In motorsports, legends are made, not born. Constant reminders of this sprang up throughout the day today at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, a four-day event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca where tens of thousands of people visit during Monterey’s Classic Car Week to get their fill of cool historic cars racing wheel-to-wheel.
Saturday is traditionally the most popular day at the circuit, as it faithfully features racing for the special marque – this year the Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang – and seven additional groups (another seven will race on Sunday), while also offering an array of special opportunities, both planned and chance, for fans to interact with not only current owners and drivers of the 550 period-correct cars competing but also indelible legends who drove them in the past.
“I love it when I see my former cars racing here,” said three-time Formula 1 World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart, a Rolex Testimonee who has had a 47-year relationship with the watch company and is perhaps the most recognizable and beloved personality mixing with the crowds here. “They may not go as fast as we did in the day (he mentioned he holds the lap record at Goodwood from 1965, and it still has not been beaten), but it is wonderful to see them.”
When fans tell Stewart they were inspired by him during his racing years, he wonders if it was more about the times than his driving. “It was a glamorous time but a dangerous time, and that may have attracted a lot of attention from a lot of people. I lived through it, but I don’t understand why I am still recognizable.”
Stewart, who secured his first contract with Ford in 1964, joined Scott Pruett, a five-time Rolex 24 At Daytona winner (most recently in 2013), on-stage at today’s “Picnic” in the Marketplace, endearing himself to a crowd of nearly a thousand by recounting colorful stories about his past while Pruett lent his own entertaining perspective on car racing as a passion.
“I started carting at eight years old,” said Pruett, ” and won a world championship in that, then went on to race in NASCAR, Trans-Am, Indy Car and IMSA in addition to Grand Am.” Pruett owns 13 Rolex timepieces that he has won in competition, but it was his first Rolex he bought that makes him most proud when he wears it. “It was after my first IROC series race (1987), the last race ever at Riverside, when I promised myself if I won that race I would go buy myself a Rolex. On the last turn of the last lap, I went right up the inside of Roberto Guererro; he went off the track and I went on to win.”
Some of Pruett’s early cars are here, now perfectly prepped for vintage racing, and he says they muster feelings similar to seeing an old friend. “Zac Brown bought my IMSA GTO Championship car, the 1986 ‘Motorcraft Mustang’ (which raced today in Rolex Race Group 7A for 1981-1991 FIA / IMSA – GTP, GTO); I had just signed on with Ford Motor Company and that was my first championship. In 1986, ’87 and ’88, we won four championships. I was reunited with that car last year here at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and I later saw the Nissan which was the car I won my first overall victory with at the Rolex 24 At Daytona; the XJR-12 Jaguar I drove with Tom Walkinshaw in 1991; and some of the 962 Porsches that I have driven over the years.”
Though last year was his first time coming to the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, Pruett says it’s now one of his favorite things to do. “There is eye candy everywhere. It’s overwhelming to all your senses – sight, sound and smell. For any racer like me it is wonderful to come here and see these great cars and the passion among the car owners and drivers. The event is a great fit for Rolex, and Monterey is a great fit for the event; there is no better place for these drivers to come to race their cars.”
Pruett, who also owns a vineyard, likened vintage cars to vintage wine: “Neither one is ever rushed, and they are not vintage until their time. It’s all about heritage and everybody wants a winner.”
If two famous drivers weren’t enough to impress, several others could be found walking the paddock, inspecting the cars and indulging in the atmosphere, including Hurley Haywood (who, until Pruett caught him, held the record for five Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona victories), Derek Bell, Brian Redmond, Lynn St. James, Bob Bondurant, David Donohue, Bill Auberlen, Bobby Rahal, and Howden Ganley