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Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix gets car enthusiasts revved up again

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Squirrel Hill was the center of the vintage car universe this weekend when record numbers of drivers, cars and fans took advantage of ideal driving weather for the unique motorsports exposition.

In its 34 years, the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix has grown from a curiosity to a prestigious showcase of vintage automobiles as well as its host city. The number of race participants increased this year, and the car shows throughout the park displayed some 3,200 vehicles, another record. The Saturday and Sunday spectator estimate set a record high of 200,000.

“I think some people don’t realize how big of an event this is,” said Dan DelBianco, Vintage Grand Prix executive director. “It takes up most of Schenley Park, [and] 1,200 volunteers and 100 ‘captains’ in the volunteer executive operating committee do it all in just a couple of days.”

The event benefits the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Valley Schools.

Billed as the only vintage car race driven on city streets, the track times are slower, points don’t count toward circuit scores and — not surprisingly — Pittsburgh streets are punishing on suspensions. Although the race is the centerpiece, participants see the off-circuit track and 10 days of classic car shows, motorhead talk and mingling as a major annual gathering among the vintage car culture.

“They come to the race knowing it’s a unique track. The drivers want to race with cars and people they know,” Mr. DelBianco said. “It’s a bucket list event. There are no points or prize money — we give some beer away.”

Streets were in good condition for eight laps of the 2.330-mile course. Midweek rain had little effect on the Saturday qualifying races or in seven categories of feature races on Sunday.

Finishing first in their categories were Todd Wetzel of Wilmington, Del., (1957 Turner 950); George Shafer of Somerset, (1951 MG TD); Christian Morici of Clifton, N.J., (1971 Lotus 69); and Perry Genova of Chapel Hill, N.C., (1970 BMW 2002).

Steve Korsin of Roswell, Ga., rolled his 1950 Lester MG, but was not admitted to a hospital. Mr. Korsin’s crash was due to a mechanical failure, said Tivvy Shenton of North Carolina, Vintage Grand Prix tech inspector for 30 years.

“Me and four helpers inspect every car that gets on this course,” he said. “Mechanical failure of some part isn’t uncommon. We look for safety issues — shake everything, inspect it visually. You’d be amazed at some of the things we find that are loose or about to break off or need work.”

The failure rate among antique parts can be high, he said, “but we won’t tolerate something that’s not safe. I won’t [allow] it on the track.”

Among the volunteers who made this year’s Grand Prix happen, one was lauded on Sunday. Cathy Dernorsek, volunteer coordinator for 33 years, was given the event’s Larry Smith Award for outstanding service.

 

 

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