P4-2019-09 – 2019 Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Recap
Story by Don Kleist
photos by Nancy Richardson
A few months ago I got a message from Jim Williams. He asked if we would be interested in going to Pittsburgh to see a weekend of vintage car races. I talked it over with Nancy and we decided to go.
These races are held on the roads that run through Schenley Park in downtown Pittsburg, PA. At least I think it is in downtown. The streets there are very confusing to a visitor. Few, if any streets run east-west or north-south. And the locals employ an arcane system of street signs that I was unable to crack during our two days there. It didn’t help that I was mostly following Jim and had no idea route we were using.
The overall sponsor of the races, officially called The Pittsburg Vintage Grand Prix, is the Greater Pittsburg Automobile Dealers Foundation. The group we were with was hosted by the Allegheny Region of PCA. There were a lot of Porsches, including a large contingent from the Chicago Region.
Schenley Park contains a golf course and visitors-spectators parked on the fairways. Cars of the same marque were parked together, hosted by local clubs for each marque. Near where the cars were parked were tents for serving catered food and tables and chairs to sit and eat. Near us were groups of BMWs, M-Bs and Audis. Other marques were scattered about the golf course.
What do I remember most about this event? It was HOT!!! The temperature and humidity were both in the upper 90s, and the golf course offered little in the way of shade. At least our Porsche group had ample bottled water, canned pop, and snow cones. I think we got our money’s worth just in bottled water.
Our weekend started early Friday morning as we departed for Pittsburg, hoping to arrive in time for drive sponsored by the Allegheny Region. The traffic was moderate and we made good time. The only real tie-up was getting onto the Ohio Turnpike from I280. Although we encountered several lane closures all but one was where the turnpike has three lanes each way. Necking traffic down to two lanes hardly slowed us at all.
We met Jim and Laurie at the Double Wide Grill in Mars, Pennsylvania, a northern suburb of Pittsburgh. They had driven to the Pittsburg area the day before. We met up with others who had signed up for a drive and dinner on that Friday. After the usual drivers’ meeting we set off for the back roads of western Pennsylvania. We had a fantastic drive on great, twisty roads. They were among the best I have ever driven, right up there with the roads in South Dakota that we drove while attending the last PCA Escape. This was one of the few times when I could put the PDK in Super Sport mode and really enjoy the performance of my 911.
(I haven’t yet driven The Tail of the Dragon but plan to this fall when we go to the BMW Club’s Oktoberfest in Greenville South Carolina. Oktoberfest is BMW’s version of Porsche Parade.)
After the drive we had a barbeque dinner and a brew or two at the Double Wide Grill. Then it was on to our motel for some well-deserved rest.
The next morning we headed back to Pittsburgh for the first day of the Grand Prix. We managed to find Schenley Park and got in line for directions to the Porsche area. Jim was in front of us and was given a sheet with instructions. All I got was a terse “Follow him.” Somehow the directions were confusing and we ended up outside of the Park. Imagine trying to follow a car in an unfamiliar city without even a clue as to where our destination was! I ran several yellow traffic lights, and one or two red ones, until Jim somehow found the correct route.
After parking, registering and getting some bottled water, we headed for a place to watch race practice. We had lawn chairs and umbrellas for shade, but we were in the open on a fairway and we were uncomfortably hot. But we persevered.
The racers were almost entirely foreign cars. The only Domestic cars listed on the roster of entered cars was a ’66 Chevy Yenko Stinger, which I assume is a modified Corvette, and a ’29 Ford Speedster. This is such an outlier I wonder if it is a misprint. During the races I didn’t see anything that looked like a ‘Vette or a 1920s car. The oldest cars that I could identify were three MGTDs which were from the early 1950s. The newest car entered was an ’85 BMW 325is. Scattered throughout the classes were a handful of ’70s 911s and 914s, both 4- and 6-cylinder versions.
Our viewing location gave us a fair view of three turns of the course, but we were unable see much of the course. We did, however, have a magnificent view of the tower at the University of Pittsburgh.
We watched several classes of race cars practice, then returned to the Porsche area for some shade and lunch. Again, we had barbeque, this time catered by Mission BBQ, a chain of barbeque joints.
After lunch and time to cool off a bit, we found a place near the BMW area where we had a closer view of the racers than in the morning. We watched the racers until we had had enough sunshine and humidity for the day. Jim suggested the place they ate at for dinner on Thursday night. So we were off to The Church Brew Works. Located in a former church, this is a brew pub/restaurant that specializes in, you guessed it, barbeque! The food was good and good beer is just what all of us needed after a long day in the sun.
The next morning driving to the park was a bit easier than before, but don’t ask me for directions. I’m sure I couldn’t get there on my own.
We found a good place to watch the actual races and watched from there both morning and afternoon. We experienced a short, but intense rain shower. The racing continued in the rain. The cars must have been equipped with wet weather tires as they did not stop to change tires.
When the last race finished I had had enough for one weekend. We headed our motel for a quick shower and a change into dry clothes. We chose a nearby restaurant, anything but barbeque, and enjoyed a leisurely dinner.
Jim and Laurie chose a back roads route back to Michigan while Nancy and I headed for the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes. Our return drive was mostly uneventful except for two very heavy thunderstorms we encountered in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. I estimated that visibility was less than 250 feet and traffic slowed considerably. After the rain stopped the rest of the trip was a smooth drive, but a long one. We arrived at Nancy’s house in the early afternoon, just in time for her to rescue her cats from their stay at the boarding facility.
This was definitely a different experience for both Nancy and me. The drive to Pittsburgh is a bit more that 200 miles each way, but is mostly freeway and traffic moved smartly. The Friday afternoon drive north of the Pittsburgh metro area was super, the races very entertaining, and we made several new friends in the Porsche Community. All in all, it was a wonderful weekend get-away.