Formula Junior Race at Thompson Vintage Festival 2014
by Joseph DeLucia
Listening to Bob Goeldner speak at the Friday evening FJHNA celebration at the newly renovated Thompson raceway, I couldn’t help but think how much these wonderful Formula Junior cars have gone through since they first appeared on the racing circuits in the late 1950’s. To be sure, it was especially touching to see that Bob, an FJ racer during it’s heyday, was somewhat emotional when thanking all of us for being there. It was barely 3 years ago that you would be lucky to see more than 2 or 3 of these “trainers” for Formula 1 drivers on the track at the same time. To see so many FJ racers was a tribute to their ability to maintain an attraction not soon found in any other group of vintage racer cars, an attraction the passage of time evidently has not diminished.
Seeing Don Dingman’s OSCA come off the trailer on Thursday’s track day, one of 4 front engine FJ’s, I knew this was going to be a great renaissance for this track as so many FJ cars and stars of that era raced at Thompson in the day. Thursday was hot and humid with the sky threatening to open up but held off until severe thunderstorms crashed through the skies at 1 AM Friday morning. From then on in, the weather was perfection, adding more good karma to an already exciting weekend. The only other glitch was being brand new, the asphalt had come up in three spots on the track. Thompson management was on top of it and, entering the day before the open track day, you could see road crews repaving those spots. The crews’ diligence in getting the job done paid off.
Thompson’s new road track, although not like it’s predecessor, did retain some of the elements of the original layout. The part of the course utilizing the original oval was repaved. However the transition from the road course to the oval at two spots was a bit unsettling to the cars. After a lap or two, you became accustomed to it and corrected accordingly. As there is little run off and jersey barriers behind scantily equipped impact-absorbing material (on the improvement list for next year), the course was a 9/10ths circuit all the way.
The track day had six 20-minute sessions. Nick Grewal in his Lotus 27 and Bob Goeldner in the Brabham BT2 promised to be the front-runners. Unfortunately Bob was plagued with car trouble all weekend and except for some stellar qualifying laps, had to retire on race day. Nick had a small shunt in the race but no one was injured and after an all course black flag, the Sunday race continued with Josh Mitchell, driving Jerry Morici’s Lotus 18 to first place.
The front-engine cars were dicing on track day. Larry McKenna, seen for the first time in years with his gorgeous oxblood painted Stanguellini dueled nobly with the blue Stanguellini of Bill Gelles. Victor Pastore in his green Elva 100 and Dingman’s sicilian blood orange OSCA did crowd pleasing battle on a continual basis.
This joint adventure between the VSCCA and the VRG will be a keeper and the FJHNA expects this venue to become a prime FJ event in the Northeast. Given the present attitude for race organizers to give FJ racers their own grid, we expect to see great FJ growth for the Thompson Vintage Festival.