This Is Why We Love Classic Motorsports

The Classic Motorsports Mitty is one of the longest running historic racing events in the United States.

While it’s not as well attended as its West Coast sister, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, I was shocked by the variety of cars in attendance at Road Atlanta a few weeks ago.

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As Datsun/Nissan was the featured marque, a large portion of the paddock was dominated by the red, white, and blue meatball; contrary to what my photos might reveal, there was no shortage of attendance from other marques.

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Some notable members included a real Bill Thomas Cheetah, a Yenko Stinger Corvair, and an entourage of Porsche products that would rival Monterey.

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Rob Fuller and his crew from Z Car Garage supported three of the cars at this year’s event: the #46 BRE Z tribute car – owned by Randy Jaffe – as well as a C10 Skyline vintage racer and a Nissan Bluebird Coupe, both of which were owned and driven by Alex McDowell. John Morton, serving as both Grand Marshall of this year’s event and driver for the BRE tribute Z, spent a sizable chunk of his weekend behind the wheel. Time seems to have done little to slow Morton down as he slid back into the Road Atlanta groove.

A track that Morton is very familiar with through the many racing series he participated in, including his groundbreaking Small Bore Trans Am championship wins in 1971 and 1972 in the BRE 510, Road Atlanta appeared to treat him like an old friend. Throughout the week Morton’s times fell steadily until disaster struck on Friday morning. A rod was thrown and put a hole in both sides of the straight six’s block. The high speed straights of Road Atlanta are killer on motors. At nearly 9,000rpm, even small hiccups can result in catastrophic damage for such highly strung race motors.

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The Z Car Garage paddock was buzzing with action following the session. Before many of us had even had a chance to find out what happened the car was thrown on jack stands and a truck had been dispatched to find an engine hoist. Removing the motor was the first step to getting the Grand Marshall back on track that weekend, but an obstacle loomed. There was no spare motor.

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Unlike contemporary racing events, historic and vintage events like this are rarely treated with competitive spirit that would drive a car owner to bring a spare race motor. Half-shafts, differentials, and even transmissions are considered wear items, and are expected to fail on track. But motors? Let’s just say that for most vintage racers, a blown motor is the end of your weekend. This left Fuller and the crew in a tight spot, and they soon began searching for replacement blocks. Out of what appeared to be thin air, two L series long-blocks arrived in the back of another pickup.

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Z Car Garage wasted no time beginning to inspect the motors – with the intention of swapping the head, induction, and exhaust onto one of these motors. But the blocks of these motors wouldn’t be a good match for the extremely high compression head that was in the Z. A slightly less ambitious, but equally risky swap went underway: the long-block would remain untouched as the triple Solex carburetors and header were transplanted to the new – but very old – motor.

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I was curious to learn more about the origin of these motors. As it turns out, they were pulled from 70s IT race cars back in 1979 and put under a bench in a Georgia shop until that day. Many of us were nervous. An untouched 40-year-old motor on this track? It seemed absurd. I left the track that evening feeling unsure of Morton’s return to racing that weekend.

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Friday left a heavy casualty count on the Datsun side of the event. Throughout the day several other cars had fallen victim to mechanical issues and even a few collisions. Glenn Chiou, owner/driver of the #39 Vip’s Racing Z, also found himself pulling out driveline components. He and his wife, Patricia, spent their fair share of time swapping differentials chasing harsh vibrations. This was a necessary evil, as the length of the straights at Road Atlanta required Chiou to swap out his normal diff for one capable of higher top speeds.

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Alas, he his only option was a welded diff from Dave Stone, owner/driver of the #93 Frelson 510. The comradery of the Datsun racers was pretty incredible that weekend – a phenomena you would never have seen in the decades these cars were racing competitively.

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When I returned to the track on Saturday I was greeted with a BRE Z basking in the morning light, reassembled at last. Morton ran the car during that morning’s qualifying race – and he was quicker.

After shaving nearly a second off his best times from the day before, Morton emerged from the Z with only one complaint: “It’s got less power now.” Some kind of magic connection had been made between the legendary driver and that four-decade-old motor, and as the two came to an understanding, Morton found himself on the podium. In the race that afternoon Morton took third.

Check out Z Car Garage’s in-car video of John Morton driving the #46 BRE 240Z above, and more images from this amazing event below.

Matt Dockery
Instagram: meanwagon
Website: Off Camber Images

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20 comments

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1
Cohen Baggerly

That bluebird is such a nice looking car! Keep up the sick builds guys!

2

Lovely coverage, thanks for these!! Were there any old IMSA monsters there? Or more older and GT oriented stuff?

3
Matthew Dockery

Apologies for the double post.

4
Matthew Dockery

There were a few! My personal favorite was this Vega. I've never seen one of these get built into something as mean as an IMSA car, but hey... the Monzas that show up in Monterey every year are on the same level of bizarre.

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5
Matthew Dockery

I did focus mainly on the Nissan and older street production cars, but there were a number of IMSA guys floating around. I think my favorite (since I'd never seen one before) was this Vega. Talk about wild, taking something like a Vega and just bum rushing the race scene with it.

I've seen a lot of IMSA during my times at the Laguna Seca Historics, where my favorites are typically the Fox body Fords and the Chevy Monzas that show up. One of the best things about the Mitty was just the variety of cars that showed up I've never seen before... or even knew existed.

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6

This is just a random queston but, the square in speedhunters is the symbol of strengnth last I checked a triangle is stronger structuraly.

7

yes, you are correct, triangles have fixed requirements for the length of the arm proportional to the internal angles of the joints.

8

Hey I race with John Morton and did a podcast with him. Such a talented person and very kind. He has some incredible stories about testing Alfa Romeo F1 cars and driving the IMSU GTU RX-7.

Google Slip Angle Podcast Episode 110 if you're a fan!

10

Looks like a great time Matt. Thanks for letting me attend vicariously though your words and photographs.
Steve Pharr

11
Mike Anderson

Nice coverage! That was truly an epic event. I don't think i will ever forget lining up behind John Morton on Friday morning's practice.. Truly a once in a lifetime experience..

12

Whaaaat - No pictures of the ventilated block???

13

You can see the ventilated block and more in-car footage from the Bluebird and Hako at Z Car Garage's blog
@zcargarage

14
Matthew Dockery

It was unclear while I was taking photos if the car was going to make it back on the track. I try not to make a habit of photographing wrecks or serious mechanical failures, especially at events that are less competitive (like this one). No one wants their weekend crusher recorded on the internet for years to come lol.

In hindsight, I should have probably snapped a better pic than the one I got -- which didn't make the cut for sending in photos -- in the hopes that it could have been used without me feeling bad about it.

15

As someone who has ventilated many a block...I always enjoy the work of others. If you find yourself at Mid-Ohio in June for the SVRA race please stop by, garage 16.
EZ

16

Damn, that Cheetah is so cool. I've never seen one in person and I've wanted to ever since I was a kid. Such presence. Most Hotwheels looking car ever built.

17
Matthew Dockery

I literally skipped over to it when I saw it in the paddock.

18
Brennan McKissick

John Morton is such a badass. I was lucky enough to meet him at an event 6-7 years ago.

19
Alex McDowell

Hey guys, follow me @mcdowellracing to see more pics of my bluebird and hako

You took some awesome photos matt. Look forward to seeing you at the Reunion.

20

Nice job Matt— great shots!

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