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2014 Pebble Beach: Restoring Mama's race car for vintage competition

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Some came from far away, and some came from long ago, to race vintage cars at Laguna Seca.
Dave and Tom Brengle came from 1964, to drive the Alfa Romeo their mother Nadeene raced here 50 years ago.

Every year 60,000 spectators come to Laguna Seca during Monterey Car Week to watch 550 vintage race cars compete for prizes and honor.

Quite different from the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance or the auto show at the Quail — where the Suntans of the Rich and Famous swan about in pastel pants and bright spring bonnets — the "historics" race day at Rolex Motorway Motorsports Reunion is all T-shirts and ball caps.

Invitation-only guests at the Quail enjoy champagne and canapés. At Laguna Seca, the hoi polloi drink Bud and snack on a baguette-wrapped weiner known as the Frog Dog. 

Some spectators paid $50 for a single entry, or $130 for a three-day pass. Some roamed "TransAm Alley" or "Vintage Lane," taking snapshots of the vintage race cars and their drivers — some dressed in vintage race suits. Some attendees just pay for parking and then hike to vantage points on the rolling, sunburned hills.

The drivers at the invitation-only, two-day race event brought their vintage vehicles from all over the globe. The pits were a polyglot of French, German, Italian and other tongues, competing against the twangs and drawls of Texas and Georgia.

The drivers had a few practice laps to work out the bugs in their machines, some of them nearly a century old. All were driving under one principal rule: Because of the extremely high value of the vintage cars on the tracks, drivers who cause accidents can be banned from Laguna Seca for 13 months — and thus would miss next year's "historics" races.

Juergen Boden came from Cologne, Germany, to race his 1961 Maserati Tipo 63.

Tom and Dave Brengle came all the way from 1964, to race their mother's Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider.

Nadeene Brengle was a San Diego housewife who raised five boys and raced sports cars. Her No. 64 Spider was at Laguna Seca 50 years ago, running in one of dozens of races in a career that saw her beating male counterparts at Riverside and Daytona, at a time when precious few women were racing at all.

She got into sports cars after seeing people compete in ice racers in Michigan, and then fell in love with racing. She and her husband re-located to San Diego and opened a sports car parts store. Both raced, but she was faster than her husband, and went on to compete at tracks all over Southern California.

After she passed away five years ago, two of her sons decided to find the car she'd loved best and return it to racing glory.

"My brother and I made a commitment to find that car and restore it," said Tom Brengle, choking back tears, sitting under a shade structure in the Laguna Seca paddock. "It was our way of honoring her memory."

It was a long hunt, Dave Brengle said. For years he posted photos and queries on the Internet, and came up with nothing until he got an email from a man who'd just bought the Alfa and wanted to know its history.

"He wasn't interested in letting it go," Dave said. "But I told him, 'I'm sorry, but you have to sell it to me.'"

It took the brothers several months to convince the new owner to sell. Then it took them more than a year of hard work to bring it back to original condition.

"It was almost a basket case," said Tom, who recently retired and moved to Boise, Idaho.

"There is nothing on that car we didn't touch," said Dave, who is an executive with a medical device firm in San Diego.

The work went right up to the wire. The engine on the Alfa had not been turned over until a week before it was due to leave Southern California for Monterey. It had not driven under its own power until a day before Dave got it onto the historic track for a few practice laps.

Dave reported that the car felt good, and that he was excited to enter his first "historics" competition, and complete his first race, Sunday afternoon at Laguna Seca.

Could he match his mom's lap times?

"She was a racing mama, and she was a fast lady," Dave said. "She didn't run at the back of the pack."

Neither did Juergen Boden, who was sitting in the pits, having changed out of his racing suit and into shorts, T-shirt and a Cuban cigar.

Before the practice lap his car had developed carburetor problems, which cost him the opportunity to go around the track a few times.

So his "practice lap" was, in fact, the first lap of the race, and his first time around the 2.238-mile, 11-turn Laguna Seca track, which is known for its dramatic elevation changes and sudden drop-offs.

"If I hadn't walked around the track before the race, I would have come into the 'corkscrew' section and thought maybe there had been an earthquake," Boden said. "All of a sudden, the track disappears!"

Boden had come as part of a group of four vintage cars, on the "Methusalem" team owned by Mario Linke. His car No. 158 started in 13th place and, after some sneaky passes and cagey driving, finished in 7th or 8th.

Boden wasn't sure which, but he was determined to come back next year and do better. Studying the GoPro footage he took of his own race, Boden calculated where he could have passed better and driven faster.

"Next year," he said. "I'll be back next year."

Follow me on Twitter: @misterfleming

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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