Vintage racing is probably the most glorious form of motorsport you will ever set your eyes on.
There’s a reason why you’ll catch me at nearly all of the large vintage-themed gatherings that take place up and down the US West Coast. But I must admit that being around this stuff so often tends to leave you feeling a bit spoiled as time passes by.
I say this with sincere humility, but it’s becoming quite normal for us from California to be surrounded by millions of dollars’ worth of cars at a time. The exclusivity is nearly obsolete here, because, well, the culture itself is utterly vast.
While strolling through the paddocks at Sonoma Speed Festival, I found myself wondering what cars would be significant enough to spotlight. Surely every car in attendance probably had some sort of Gatsby-like story to tell, but doing 300+ spotlights just isn’t feasible.Making Impressions
More often than not, the cars I’m after at these types of events are generally considered irreplaceable. They don’t necessarily have to be the most expensive or the most sought after, but rather, special enough to truly leave an impression on not only myself, but more importantly, the owner.
That being said, there was a particular car – which I hadn’t recalled seeing before – that immediately caught me off guard. When I heard the story that paired along with it, I knew right then and there that this was the most special car in attendance.
Sandra McNeil and her husband Jim have been vintage motorsport enthusiasts for over 30 years. Their romanticism towards the culture is what initiated their first encounter back in 1983, when Sandra walked over to Jim at a party and began small-talk over the then new Ferrari Testarossa that was being released.
She recalls, “It was the start of the best part of my life,” and it’s this very same passion that has fueled their fruitful racing pedigree in the years that followed, alongside their lifelong commitment to one another.
Though the McNeil’s business and investment ventures served towards a promising future together, nothing would couple the pair more than their genuine passion towards collecting and racing vintage race cars.
Amongst their collection today is cars like a 1963 Competition Cobra 289, a Cooper Monaco T49, and most notably, the #11 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. This is probably the last of the survivor GTOs, still wearing its battle scars and original patina.
Jim has owned it since 1967, so it’s safe to say this car is considered priceless to any Ferrari aficionado. But don’t get it twisted – the car’s value has never been a deterrent for the way Sandra drives it. Jim explains: “She’s tenacious. You don’t want her behind you. She’s thinking, ‘I’m gonna get you’.”
These are thoughts that I witnessed first-hand trackside.
With the pre-grid call for Group 3 echoing over Sonoma Raceway’s loudspeakers, I carefully watched Jim, Sandra, and their mechanic prep the car for the race. They were surrounded by a large group of other photographers, friends, and spectators as the character-wearing GTO left their tent.
Ironically enough, the McNeil’s GTO is the one Ferrari that seemed to stand out amongst its peers, even though there were a couple of other mint 250s near by, which included icons like a SWB car and a TDF. In any other setting, these cars would’ve been crowd-winners without a doubt. But it was clear that the crowd was rooting for Sandra.
The survivor GTO took to the line-up, and with visible concentration in her eyes, Sandra began hunting down the boys. Her driving style was exactly how Jim described it, as I watched her gunning down 356s, Mustangs, and other Ferraris through numerous different apexes and straights.
In the midst of the action, I couldn’t help but think of how significant Sandra truly is in the realms of vintage motorsport – or motorsport in general for that matter – being a female in a sport that’s predominantly filled with males. That’s a factor that the McNeil’s have accounted for over the years, and I can confidently say, she definitely shows the boys up, and its totally awesome to see.Passion
With Jim’s commemorative expertise on historic race cars and Sandra’s fierce competitiveness, the McNeil’s are what I would consider the true testimonial to what vintage motorsport is all about.
They showed up, they prepped, they raced hard, and they couldn’t give a damn about anything other than sheer driving pleasure and joy out of doing what they loved, together. And they did it all in one of the most iconic and priceless race cars to ever exist.
This ladies and gentlemen, is what the passion is all about.