We always want what we can’t have.
For me, it probably has something to do with the fact that I never saw these cars race in their glory days, instead growing up around their flawed and aging — yet often desirable — road-going cousins. Whatever the reason, there’s just something special to me about race cars from the ’80s and early ’90s. Out of all of the varied classes running at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach last weekend, Historic IMSA GTO was the one I was looking forward to the most.
It’s hard to put your finger on what exactly it is that makes these cars so special, but hearing the roars of decades-old, carburetor-fed, large-displacement V8s, as well as a handful of fours, sixes, and a rotary engine, echoing off the buildings in Long Beach strikes an innate, primal chord in me. While I’m fully interested in modern day racing as well as what the future holds for motorsport, sometimes it’s most inspiring to look into the past.
Since Sara and I were only at the Grand Prix for one day, and as such opted not to get media passes, I wanted to make sure we were around and shooting what we could during both sessions on Friday when the historic cars would be running.
All of the shots in this story were taken with general admission access, and while I might generally not bother putting a story together without what I would consider proper access, Paddy kindly nudged me to do exactly that. I’m glad, too, as the character of these images taken from behind the fences are unlike anything I would have captured otherwise.
I’ll dedicate a future article to shooting the event for a day without trackside access, but for now, a nostalgic blast from the past.
With the current IMSA SportsCar Championship series running alongside these historic cars over the weekend, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in the last couple decades.
At the same time, there’s no denying we’ve lost a certain and significant amount of charm and charisma along the way. The sounds, the smells, the timeless designs, the simple classic liveries – there’s nothing quite like it anymore.
What we’ve learned since the ’80s and ’90s as far as applying the laws of physics – namely aerodynamics – to our cars has all but ruined the way they look and feel. I don’t mean this in terms of specs or on a surface level, but rather in a deeper, sensory-based way.
I just don’t have the same level of enthusiasm when it comes to an equivalent modern paddock, and when I first spotted the historic car grid within the teams’ makeshift garages in the expo center, I quickly and happily started snapping away.
Of course, it is a race, which means there’s a winner.
The #76 1990 Nissan 300ZX piloted by Craig Bennett took home the first place trophy, also clocking the fastest lap of the day with a 1:24.448. In comparison, the fastest lap during the IMSA GTLM race was a 1:17.215 — a new class record.
The GTLM class consists of cars like the 911 RSR, Corvette C7.R, BMW M8 GTE and the Ford GT, but I’ll take a grid of two dozen historic IMSA cars any day. They may be a good few seconds off the pace of what’s possible today, but they’re better in their own right.
An era where the cars looked as mean as they sounded and drivers had gonads the size of the big engines they were running up front, there’s simply no replacement for the racers of yesteryear.
Trevor Yale Ryan
Additional Photos by Sara Ryan