Billed as a mix between the world’s greatest car show and the world’s greatest vintage racing event, Velocity Invitational manages to pull off both things simultaneously. Originally kicked off as the Sonoma Speed Festival back in 2019, it brought a level of class, pomp, and circumstance to vintage racing that had never been seen on this continent. A second event was planned for 2020 before *waves hands around* happened. Without the ability to secure a date at Sonoma in 2021 the event moved down the coast to Laguna Seca.
It is quite clear that the white paper for this event was the ability to bring the Goodwood Festival of Speed to California. I don’t think the event is quite there yet, but if things keep going like this it will be in no time. Laguna Seca’s own Monterey Motorsport Reunion event in August has typically been the standard of the nation when it comes to vintage motorsport, and while it may have held more cars in 2021, it didn’t bring the same panache. And it didn’t have the high level of heavy hitters that Velocity brought.
(Full Disclosure: Velocity Invitational and Sonoma Speed Festival before it invited Radwood to participate in the event with a curated display. I and the other co-founders of Radwood benefitted materially in the success of our event within the event. We were given free tickets to attend, though we did pay for our own travel and lodging. Additionally, I consider myself to be friends with one of the organizers of Velocity, and experience joy in watching them succeed.)
While I’m guessing both Velocity Festival and Monterey Motorsport Reunion would rather the two events weren’t compared to each other, the comparison is easy and apt. Previously known simply as The Historics, the Reunion was first held in 1974 and has been a staple of Pebble Beach weekend for decades, so it’s valid to believe it will continue on in perpetuity. Something like 500 cars participate in the event between the Pre-Reunion the weekend before and the three-day festival itself. Velocity had maybe two thirds that number, but managed to both draw in a higher-tier of participants, and deliver a classier overall feel.
Massive participation in this event came from manufacturers Ford and McLaren. Both Jim Farley and Zak Brown were on hand to not only shake hands and appear on the live stream for a while, but to demonstrate historically significant cars from each manufacturer’s stable on track. Brown briefly squeezed himself into an F1 car for a few laps and Farley took a Le Mans-raced Ford GT out for an afternoon drive. Putting the F1 cars on track for a while was maybe the highlight of the weekend, as the V8 and V10 roar literally made the hairs on my neck stand at attention.
So what does the Velocity Invitational do that the Reunion doesn’t? For one thing the food is of a much higher quality. That’s not to say that Laguna Seca typically has bad food, a Frog Dog is pretty great. In addition to the traditional food vendors, Velocity Invitational brings in local restaurants and lays out an exceptional faux grass food court right in the middle of the mix. And that’s before you get to the wine! Laguna Seca isn’t far from some of the best wine in the country, so why not play that up?
Also among the giant hauler rigs from the likes of The Revs Institute and Canepa Design, the paddock also houses massive displays of cars that won’t ever see the race track. One of these gatherings was the James Hetfield collection of art-deco-inspired hot rods (pictured above) that was most welcome. Obviously having Radwood on hand with a 50-car curated display was another inspired move.
Everything was top tier from the tents housing the cars to the simple addition of astroturf and white picket fencing. Bringing in McLaren’s heritage collection was inspired. My jaw dropped to the floor when I first walked through the paddock as one tent housed one of the famous Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupes next to a trio of Ferrari 250 GTOs, a handful of other 250s, and this gorgeous pontoon-fender TestaRossa. And that’s to say nothing of the ex-Phil Hill Ferrari Carrera Panamerica racer and the Mercedes 300 SLR.
Every era of motorsport was represented at this event. Not only were there Porsche 356s which had been raced since new, but pre-war chuggers and modern F1 machinery dotted the landscape. They even had MotoAmerica haul a few examples of each of its motorcycle classes out to the track to give the audience an idea of what it’s like to check out the bike races. Who doesn’t love King of the Baggers, honestly?
One of the most creative things I’d ever seen done on track was the Minis vs. Mustangs battle royale into the night. By being forced to run the event in November, obviously the sun went down quite early in the day, and there simply wasn’t enough time to get everything in during the light hours. Why not throw a few dozen original Minis on track with a handful of 1965 and 66 Mustangs to chase them down? And why not make it the first night race to ever be held at Laguna Seca? The organizers recommended racers fit their cars with auxiliary lights, and placed large light towers at the entry, apex, and exit of each corner. Laguna Seca does not have lights, after all. It was truly brilliant.
Ultimately, as a fan of old cars and racing, I’m glad that both the Monterey Motorsports Reunion and Velocity Invitational can exist. It was interesting to see racing happening at Laguna Seca in a part of the year where the hills were actually green. Here’s hoping the Velocity Invitational continues to expand its scope and breadth as the years tick by. For the first time at a new venue, I was extremely impressed and can’t wait to get to the next one. Maybe something else new will drop my jaw.