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Life In The Fast Lane: Vintage Auto Racing

In Vintage Auto Racing, It Isn't Whether You Win or Lose--It's How You Run the Race
Bob Knotts
From the Print Edition:
James Woods, May/Jun 97

Within the religion of auto racing, Bill Mazzoni has just committed a mortal sin.

The sacred ethos of this sport, recorded in some yellowing book of rpms now nearly a century old, can be pared to a one-word essence: win. Chapter Two, Verse One says that a pole winner must hold his front position through the first turn, increasing his odds of a relatively unobstructed run toward victory. A pole sitter who starts from last place is a heretic.

Thus it is written.

An experienced and skillful racer, Mazzoni knows this full well. But after annihilating his competition during qualifying laps to earn the pole, he has chosen for some reason to ignore this commandment. He is flouting the racing gods.

As the gentlemen--and one lady--start their engines, Mazzoni's spectacular Chevron B16 growls alive from behind his 11 opponents. Behind even the lumbering two-cylinder DB Panhard driven by Andre Garnier, a droll 71-year-old retiree from France who first raced in 1948.

"Top speed? My car goes up to 90 miles an hour," Garnier said earlier with a grin in the pit lane. "When it's going really, really good, it'll go a little over 90."

Mazzoni's blood-red Chevron can hit 170.

With the nimble Porsche 911 of John Rollins taking over the pole position, the field rumbles and revs its way onto the twisting road course for a single slow pace lap at Metro-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex, south of Miami. They form a peculiar parade. Trailing Rollins in single file is Paul Rowan's hulking, muscular Mustang Boss 302, followed by Michael Kennedy's sleek, streamlined Lotus Formula Ford and Mike Jackson's angular, one-of-a-kind Shadowfax and all the others, a hodgepodge of automotive technology turned into a colorful circus of fiberglass and sheet metal and chrome. Andre Garnier's blue Panhard is second to last in line--followed by the Chevron B16.

As the cars appear around the final turn of the 2 1/4-mile track and dive down the long front straightaway toward the starting line, one car is missing. The Chevron is nowhere in sight.

The green flag drops in front of John Rollins' Porsche, as Rowan's Mustang accelerates in a bid for the lead. Even the Panhard picks up a little steam, rolling toward the starter's flag stand. But still there is no Mazzoni.

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