While most large racing series are getting back to beginning operations, one vintage racing group in Southern California is ahead of the curve.
In the middle of California farmland tucked between Fresno and Los Angeles sits the small Buttonwillow Raceway Park. The track is not known for any ties to Formula 1 or NASCAR and hosts no part in a triple crown.
Outside of the west coast of the United States of America, the name “Buttonwillow” is most likely unknown to many modern racers. But on Saturday, May 16 and Sunday, May 17, the track represented the ingenuity and dedication that local race enthusiasts have by hosting one of the first organized vintage races in the modern COVID-19 era.
Enter the Vintage Auto Racing Association (VARA), a mainly regional vintage racing association founded in 1973 which hosts fields of cars ranging from big tire muscle cars of the Trans Am era to the pre-war classics of yesteryear.
The series is run by a tight-knit group of racing enthusiasts seeking no fortune or fame, but only to allow fellow racing enthusiasts a platform to partake in the activity most cherished: auto racing.
Under normal circumstances, racing of some kind happens on any given weekend around the world. Unfortunately, the current setting has put a hold on all racing big and small. While major racing series have the financial reserves to sustain this rough period for a longer amount of time, smaller regional series must operate in order to survive.
This past weekend, VARA hosted its British Extravaganza at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in full compliance with local social distancing regulations. It featured digital driver and staff meetings, facemasks worn by essential workers, distance between staff members and limitations on attendance of the event to drivers and essential staff only.
The racing went as smoothly as ever, which goes to show that small regional racing series that depend on registration fees can indeed operate amid the new normal while giving all involved an authentic and safe racing experience.
While participation numbers were understandably reduced, a wide variety of skilled drivers showed up and put on impressive driving displays now common within VARA.
It is risky to be the first person to act in the current environment, given the balance between being safe and continuing on with essential actions. It is a tightrope act that many small businesses may be too timid to walk.
While questions still exist as to how and when things will improve to the point of being able to return to regular life, one thing that is certain is that vintage racing cannot and will not fade away as long as passionate motorsports enthusiasts continue to serve as stewards for the history and camaraderie tied to it.
If series such as VARA can find the will and the way during times like these, then we as racing enthusiasts have a chance. The template has been set for other racing series big and small across the United States. As daunting as operating in the COVID-19 era might be, the possibility to safely race is here to stay with passion and a racer’s eye at ingenuity.