Brothers honor late mother with a few spins on Laguna Seca race track

Fifty years after Nadeene Brengle raced there and five years after she died, her sons return to Laguna Seca

One weekend in 1964, San Diego housewife and mother of five Nadeene Brengle drove an Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider onto the asphalt at Laguna Seca, the historic race track outside Monterey.

Fifty years later, two of her sons returned to Laguna Seca, to race the same car their mother had taken there when they were little boys.

They had come to Laguna Seca during the annual Monterey Car Week, Dave and Tom Brengle said, to pay tribute to their mother, five years after her passing -- by track down the car she had raced, returning it to its original condition and putting it back onto the race track.

"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."

Nadeene Brengle got into sports cars after seeing people compete in ice races in Michigan. The daughter of a car fanatic, she started racing after she and her husband and their five sons relocated to San Diego and opened a sports car parts store.

Both husband and wife raced -- but Mom was faster than Dad, who stopped racing in order to support his wife on the track.

For the next several years, Nadeene Brengle took the podium at Sports Car Club of America races at tracks in Palm Springs, Pomona, Riverside, Santa Barbara and Phoenix, according to Sports Car Club of America records.

She raced a Cooper, a Fiat-Arbarth Zagato, an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider Veloce -- nicknamed Gertie -- and later an Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ, nicknamed Tizzie.

But No. 64, the Giulia Spider known as Gertie 2, was her favorite. She'd been given it by Alfa Romeo, Dave said, with the option of returning it at the end of the season or buying it -- for $1.

Finding Gertie 2 took the two brothers several years. Race cars don't have license plates. They aren't registered. They are routinely taken apart, on race days, and put back together with parts from other cars. Body parts are often discarded entirely after crashes.

But Dave, determined to find the car, posted photos of Gertie on the Internet, asking whether anyone had seen the car or knew where it was.

He 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 persuade him to do so. 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, 62, who recently retired from his information technology position at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and moved to Boise, Idaho.

"There is nothing on that car we didn't touch," said Dave, 54, an executive with a medical device firm in San Diego.

The two men almost didn't make it to Laguna Seca, where every year as many as 60,000 spectators come for a weekend of vintage track action that pits historic race cars against their peers.

The No. 64 Alfa's engine had not been turned over for years and hadn't been started until a week before it was scheduled to leave Southern California for Monterey. It had not been driven until a day before Dave got it onto the famed 2.238-mile, 11-turn Laguna Seca track for a few practice laps.

There was still plenty of work to do. The Alfa developed a wiring problem, and then sprang a water leak. A rear tire was rubbing a fender. A throttle linkage stuck open and caused the engine to idle too high.

All day Saturday the two men and a mechanic prepped the Alfa for its return to the track, when on Sunday it would join 47 other vintage racers for the big race -- on a track that Dave had never driven before.

Dave told visitors the car felt "great." Did he think he'd be able to do justice to the car and maybe match his mother'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."

But when Sunday came, that's where Dave and Gertie 2 were.

On lap three of the 20-minute heat, the Alfa began to lose power. Afraid of blowing the engine entirely, Dave piloted Gertie into the pits, and began to troubleshoot.

Was it a bad plug? A bent valve? A holed piston? The two brothers weren't sure, but they knew their track time was done for this year's Monterey Car Week "historics" racing.

"We still had a successful weekend," Tom wrote in an email to friends after the race. "Dave's original goal was to just be able to run one lap at speed this year at Laguna Seca, to honor the 50 years since our Mom drove Gertie there. So we are a bit disappointed, but not at all disheartened."

"Mom is probably up there smiling," Tom concluded, even though the car didn't finish the race. "She is shrugging her shoulders and saying, 'That's racing!' as she did many, many times."

Follow me on Twitter: @misterfleming


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