Put-in-Bay — The Put-in-Bay vintage sports car races continue to evolve from a quirky little “Reunion” event back in 2009 to one of the most enjoyable vintage racing experiences in North America, according to many participants. (Text and photos contributed by Manley Ford, Put-in-Bay Road Race Heritage Society)
This year’s 10th annual event again took place on Ohio’s historic South Bass Island where sports cars raced through the public streets from 1952 to 1959 and in 1963. Today a 20-minute ride on the Miller Ferry from Port Clinton, OH takes entrants back in time to an island enclave seemingly little changed from 60 years ago. Catering primarily to smaller-bore pre-‘73 cars, today’s Put-in-Bay Sports Car Race revival is designed for those who especially value a low-key race environment in a relaxed, nostalgic setting where the emphasis is on camaraderie and fun.
For the 2018 event, organizers responded to mounting event-scheduling conflicts on the bustling summer-resort island and moved the event from its traditional — since 2013 — late August date to the middle of the last week of September. So this year racing was held on Tuesday and Wednesday September 25 and 26 when little else was taking place on the small island. Unique in vintage racing for inviting both racing- and non-racing entries, the event drew a wide variety of vintage production cars, sports racers, and open wheel cars.
Featured cars for PIB 2018 were the Austin Healey Sprite Mk I (Bugeye), which first arrived on the sports car scene sixty years ago, and Porsche, celebrating its 70th year. Numerous examples of both marques were on hand including — at one end of the spectrum — a couple of delightfully original Bugeyes and — on the other end — a Le Mans winning Porsche 962 (display and touring lap only) brought to the event along with some other stunning race entries by Stan and Malcolm Ross of Columbus, OH. Overall, entries hailed from fifteen U.S. states and two Canadian Provinces.
As in past years, races comprised four race groups plus an exhibition group. While rain threatened initially on Tuesday and caused a brief delay, it was pretty much gone by the afternoon, and Wednesday yielded about the most glorious and comfortable racing weather anyone could ask for.
At the end of two full days of racing around the 1.2 mile Put-in-Bay Airport circuit, the top placing cars from the production and sports racer groups were invited to race for “King of the Rock” honors in the traditional Put-in-Bay Cup Race, again won (fourth consecutive year) by Joey Bojalad in his fast and smoothly driven Elva Mk VI.
New this year was a combined “race-within-a-race” competition where those who entered D-H Production classes at both July’s Waterford Hills Vintage Races and this year’s Put-in-Bay Races became eligible for the first annual Great Lakes Vintage Challenge (GLVC) earning points based on finishing positions in the group races in both events (see race results for this year’s winners). Next year, organizers expect to expand the Great Lakes Vintage Challenge to include, C Production, B, C and D Sedans, and Formula Vees and to include VSCDA’s annual event at Grattan in the points chase.
Put-in-Bay – Not Just a Race – It’s a Customer Pleasing Event!
PIB 2018 kicked off with a car show where both race and non-race entrants displayed their cars at Heineman’s Winery (an island institution). Despite ominous skies it was a spectacular array of cars in a charming setting. As a light drizzle began, the car show was followed by a briskly paced original course tour through the town escorted by the cooperative and supportive Put-in-Bay Police Department. Sirens blared and engines roared as island residents waved flags around the route and while spectators lined the streets and cheered their favorite cars. As always, the tour provided a rolling spectacle to viewers along the route and a chance for drivers to get a sense of what it was like to actually race the narrow and rough roads of Put-in-Bay “back in the day”.
Other diversions included lunch-hour track touring for entered street cars, increasingly popular and zany “rocker cover races”, several social gatherings, and the Put-in-Bay Chamber of Commerce’s free trackside “Fan Zone” providing bleachers and plenty of nearby concessions for spectators and entrants.
Another popular feature is the opening-evening wine and cheese reception featuring an interview session with a returning veteran of the original ‘50s-era races. This year’s special guest was John Petrone Sr. of Kirtland, OH who delightfully recounted stories from his days racing a Triumph TR3 at Put-in-Bay back in the ‘50s.
Yet another social event was added to the schedule this year – an optional lunch held at the Put-in-Bay Yacht Club during the Tuesday racing schedule providing a break for long-suffering spouses and supporters. Island classic-MG owner Laureen Mooney and race supporter Karen Diehl of Diehl Insurance spearheaded the lunch, which included a silent auction benefiting ALS research. Nearly 50 attended and all gave rave reviews.
At the post-race awards on Wednesday evening (see race results) the event’s highest honor, The Paul Henry Award, was presented to the entrant deemed best representing the “spirit” of the Put-in-Bay Road Races. This year’s recipient is Ralph Zbarsky who brought his historically significant, factory built Targa Florio and Sebring ’67 MGBGT all the way from Vancouver British Columbia to compete in the E Production class. In a note to organizers on his way home, Ralph wrote:
“I just wanted to let you know that your … event is top notch. It was a great personal honour to receive the Paul Henry award for 2018, and meet some of the previous winners. Your team deserves a ton of credit for all the hard work you put in to have such a great event. The community support is remarkable, the other competitors were sharp and respectful, and to race through hay bales (at an) airport brings me way back to a hundred years ago doing that at the Bremerton airport…. anyone who has not experienced that type of racing has not really raced.”
Tentative Dates Set for 2019 Put-in-Bay Sports Car Races; Event to Feature “Tin Tops”
2019 dates are tentatively set for September 24th to 27th with racing on Wednesday the 25th and Thursday the 26th, one day later in the calendar than the 2018 schedule. PIB2019 will celebrate “Tin Top” sedans in various classes including Minis, Volvos, VWs, Cortinas, Alfas, Corvairs, BMWs, and Datsuns to name a few brands. “Heck, we may even consider Barracudas, Falcons and Dodge Darts,” commented race director, Jack Woehrle. “ Should be fun!”
2019 will mark the 10th anniversary year of the event, which started in 2009 with a modest reunion. It wasn’t until 2012 that the event initially included wheel-to-wheel vintage racing, so 2019 will actually be the event’s 8th racing event.
The Put-in-Bay vintage sports car races generally welcome drivers of vintage race-prepared pre-1973 production cars up to 3 liters, sports racers up to 2 liters, Formula Vees, Formula Jrs. and Formula Fords, but exceptions for larger bore cars have been made for significant cars that otherwise fit the age and preparation criteria.
For more information see http://www.pibroadrace.com.