Terms like “new”, “first-ever” and “pioneering” are usually not associated with Vintage racing, where we attempt to recreate the sights, sounds, and visceral feel of the golden age of road racing with history in motion. However, over the weekend of April 9-10, Heartland Vintage Racing (HVR) was in fact the first race group to take the green and checkered flag at the new, spectacular Ozark International Raceway in Gravois Mill, Missouri. The track features 3.9 miles of smooth and wide asphalt, with 19 unique turns, and enough elevation change to keep Dramamine in business for decades.
The inaugural race event at OIR was hosted by the great friends of HVR and Vintage racing supporters, NASA Central Region. With an eclectic mix of vintage iron on the grid, teaching the old cars a new and technical track commenced under the watchful eyes of a flock of bald eagles flying cover all weekend. The varying camber and radius turns, combined with copious elevation changes, took the cars a couple of sessions to commit to their ECU, but by the first race Saturday afternoon, the racecars and their jockeys got the distinct rhythm of the track and it was time to race.
The first-ever OIR race green flag was waved at the top qualifying father-son duo of Erik and Collin Wood, in a pair of beautifully prepared Alpha Romeos. After 20 minutes of family dicing, Erik was able to capitalize on a youthful mistake and pulled away in his yellow # 9 Alpha to also take the checkers. Local Vintage racer Jeff Neathery in his green ’65 Mustang #19 was able to keep pace, but could not quite close the gap, finishing a close second with Collin Wood in the #18 blue Alpha rounding out the podium. A little further back in the pack, two Corvairs were making Ralph Nader go into conniptions, churning out beautiful music from their flat 6’s, and carving up the track piloted by Jeff Moore in the red #15, and Shelby Wood in the white #13 Yenko Stinger Corvair.
A full evening of attempted recollection of turn numbers and bonfire debrief, coupled with liquid sustenance for the cars and drivers, resulted in further excitement and anticipation of the next day of racing on Ozarks International Raceway.
Sunday’s weather was Ozark perfection, with temperatures matching the average age of Vintage drivers. The Sunday morning race featured Jesse Prather slaloming through the field in his dad’s beautiful white ’57 MGA #26, demonstrating deft driving skill in a perfectly set-up Vintage machine. The superior thrust to weight ratio of the MGA in the younger Prather’s gloves was enough to pass Neathery’s Mustang on the last lap for the win, with the two Wood Alpha’s finishing 3rd and 4th. In addition to the #19 Mustang, the steel equines of Ronnie Killion (#28 Orange ’69 Boss) and Kenny Barnett’s #23 Gulf ’65 Mustang made strong showings, although just out of the money.
The final race of the weekend Sunday afternoon followed some spectacular fishing and flying from the resident bald eagles. Inspired by their gracefulness in motion, Jeff Neathery and his #19 Mustang were able to prove his track mastery, parrying the challenge from Kent Prather in the white MGA to take the gold and silver respectively. Eric Wood in the blue #18 Alpha held off the hard-charging #28 Boss Mustang of Ronnie Killion at the final checkers. Solid runs by the orange #717 ’66 Mustang of Sean Krieger, the beautiful blue and white #44 Mustang Fastback of Dennis Paul, and the #23x ‘Bama red Mustang of Patrick Stapler, put a smile on the blue oval faithful in attendance. Jeff Melvin in his #63 white Alpha Spyder Veloce and the #45 red MG of Tim McGinley provided a treat for the European Vintage fans, as they marked their territory on the new track.
The culmination of the weekend of Vintage racing and camaraderie was driving all cars on the trailer with appreciation and awe for the latest track facility in America’s beautiful Heartland. Ozark International Raceway and Vintage racing will be matched like biscuits and gravy for years to come.
HVR Member Bryce Langley shot a ton of great photographs and videos, and was kind enough to share them at the following links:
Author: Jim “Jimbo” Macaulay
Photo Credits: WJP Aerial, Bryce Langley