Behind my shop are some of my old race cars. Most have become the organ donors of the racing world – they’ve given up their engines or gearboxes or shocks for some other race or rally car project: something newer, something faster, something better.
Particularly derelict is my first proper AWD rally car: a 1997 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IV. It has over 60 rallies in its logbook and several national victories in its day. Over a decade ago, I won the Canadian Open Rally Championship with it, and I used it at the X Games in 2006, when it was a highly-polished, cherished weapon. Now it sits on a sad angle, missing its driveline, moving slowly into the earth. Ashes to ashes. It’s just an old race car.
Except maybe it isn’t. I recently attended the Historic Motor Sports Association’s Legends of Motorsports event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey California. It was an historic race of epic proportions, with everything from vintage Triumph TR3s and Porsche 356s to 1970s Indy Cars. And even better, it was styled as a special celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Team McLaren.
This meant a few cool things. First off, it meant that it was an homage to the exceptional Bruce McLaren, who died testing in 1970 but not before having an enormous impact on racing, especially in the hairy Can-Am racing series of 1966-74 in which his cars completely dominated from 1967 through 1971, often with Bruce himself behind the wheel.
The focus on McLaren meant that more than a dozen awesome Can-Am cars were running at Monterey on what they call a “sound free” weekend, which means the opposite of what it appears to mean. It was one of the few times when the track and all the racers are allowed to make all the noise they want, and - oh boy - did the Can-Am cars make some noise. Seismographs as far away as San Francisco registered every heat race.
I also had the privilege of meeting Jan McLaren, Bruce McLaren’s sister and operator of the McLaren Trust that runs a foundation and museum in Bruce’s honor in his native New Zealand. She now travels the world to all the events where historic racers take out their now-priceless historic McLaren Can-Am and Formula 1 cars to play. And I do mean priceless – these cars are several hundreds of thousands of dollars… and more.
One of my racing friends was there driving the McLaren M8F Can-Am car that his father had purchased as part of a race car deal in 1973, a deal in which this was the broken-down “parts car”. Rick Knoop had overseen the restoration and was debuting it today - the first Father’s Day after his father died. It was an emotional run for Rick in a car that arrived to their family broken and in pieces in 1973 and hadn’t turned a wheel since then. See the video to catch it in action.
Rick is one of the best journeymen racers, able to drive almost anything anywhere, but he took it easy and simply shook down this beautiful, priceless race car, not wanting to damage a car that could never be replaced.
When I got back to my shop, I looked outside at that Evo IV in the yard. OK, it’s no McLaren. But in 40 years, will someone care that it is an extremely rare lightweight RS version, one of only a few specially built at the factory to be turned into a race car, with body panels and glass thinner than stock to save weight? Will I care that it’s the car that basically started my career? That took me to the X Games?
I don’t know. But maybe I won’t send it to the crusher yet. Old race cars never die. They’re just waiting for a new place to race.