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Laguna Seca 1999 - The Prep

Article by Steven L. Tillack

Photos by Marshall Leib and Pete Vanlaw

The fog usually begins a slow roll across the Monterey Peninsula about 3:00 pm, reaching Laguna Seca around 5:30 to 6:00. As fog goes, it is unusually dense, cold and wet. Since 1968 I have been very familiar with this cycle. It's ironic, the same Drill Sergeant that gleefully assigned me to the grave yard watch, guarding my country "against an enemy attack" on a wind blown beach just north of Monterey, also thought up an assignment clearly intended to ruin my weekend. Traffic Control. Thus turning one memorable day, of an otherwise miserable six months, into my introduction to Laguna Seca. I've been back more times and driven more laps there that I could ever count.

I just plain love the place. Drill Sergeant Joe Anderson, where ever you are, I hated you then, I thank you now.

When Tom Brockmiller called and asked for a piece on Laguna Seca, I was not quite sure what to write. Personally, I'm bored to death with reading race results. While contemplating an alternative, a visitor to the ship observing the aftermath, posed a frequently asked question "what's it like for you guys, to get ready for one of these big events?" I'll take this opportunity to respond.

Our preparation for the "Big" August weekend in Monterey really begins to get rolling just after the July 4th weekend. With the addition of the "Pre" Historics, a few years back, it's really two long "Weeks" now. Keep in mind, this year we took a few less cars than last year. Over these two weeks, we hit two shows, three auctions, and rolled out six different race cars over three dozen times. We move three semis full of cars, fly, feed and house a total of 16 crew members.

The shop crew is split between race and show preparation with teams assigned to follow each project to completion. This year the show teams headed up by Gary Kawakami were responsible for preparation and detailing two cars. For Concorso Italiano, we had the Ferrari 342 America Pininfarina Cabriolet entered. The car I drove in the Monterey Historic Races last year, a Cisitalia 204 Spyder Corsa was given a complete freshen up for a trip to Pebble Beach this year. The Cisitalia was also slated to participate in the second Tour d'Pebble Beach.

For the Historic Races at Laguna Seca, the race teams headed up by John McKay and Kurt Wilson had their respective plates full. The guys began prepping the race cars in July. John changed hats to become a Lotus mechanic (seems a waste to put the best Ferrari mechanic on the planet to work on a Lotus, doesn't it) supervising the preparation of the customer cars, a 27 Formula Jr. for Mike Yedor, the 23 Sports Racer of John Devine and for Pablo Gonzalez a 20, one of the earlier Formula Jr's. My cars always seem to be the last to get worked on, so Kurt had the unenviable task of completely assembling two cars, both of which had been apart for a very long time.

We scheduled a two day test at Thunderhill for the last week of July. Yes, that is a very long haul from Ell Ay for testing, but the weather forecast suggested it was going to be very hot, like over 100 at Willow Springs and Buttonwillow. So off we went to Thunderhill and a balmy 90. Keep in mind that after a two day test, the cars come back apart, are completely checked over stem to stern and prepared all over again.

As August marches on, the work days get progressively longer. On Tuesday, August 17 the "Load Master" Mike James begins to fill up the first trailer for the Pre-Historic Races. Here lies one of the problems with running vintage cars. We have to bring tons of stuff. A Champ Car or NASCAR team runs one car per truck and usually carries a complete spare<