Phil Wicks Returns to Classic Mini Racing

The annual Phil Wicks Driving Academy Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation fund-raising event took place on September 10-11, 2010 at Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon, Tennessee. This was the sixth year that Phil Wicks, his instructors and staff have donated their services for this popular and worthwhile event. Of the many regular participants, Zapata Racing headed by Carl "Chief" George, entered a variety of vintage cars including MGAs, Lotus, Porsche and of course, several classic Mini Coopers.

Every student and instructor in the event enjoyed liberal amounts of track time and one-on-one instruction. The annual Solo I Time Trial was, as always, a big hit for the twenty drivers who participated.

Among the Zapata Racing entries for the main event of the day, "The Minnie Pearl Vintage Challenge Race," were six classic Mini Coopers. George approached Wicks and asked him to drive one of the more seriously race-prepared Mini Coopers - a 1967 car with a full race history in the United States. Wicks enthusiastically agreed and with typical British understatement quipped, "I am very excited to be reacquainted with the beginnings of my Mini racing career."

The feature race consisted of MGAs, Porsches, Lotus, and six classic Mini Coopers. "As I had not practiced in the car, I elected to start near the back of the rolling start grid," said Wicks. Once the green flag fell, a great battled ensued between David Conrad in an MGA, David Bearden in a 1966 race-prepared Mini and Wicks in the "Snoopy Dog" 1967 Mini Austin Cooper S. On the final lap, Wicks passed Conrad to take the win.

Road Atlanta

Several weeks later, George again asked Wicks to rejoin Zapata Racing and drive the "Snoopy Dog" Mini for the rest of the 2010 vintage racing season and select races of 2011. In addition to driving duties, Wicks was to take charge of preparing, maintaining and upgrading the car.

Research has established that the short block crank, rods, and pistons are of Mini Mania origin. The cylinder head is a Longman race head. Straight cut gearbox, limited slip racing diff, and Weber 45DCOE carburetion.

For the season finale SVRA event at Road Atlanta, the "Snoopy Dog" Mini arrived unaltered from the previous event and had not been additionally tuned via Wicks' well known and unrivaled experience with classic racing Minis. However, with beautiful sunny and dry Georgia weather, Wicks was able to immediately establish a fast pace and qualified first in class. The race on Saturday featured over 30 cars in three different race groups. "I have always been pretty good at standing starts and Le Mans type starts where you run across the track to your parked car, jump in, start the car, fasten the seatbelt, and begin racing," said Wicks. "However, this was my first rolling start in quite some time and several of my fellow competitors were able to get a better start than I did. I lost several places, but it just gave me the determination to at least get my starting position back."

Wicks diced with a Triumph GT6, Lotus 7, BMW 2002, MGA, Turners and Ginettas. He managed to pass numerous cars to finish 1st in class, more than half way up the overall group of entries.

On Sunday, race day 2, the same cars lined up for the start of the final race of the weekend. Having learned his lesson from the day before, Wicks was ready for the rolling start and passed several cars into turn 1 and up the hill into the esses. Unfortunately, a car blew its engine on lap 6 and navigated two complete laps dumping oil on the track before exiting the race. The race was black-flagged after eight laps with two of those laps under a red flag. Yet Wicks managed to take the early checkered flag first-in-class and 19th overall. "Not bad for an old guy," exclaimed Wicks, who has been competing in events now for fifty plus years.

"As well as driving the Mini in competition, I am really enjoying being part of a race team again," said Wicks. "All of the guys and gals are, shall we say, of a more mature age. We all had a great bit of fun here this weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed it!" Zapata Racing is located in Nashville, Tennessee and has a large show/storage facility. The other cars in the team consist of 356 Porsches, 911 Porsches, MGA, Triumph Spitfire, Austin Healy, Lotus 7, and numerous classic Mini Coopers. A full time mechanic who has vast experience with British cars is employed to maintain the race cars. However, Phil Wicks now will maintain the "Snoopy Dog" 1967 Austin Cooper S.

Roebling Road, Savannah, GA

The VDCA season finale at Roebling Road near Savannah, Georgia, was held December 10 through 12, and the next and final race event on the 2010 calendar. Wicks had never driven a race car on either Road Atlanta or Roebling Road before but he has helped conduct several track-days at both on Superbike motorcycles. Utilizing his extensive experience from a seemingly endless variety of racing arenas, Wicks was confident heading into Savannah.

Friday's practice was dry but cold. The race entries were all group-1 small bore cars in four different classes. There were 24 cars total and Wicks again qualified 1st in class and 13th overall. Saturday's weather continued to be cold, but added wet conditions to the challenges facing the drivers. "I did a few laps of practice in the morning session and reacquainted myself with the track," said Wicks. "The car was set up for wet racing, but unfortunately, we did not have any wet tires." Without rain tires, Wicks continued to use the Hoosier dry race tires. "A lot of slipping and sliding out there, but that's how you drive a Mini Cooper," said Wicks.

"As we lined up in the paddock waiting to go out to race, I was very pleased that I was able to get into the race driver zone state of mind, analyzing my fellow competitors, the types of cars and their tires," said Wicks. "Having met and socialized with many of those drivers, I felt I was able to predict their ‘will to win' attitude."

As the cars entered the track for the rolling start, Wicks was 9th on the start grid. "I knew I had to pass as many cars as possible at the start of the race if I was going to have any chance of winning," commented Wicks. At the drop of the green flag, Wicks was second going into turn one and maintained that position until the long pit straight where the more powerful Triumph Spitfire was able to pass him. Wicks settled down to the business of protecting his position - 3rd. Although other cars were faster on the long straight, the Mini's legendary handling characteristics were better in the curvy parts of the track. "I have always enjoyed competing in wet races, driving the wet line, concentrating on ‘your race', protecting my position, ‘shutting the door' when necessary," said Wicks. With his ‘Mini' advantage of superior handling combined with the experience of fifty years to draw upon, Wicks again finished 1st in class and 3rd overall.

Four races, four wins

"I am enjoying the camaraderie of Zapata Racing team. The modifications we did to the Mini have really paid off. Mostly carburetion and cooling efficiency. It is definitely faster and handling better. But there is more in there!" added Wicks. "I am in constant consultation with Don Racine at Mini Mania, and Mini Mania's sponsorship supports the R&D in making this car even more competitive." The racing season is over for the next several months and kicks off again in February at Road Atlanta during the VDCA weekend. For Phil Wicks and the Zapata Racing team, it can't arrive quickly enough.