The historic races in Monterey for the last 31 years have been considered the ultimate Vinatge race held in the USA. Drivers and cars from around the world all enter this event. Regretfully only about 350 cars are accepted each years from the 1,000+ entires. This year was no exception. The tradition has it that each year a specific marque of historic significance is chosen to be honored and thus while many of the same cars are there year after year, the changing featured marque results in new and exciting race cars year after year. This year the feature was the ‘Cooper’ and much to the delight of the crowds, you can not honor the ‘Cooper’ history without acknowledging the also very famous ‘Mini Cooper’. It is with this background that for the first time in the 25+ years that I have partiscipated in this event that Mini Coopers were accepted to race. As tradition mandates no race at this event ever includes only the featured marque and as such only 9 Minis were accepted for the field.
The acceptance letters were sent out early thus providing some reasonable time to insure the cars met at least the sprite of Vintage racing. After all, Minis have been raced continuously for so many years that it is only natural that any existing vintage Mini might need a little back-dating to allow it to represent the cars as raced in the past.
The cars accepted were varied in preparation level and effort.
The #20 blue Mini Cooper from Dale Shore has been a race car most of it’s life. First as a full effort national SCCA car and now in the last 10+ years as a Vintage car. Evolution in racing as it is- it is fair to say that the car is better prepared today than ever in it’s past. All the modern techniques have been applied to both the powertrain and the suspension to result in a Mini that has to be one of the best around. The effort to get it ready for this event that prides itself on authentic Vintage cars resulted in mostly removing a number of high tech modern items. Although a fresh motor was built, externally it looked proper and was kept within the +.040 size expected. As it was not practical to remove the full cage roll over system that is also used to support the suspension, it was accepted and was probably the only visible exception to the sprite of the event.
The Fortech Racing/Seven Enterprises Mini represented one of the more outstanding efforts in getting ready for the event. While the total history of this Mini is not know, we do know that it has been raced my Mark Kearney for a good number of years on the east coast of the USA. After is was accepted for the Historics it was deceided to make it as period correct as possible with new everything. In honor of ‘Cooper’ it was deceided to dress the car in the livery of the ‘Cooper car Company’ in the correct green color and marking. Although a very proper modern race car under the bonnet, etc. it presented a great looking period piece for the enthusiastic crowds. The stark interior of the car which clearly represented the ultimate in a racers office was accented by a full roll cage that had a neat feature of being able to isolate with simple removal of a pin the support of the suspension. The conventional suspension only had the aide of modern shocks and expert tuning. The fresh engine was built to the same standards that has provided power to the GT5 SCCA multi-year national champion Mini. A single Weber is used as well a conventional distributor to provide the ultimate in Dyno tuned power for this great looking Mini. Doug Peterson of Comptech Racing was asked to drive as he has had many years experience in winning the national Championship in the Frotech Mini. Although Doug is not currently active in racing, his smooth technical driving allows for consistent quality performance.
The Mini that represented the ultimate in effort and quality for this very ‘period correct’ driven event was entered by Rachel and Andy Nelson from British Columbia. Their 1965 Mini Cooper had been a race car almost from new and was very active in the Northwest region of SCCA. The great story is that with all the history of the car is was accepted for the Monterey race long before the major restoration that was started in November of ’05, was even close to being completed. There is nothing like have the pressure of it’s first race in probably 20+ years being at the ultimate Vintage race. If there was an award for the best effort and results meeting the spirit of this event, they should win it hands down. The Mini Cooper is stunning and proper. While it was done with a few modern touches such as fuel cell and full race cage, it’s complete interior, fresh total restoration and period correct looks made it for sure the cream of the crop. The proper 1275cc motor was one of only 2 Minis still running SU carbs. This car was perfect in every way.
The Mini that represented the car with the most current Vintage race miles on it was brought by Cindy Shaffer. Cindy has made a serious effort in the last number of years to race 8 to 10 times per year and has gained a lot of recognition for her efforts. Although she represents one of the few females in the US racing a Mini she does a good job for the marque. Cindy is also period correct in her approach to racing a Mini as it is always done on a extremely tight budget with the hope of winning but the real objective of doing the best with what she has and being proud of it. Cindy’s Mini Cooper is modern classic car with full roll cage and Weber carb. As all of the other Minis running in the event her car has 6X10” wheels with Hoosier race tires.
The Tom Cotter Mini Cooper represented the only non-1275cc Mini in the event. Tom also should win the award for longest distance traveled as his East coast Mini Cooper was shipped to Laguna Seca just for this one event. While Tom has been racing his Mini for a number of years, he too took special efforts to have a fresh 1071cc Mini Cooper “S” engine prepared for the event. His Mini with a British Union Jack on the roof is a modern classic period Mini that Tom is proud to say he still is seen driving it on the streets of North Carolina legally even though it has a full roll cage and stripped interior. Tom is typical of all race guys in that in spite of all the advanced timing on knowing that he was accepted for the event- the motor was only completed a few days before the truck had to leave for California.
The “Monty Mini” that was entered by Don Racine represents yet another example of Mini that has been Vintage raced for the last 20+ years. It was built 20+ years ago as a show car in honor of the Monte Carlo rally winning Mini #177. It has a full rally dash with speed pilot, driving lights, almost complete interior, simple roll-over hoop, etc. etc.
As I was entered in another Vintage car that had run this event the last 20 years I decided to ask a real Mini expert, Nick Swift, to give it a ride at this event. The plan was simple, race the car is it has been with the simply swap of power units. Nick Swift of Swiftune racing makes a living building Mini Cooper race motors and as the current motor in the Monte had not seen many changes in the last 10+ years it has been in the car- it was simple, just install one of Nick’s killer motors and leave the rest of the car as it.
But all great plans have to eventually face reality and as time flew by it was obvious that we simply were out of time and the old motor would have to do. A quick refreshing of bearing and rings and the old motor was back in the car ready to go. Suspension was inspected and deemed fit with a simple change of back pads.
The next major part of the plan was for Nick to fly from the UK a week early and thus allow for some testing a familarazion. The modern world we live in through us yet another twist as Nick sat at the airport in London, the latest terrorist threat closed the airport and Nick was forced to delay his trip for several days meaning that his first day to see both the race track and the car was the day he was to qualify.
The Anglo/American nature of the event for the Mini has no better example than Nick Martin and his Mini Cooper “S”. Nick is a native Englishman that has been living here in the States for the last 30+ years and has been Vintage racing his well prepared Mini Cooper for at least 10 years. Although Nick had taken some time off from his racing over the last couple years his car was still in pretty good shape and thus did not require a lot of either back-dating to period specs or updating to be competitive. Nick is a good driver in a good car and can always be counted on to put on a god show!
So how did it all go? How was the show?
Only the “Monte Mini” and “Mini Cindy” were entered into the testing week-end prior to the Monterey Historics. And as Nick was stuck at the airport in London he asked a god friend of his with a great of Mini racing background to at least test the car. Barrie Williams had arrived from London a few days earlier (schedule to race a Cooper Monaco in the Historics) and thus was already in Monterey. Barrie has 35+ years in everything including Mini Coopers and thus the feedback would be valuable.
Mini Cindy ran the week-end without a hitch and became very comfortable with the race track. Barrie also did a fantastic job in the Monte turning lap time far better than I have experienced.
All went well with both cars until Sunday afternoon when the Montes gearbox failed with no ability to select any gear. It was now time for a significant decision. My workshop was a 5 hour drive away but as we had almost a week before qualifying started, I loaded the Mini on an open trailer and made arrangements to have it towed home. A day and half later it was back on the trailer ready to return to the race track.
An unexpected opportunity arose on Thursday before qualiflying as Nick and a couple other drivers that had never raced at Laguna were allowed to follow a pace car around the track to ‘check it out’. Nick indeed got his first ride in the Monte only to bring it back into the pits to report that the 20 year old brake master cylinder had given up the ghost and had to be replaced before Friday morning. With help from several extra hands the process was painless and simple.
Qualifying for the race went almost as expected. The top 3 Minis all ran with a ½ second of each other while managing to place mid-pack in a field of cars that included Cobras, Mustangs, Alfas, Gennetas, etc. Dales’s Mini was fastest and qualified 14th overall, followed by Nick Swift, Doug Peterson, Nick Martin, Cindy Shaffer, Andy Nelson and Tom Cotter. As qualifying was on Friday and the race on Sunday, Saturday was a day for checking the car and watching others race.
Although all the Minis finished the qualifying session, all the mechanical dramas were not yet over. The first to report was from the Fortech Mini that found a spark plug cap had totally closed up on one of the spark plugs as if hit by a piston? A new plug was then installed and all again seemed normal- the only real test would come on race morning.
The Monty Mini also had a spark plug failure but of a different nature, the center electrode of one of the plugs was simply done when checked after the session. But the fix was the same, new plugs and all seemed well and in control.
The Tom Cotter 1071cc motor seemed way down on power and thus an overall check of compression, timing and valve adjustment was in order. Carbs was checked also with no obvious reason for the problems.
The Nick Martin Mini also seemed to be having Weber problems and it was discovered that the 10 year old maintenance free DCOE simply needed to total rebuild. Another stellar job by experts resulted in yet another car to test race morning.
The Dale Shore Mini was being tweaked on to find that last ounce of power and perhaps isolate that little misfire.
As Sunday morning arrived we had one final short test session before the big afternoon race. But sadly all of the mechanical woes were not yet finished. The Nick Martin Mini suffered a broken rear swing arm camber bracket that stripped the bolts out of the subframe. But again after much effort, the car was ready for the race again with about 10 minutes to spare.
The Mini of Cindy Shaffer was then diagones as having a clutch failure and it was a real thrash to change it in the pits. While it is now a know story- indeed it too was accomplished in time for the start of the race.
The race itself ended very close to the order of qualifying with Dale first of the Minis with Nick Swift second and Doug Peterson third. All the other Minis ran fine with the exception of poor Cindy who’s clutch repair failed to allow her to finish the race. It was a great show by all and for sure every Mini out there was a crowd favorite.