Smithology Gets A Taste Of Velocity Invitational

You are what you love, as Jenny Lewis sang, and not what loves you back. Related: When someone calls and offers to let you meet a Ferrari 250 GTO, you stare at the nearest wall while thinking smoochy thoughts of V-12 howl and trying to blink your eyes clear out of your head.

A GTO is inanimate. It cannot love you back.

Not that you don’t ponder those dozen pistons at full rip and try to argue the point.

Thank Jeff O’Neill for all this. O’Neill, 64, is a vintner from Northern California. His gray hair seems perpetually ruffled, and his eyes go bright in a paddock. A while back, he noticed that something had shifted in vintage racing: Years of steep appreciation had made a certain kind of historic race car bonzo expensive, even by the standards of the realm, and as a result, those cars were disappearing from public view, replaced by clones and tributes or nothing at all. A pastime built on the sharing of big history was beginning to lose the “big” part.

O’Neill is a vintage racer himself. He began griping to friends: People deserve to experience this stuff, see it run, we have a responsibility to not sock it away. How machines with rich pasts are basically living stories, and if you don’t share those stories, they get forgotten.

A pal told O’Neill to stop harping and do something, so he did. An event was founded. Former Monterey Historics impresario Steve Earle was drafted to help coax out potent cars rarely seen in daylight. Things like GTOs and Porsche 917s signed on, plus a raft of hyper-rare sports cars and prototypes, drawn by a promise of close but respectful racing, no jerks allowed. Mercedes-AMG agreed to send a Formula 1 demo team and have development driver Esteban Gutiérrez aim an old Lewis Hamilton car at the lap record. The paddock was planned around spectators, with a kids area and wine tasting. Race cars were hosted in group-hug tents, like at Goodwood, family-style and shoulder-to-shoulder.

The sum of that planning went down at Sears Point in Spring of 2019. O’Neill called it the Sonoma Speed Festival. Spectators loved it. That HAM tub blew the lap record to pieces. The whole thing felt special.

Read the full article by Sam Smith here.