Daniel DelBianco, Executive Director firstname.lastname@example.org cell 412 559-3500
Susan Gera, Media email@example.com cell 724 396-9372
The Legends of Schenley Park
A dream born of the pursuit of racing and altruism
June 30, 2017 Pittsburgh, PA – Every July in Schenley Park, pennants flutter and the sounds of a once peaceful city park come alive with the roar of engines and cheering fans.
This tract of land in the heart of Pittsburgh becomes a bridge to a time when legends lived, but it is not the site for a reenactment or a movie set. It is a car lover’s dream: a Xanadu for vintage racers, the pursuit of happiness, a new chapter in “The Last Open Road”, a road course in the grand style. Now after 35 years it is also the site for the recognition of The Legends of Schenley Park- an elite group of racing legends who have competed there for 15 or more years.
These legends grew from humble beginnings, from altruistic goals and encounters, not a fleeting victory. There are the usual lurking beasts to conquer at “The Serpentine” and “Panther Hollow”, to moments of self-doubt and podium finishes, spirited competition and camaraderie. There are hundreds of drivers, a thousand volunteers and a groundswell of enthusiasm from spectators and sponsors, who return year after year to support the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Valley School.
IN THE BEGINNING
Before there could be legends there had to be a track; so the stories of drivers are intertwined with the moment of inception, this time not in the shadow of Camelot or Sherwood forest, but, as it has been told, in a restaurant on Walnut street. Imagine 35 years ago a night of revelry where a small cadre of local race fans first brought up the pipe dream of racing on city streets. This lighthearted idea brings them together again, this time in Alan Patterson’s race garage in Shadyside. There, with broad strokes, a ’one time, little event in the park’ is laid out.
The plan was simple; to put together a friendly race on city streets, have fun and funnel all proceeds to charity. The loosely-knit group took on Herculean tasks of logistics and politics. Park services had to be convinced that the plan was feasible and the venue safe. Mayor Richard Caliguiri was approached and endorsed the plan after it was made clear that a race would benefit charity. Spectators would flock to the idyllic grounds of Schenley Park to view the cars over Labor Day (it was a one day event in 1983).
Then a “call to arms” was sent out. Like clans banding together, volunteers from the Sports Car Club of America and the Vintage Sports Car Club of America gathered. Flagging, timing, scoring, communications were just some of the duties involved. Less specialized volunteers also toiled at parking, directing traffic and basic clean-up to put on the first Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix.
In myths and legends, there are the archetypical members of the crew- those who set the stage and mentor others. Still active in the sport, Alan Patterson Sr. is a legend twice over having raced all 35 years. From the start, he wanted an event where you did not need a fancy car to race, a place of minimal restrictions and where good sense took precedent over ambition. “It was to be raced like a good game of golf or a spirited tennis match”. He was amazed at the success of the first race and recalls the subsequent early years when they pooled their experiences at Bridgehampton and Watkins Glen to improve the Schenley Park experience for drivers.
The Morici family is also well represented through generations. Jerry Morici first started racing at Schenley Park the second year of its inception. He was joined by his son Christopher, brothers Todd and Steven and his nephew Christian. They made the rounds at Lime Rock, Mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta, but kept coming back to Schenley. His yearly pilgrimage from New Jersey is worthwhile. The PVGP philosophy delivered in the driver’s meetings attended by Morici still holds sway- to keep it a safe and friendly competition.
Grandson, and third legendary Morici, Christian celebrated his first birthday on the track, albeit not as a driver. Working together and sharing tips helped him set the 2:09.409 record time in his number 69, a 1971 Lotus. A podium finish was never the driving force for the competition. He welcomes the chance to interact with people in the paddock and to see the look on a kid’s face when they get to sit in a race car. Another motivating factor is the sheer racing pleasure as his car breaks through the shadowy road into a brightly lit field of cheering spectators.
George and Stefan Vapaa make the trip each year from Wilmington, Delaware. Stefan’s first PVGP was 1989 when he came with his dad and served as crew. Stefan says, “I’ve been to every PVGP since, starting as a driver in 2003. Schenley is my favorite race and the course has a flow that rivals the top road courses in the country. The spectators and the volunteers are the best I’ve encountered anywhere.”
THE KNIGHT FROM AFAR
On the other side of the Atlantic in a small town near the Welsh border, hill climbs were the only sort of racing to be found. In the group of spectators who gathered there was a determined boy, Tivvy Shenton, who was enchanted. His passion took him first as an apprentice at Rolls Royce and later to open his own race shop in London. His legend did not start however, until 1986 when he set his Formula 3 Cooper on the winding roads at Schenley. Four years later, he started racing the 1955 Jaguar XK140 Fixed Head Coupe. By then it was clear in his mind that the course was challenging and fun, but that a unique combination of people made this more than race.
In his 28 years of experience at PVGP, Shenton maintains it has been the people: racers, his customers, corner workers and volunteer staff who have made a real difference in how the race is run. They have stayed true to the ideals of the sport.
Not all legends start with family ties or a childhood passion. Dotti Bechtol and her husband John, now both veteran racers, were drawn to the sport gradually. 33 years ago, they started as volunteers in Patron Parking, then for two years participated in timing and scoring. In a leap of faith when John said that he wanted to experience the track from the driver’s seat, Dotti said, “I’ve got to do this, too”. Initial butterflies in the stomach and stone walls flashing by are normal. “In racing you can only think about one thing at a time, and when you are done, you can relax”.
KEEPER OF THE KEYS
Part imposing wizard, part undaunted guide, there is the recurring character who holds the secrets in completing the quest. Although Manley Ford’s mellow outlook, smile and classic MG -TD belie this label, he is no doubt, the keeper of the keys. His “key” is a 17-page turn-by-turn book explaining the secrets of driving Schenley Park. He implements the MG motto, “Safety Fast” based on his experiences, podium finishes and years of driving. The book is optional for “the seeker”, but his rookie familiarization walk around the track has become mandatory thanks to then Race Director Mike Connolly. In Manley Ford’s words, it is, “Past Westinghouse Pond, when you are going uphill between heavy trees in an increasing radius turn, the exhaust booming, you are standing on the gas, there is an apex- and turn. If you are by yourself, it is a chance to live in the moment.”
CORNER CAPTAINS AND CREW
Legendary matches bound by rules require arbitrators with force behind them. Corner captains are like the ‘everyman’ in myths who have been granted otherworldly powers for the greater good. Dressed in white with orange gloves, corner captain Linda Lips exemplifies the commitment three generations have made to PVGP since its inception. Her father, Ron Rose, brought his daughter as part of the crew for the inaugural race. Like a skilled juggler she has learned how to judge the mechanicals on a car, the ability of the driver, watch for the safety of spectators, follow the racing rules and communicate with her crew, the ham radio operator, and the drivers…all at lightning speed. She says the thanks and support the corner workers get from the drivers is amazing. However, it is the attitude of helping others at the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Valley School is what sets this apart. “Volunteer corner workers generously donate money during the parade lap, and that money is matched by the drivers”. It is this spirit of generosity that plays a vital role. And it is not a stretch of the imagination to see her captaincy passed on to another generation as she brings all three of her daughters to help crew.
Individual exploits would not survive without a narrative to hold the tale together. Ted Sohier, a career broadcaster, has been the public address voice of Schenley Park since the first. He was present in the embryonic meeting in Patterson’s garage. Phrases like, “If we could do this one year it will be fantastic,” echo in his mind. He has conducted interviews with dignitaries and drivers from the start-finish line and under the canopy of trees. Ted, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of cars and a front seat to the legendary events at Schenley Park, maintains that the success of the PVGP is greater than a car race. He credits the ‘higher purpose’ in attracting people and corporations who do not care about cars or racing, as supporters. “This event is for two charities, and is the element that is missing from other events”.
Becoming a legend is never a goal – it is a process. The archetypal characters found in myths and legends have not changed much over time, but after years at Schenley Park, they manifest themselves in different ways. Dressed in one-piece fireproof suits they roll out from under an automobile to help, offer to lend a part to a competitor, embody sportsmanship in the heat of the moment and work together toward a worthwhile goal.
The birthplace for modern legends exists only for a short time each year. According to Manley Ford, it may take on the lighthearted aspects of Brigadoon or, according to others, an Avalon rising from the mists of an industrialized city. A rich tapestry is woven of individuals as each year there is the need to renew that which legends are made of.
In 2016 we recognized 50 drivers who had accomplished this level by awarding them a commemorative race suit patch and a pit-chair. Six more racers will qualify if they race this year. We will recognize the Legends at our driver/volunteer dinner in Schenley Park on Saturday, July 15 at 7:00 pm.
List of Legends and those in waiting…
|Alan Patterson||Pittsburgh, PA||35|
|George Shafer||Somerset, PA||32|
|Robert Duell||Sanborn, NY||31|
|Jerry Morici||Clifton, NJ||29|
|Andrew McSwigan||Pittsburgh, PA||29|
|Christopher Morici||Clifton, NJ||29|
|Tivvy Shenton||Blanch, VA||28|
|George Vapaa||Wilmington, DE||28|
|Dick Fryberger||Watertown, MA||26|
|William Rule||Wilimgton, DE||25|
|Marc Evans||Stratford, CT||24|
|J.J. Rodman||Glenshaw, PA||24|
|Steve Konsin||Oakton, VA||23|
|Manley Ford||Chagrin Falls, OH||23|
|Dick Scott||Pittsburgh, PA||23|
|Michael Barstow||Birmingham, AL||22|
|Gary Ford||Pipersville, PA||22|
|Brian King||Jarrettsville, MD||22|
|Denis McKenna||Warrington, VA||22|
|David Baker||Wilmington, DE||21|
|J.R. Mitchell||Danbury, CT||21|
|Monroe Snider Jr||Pittsburgh, PA||21|
|William Swartz||Ligonier, PA||21|
|David Berger||Ocean Ridge, FL||20|
|Dorien Berteletti||Niagara Falls, NY||20|
|Rich Maloumian||Fort Washington, PA||20|
|Victor Pastore||Chester, NJ||20|
|James Carson||Newton Square, PA||18|
|Jack Gallagher||Monroeville, NJ||18|
|Bill Lightfoot||Vienna, VA||18|
|Ed Cronin||Sagertown, PA||18|
|Jim Southwood||Gibsonia, PA||18|
|Bill Bryan||Munhall, PA||17|
|Oliver Collins||Toronto, ONT||17|
|Michael Stein||Yardley, PA||17|
|Anatoly Aruntunoff||Tulsa, OK||16|
|John Bechtol||Pittsburgh, PA||16|
|Dotti Bechtol||Pittsburgh, PA||16|
|Robert Bowers||Atlanta, GA||16|
|Jim Duffield||Wilmington, DE||16|
|Bob Fairbanks||Portville, NY||16|
|Howarth Gilmore||Towaco, NJ||16|
|John Guehl||Pittsburgh, PA||16|
|Roy Hopkins||Spencerport, NY||16|
|Paul O’Malley||Capon Bridge, NY||16|
|Christian Morici||Clifton, NJ||16|
|Henry Wessells||Paoli, PA||16|
|Bob Colaizzi||Dayton, OH||15|
|Pete McManus||Ontario, ONT||15|
|Frank Mount||Caledon, ONT||15|
|Bob Romanansky||Freehold, NJ||15|
|Stefan Vapaa||Wilmington, DE||15|
|Michael Zappa||Pittsburgh, PA||15|
|John Aibel||Naples, FL||14|
|Steve Garrett||Fishers, IN||14|
|Jerry Greaves||Newton, CT||14|
|Carlton Shriver||Sharpsburg, MD||14|
|Ralph Steinberg||Glen Riddle, PA||14|
|Paul Wilson||Fairfield, VA||14|
|Fred Aibel||Clifton, NJ||13|
|John Barhydt||St Louis, MO||13|
|James Bok||Southport, CT||13|
|Bob Klingenburg||Mountain Lake, NY||13|
|Robert Laeppele||Reading, PA||13|
|Mark Maehling||Canonsburg, PA||13|
|Joseph Parlanti||North Potomac, MD||13|
|Peter Brittingham||East Cannan, CT||12|
|Scott Ebert||Crystal River, FL||12|
|Kip Fjeld||Santa Ana, CA||12|
|Evans Hunt||Gladwyne, PA||12|
|Ed Hyman||New Milford, CT||12|
|Daren Mann||Pittsburgh, PA||12|
|Nathan Scigliano||Allison Park, PA||12|
|Lee Raskin||Brooklandville, MD||12|
|John Schieffelin||Florence, MA||12|
|Warren Wegele||Cincinnati, OH||12|
|Jeff Brown||Pittsburgh, PA||12|
|Peter Patterson||Pittsburgh, PA||12|