Paying tribute, celebrating milestones, and commemorating anniversaries.
Back in the day, , the “father” of vintage racing and his friends took their old race cars, drove two hours north of Los Angeles and snuck into Willow Springs Raceway to turn a few laps. Few people paid attention to out-of-date race cars until 1974, the inaugural year of the Monterey Historics, when Earle rented a day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca just so he could hang out with his friends.
Four decades later, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is one of the most exciting celebrations of vintage motorsport in the world: an event so popular it launched similar vintage celebrations at racetracks all across America and the world. Since 2001, when Rolex became involved, attendance has skyrocketed year after year, to the extent that there's now two weekends of racing to fit it all in. For motorsport nerds, few experiences can be as compelling as seeing past legends storming up the back straight hill to Turn 8, live and in concert.
As we find more anniversaries to commemorate, more drivers to honor, and more cars to roar down the straight at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, we come across some pretty great reunions.
The Historics started just one year after the golden age of Can-Am (shown here, in 1973), and that first year was more like a trackday rental than a full-fledged event: Just 66 cars showed up. But the Monterey Historics soon launched similar events at Watkins Glen, Lime Rock Park, Road America, and Road Atlanta. (This year, there are over 550 entries across two weekends of racing.) A year later, in1975, Alfa Romeo joined the fray: the first carmaker to be honored as a featured marque.
This aforementioned Italian connection took ten years to swing around to Ferrari, but what a tribute it was: One of the largest turnouts to date came to see Phil Hill and Luigi Chinetti, Ferrari’s North American Renaissance Man, as well as every significant Ferrari race car from history—including Niki Lauda's 312T2. Ferrari would return as the featured marque again in 1994 and 2004, and this year, when it celebrates its 70th anniversary—the one carmaker that has been featured the most.
Aston Martin celebrated the 30th anniversary of its victory at Le Mans with a faithful recreation of its 1959 pit lane, complete with the Aston Martin DBR1 that Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori drove to victory. The DBR1 brought home a 1-2 finish that year, the marque’s only 24 Hours of Le Mans victory. That same year, it also won the World Sportscar Championship, just one of three cars to do both. Of course, a car as significant as the DBR1 didn't stray far from Monterey, as you’ll see.
It was the first time that the featured marque was a person: the most legendary Grand Prix driver of all, El Chueco himself, then 80 years old and three decades retired. Juan Manuel Fangio drove a Mercedes-Benz W196, the same car that pushed him to his second World Championship. According to , he pushed the pace car so hard that he caused it to spin out at Turn 9, Rainey Curve. Fangio roared past. The crowd went wild.
The House of Shelby was honored this year, and Carroll himself was there with the Aston Martin DBR1 that he drove at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959. (Shown here, tearing up the lawn.) He won, along with co-driver Roy Salvadori, the two coming in first in a one-two victory for Aston Martin. And at this year’s event, the same Aston won its class.
For the DBR1, though, the story didn’t end there. Two years later, it returned with the legendary Stirling Moss behind the wheel—whose own DBR1 failed to finish that original 1959 race. And “in the first turn a three-into-one manoeuvre saw Moss and tuning legend Vic Edelbrock spin off, damaging the Aston's tail,” . “A parade this was not.” That’s the beauty of the Reunion: the cars may be worth a million dollars, but they’re still out there racing.
Rolex became the title sponsor of the event this year, now officially the Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races. Already a sponsor of the 24 Hours of Daytona, and soon to expand into Grand-Am with the Rolex Sports Car Series, Rolex forged the future of its own motorsport connection by diving into the past.
And for the next seven years, its Rolex Moments in Time exhibit hosts a lavish display of six historic race cars, drawing unprecedented crowds to the paddock—cars like the Porsche 936 that Hurley Haywood drove to victory in the 1977 24 Hours of Le Mans, the McLaren M20 that dominated Can-Am, and more Gulf livery than one could ever dream of seeing in one place.
From a tiny warehouse in Midland, Texas, Jim Hall gave the world some of the most technologically advanced Can-Am cars the world had ever seen. It was about time that he and his all-white techno-wonders got their due. A highlight for Chaparral's biggest fans: watching around the track, just as he did in 1970 when he qualified first—the only driver to set a lap .
Rolex assumed full control of the event with the help of SCRAMP, renaming it the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. That year, 50,000 people came to honor Dan Gurney, a new record for the event, and a whopping 638 cars took to the track. Since then, there's been nothing but more success: Last year, a record 70,525 attendees helped cement this now two-weekend event as one that cannot be missed.
Twenty years earlier, Steve Millen clung to life after a near-fatal crash at Watkins Glen. He recovered enough to rejoin Nissan’s IMSA team in 1994—and promptly won the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. At the last second the team decided to race at Le Mans, and Millen won his class. This year, he entered the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion for the first time in the IMSA Nissan 300ZX, the car that dominated that year’s IMSA, the car that pushed him to his . Notably, another 300ZX showed up—Paul Newman’s own, driven by Adam Carolla.
A is one thing, but one hundred years is something truly special. The Bavarian Motor Works celebrated 100 years with some of the most extraordinary race cars in its history: everything from 328s to 2002 Turbos, Calder’s to Koons’ Art Cars, M1 PROCARs to Batmobiles—you know, all of your favorites. What’s more, a massive 64 BMWs entered to race, many of which were owned by the company itself.
This year, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca turns 60. To celebrate, they dug up the very first car to ever win a race there: a 1956 Ferrari 500 Testa Rossa that Pete Lovely drove to a victory on November 9, 1957. (Lovely is shown here.)
Lovely still raced the Ferrari at the Motorsports Reunion well into the 2000s, a two-liter underdog that beat a who’s who of West Coast racers. When pressed for track advice, he once said: “It took a lot of skill to hold your foot down around the old Turn 2. You had to be really on your toes or you would miss that corner. If you did that, it was certain disaster.”