater personal and emotional moment during the weekend.
Watkins Glen International and the Village of Watkins Glen took time to remember their sports car racing heritage with the running of the Grand Prix. The on-track activity, which attracted 370 vintage sports car entries encompassing 11 competition groups, was sanctioned by the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA).
Also, in conjunction with the activity at the track, the 20th annual Grand Prix Festival of Watkins Glen presented by Chemung Canal Trust Co. was held in the village Friday.
The festival featured daylong activity highlighted by the SVRA cars participating in a reenactment of the first street race ever held in Watkins Glen, in 1948. The reenactment ran through the streets and surrounding countryside of the village on the original 6.6-mile circuit.
Sager raced to a solid sixth-place finish in Saturday's Group 3 class race in his 1978 Fiat 124, but the biggest moment of his weekend came Friday.
Sager participated in the reenactment and had the pleasure of having his father, Tom Sager Sr., age 74, riding with him around the village circuit. It was a special and emotional moment Tim Sager will never forget.
"I got to take my dad with me," he said. "My dad suffered a stroke last year. He has some disabilities that are related to that. He went to the majority of the street races here as a kid and he's been to this track every year since then. It's probably close to 60 years that he's been coming here.
"When he was riding with me last night I just looked over at him and saw him smiling. It was just awesome. It made my weekend."
As far as Saturday morning's Group 3 race was concerned, Sager battled early rainy conditions.
"The race actually went very well," he said. "I was a little nervous on the grid because it started to rain. We were out there with a dry setup and dry race tires. It stopped raining although there were some spots on the track that were damp. Actually, going into the bus stop I locked it up on the first lap and that was a little scary. But I just kept the pace."
Brian McKie of Grand Island placed 20th overall in Saturday's Group 3 joust.
Among the other Western New Yorkers present with SVRA at The Glen was Bob Fairbanks of Portville, who drove his Austin Cooper to a 24th overall finish in Saturday's Group 1 DS class. Fairbanks' team is named Back Marker Racing.
"I just went out and rolled around. I had a great time," Fairbanks said. "I didn't even break anything. About 20 years ago, I gave the Back Marker Racing name to myself because I figured that I was going to be at the back of the pack. That's who I am.
"I've been vintage racing for 22 years. I watched a television program years ago with Paul Newman and Mario Andretti and they were talking about Paul not getting into racing until he was 47 years old. My wife said to me at the time, 'Hey, you are 47. So when are you going to start racing?' I said right now. So I started driving. I'm going to celebrate my 70th birthday in two days.
"Anytime you come off the track if you got oil pressure and if your temperature is not 240 degrees and you're able to drive your car on the trailer, in vintage racing that's called a successful weekend."
While Fairbanks was able to finish Saturday's Group 1 race, Sanborn's Bob Deull was not so fortunate. Deull, who raced in the Group 1 PW (Pre-war) category, blew his engine, finishing 32nd overall.
"I was having a lot of fun out there," said Deull who drives a 1940 Atlas Ford. "The car seemed to be going faster than it ever went. That might be part of the problem. I did have a pre-war Alfa spin in front of me in 'The Boot' and I was heading for his right rear tire. I was just able to get enough over to the left to avoid hitting him.
"I didn't want to hit that car because that's a multimillion-dollar car. I didn't want to hit anything. A couple laps after that, coming into Turn 10, I felt the car starting to slow down and I started hearing some strange noises and all of a sudden the motor blew and there was oil and steam coming out all over the windshield."
Kenmore's Joe Puma placed 20th overall in the Group 1 race.
Hamburg's Ed McMahon was set to run the Group 8 race Saturday morning but he, along with many others, elected to skip the race due to the rain.
"I no longer race in the rain. I have no rain tires," said McMahon, a local insurance agency owner. "I raced a Pantera in the rain one time and I put it underneath a bridge at Elkhart Lake, Wis., backwards. So I learned. . If you don't have rain tires you are going to die.
"I've been racing 23 years and it's all my wife's fault," said a laughing McMahon, who raced a 1972 Ford Pinto last weekend.
"My brother and I had street Panteras and we decided we were going to kill ourselves so they gave us a safe driving course. My older brother convinced me to switch it for a road racing course down in Atlanta without telling our wives. They were slightly surprised."
Jon McKnight, director of events for SVRA, was pleased with the weekend, calling it "our most important event of the year."
This weekend's event at The Glen was the last under the current SVRA ownership. Today, the New Hampshire-based SVRA will close on a sale to new owner Parella Racing LLC.