Icons of Speed – HSR Classic Motorsports Mitty
Words & Photography | Kenneth Midgett
For weeks I spent an unhealthy amount of hours scouring through the nooks and crannies of the world wide web in search of historic racing machines. Sports cars, prototypes, formula cars - I wanted to see them all. I gazed into each photograph and video absorbing everything I could to understand the essence of what makes these icons of speed so great. I would soon find out each unique engine note, colorful livery and race winning heritage only grazes the surface.
It was with these thoughts in mind that I hit the road for my weekend destination. After months of eager, impatient anticipation, the Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR) Classic Motorsports Mitty had finally arrived.
To say I was excited would be a severe understatement as this was a weekend of many firsts for me.
It was my first visit to Road Atlanta as well as my first opportunity to shoot from inside the fences at the storied and historically significant road course.
It was my first time witnessing the large majority of over 300 historic racers in up-close detail.
It was also my first time to experience the greatness of these old machines on track, to experience what so many others have done before me and what brings them back time and time again.
I arrived at the world famous Road Atlanta racing circuit early on Friday morning. The sun had just crested the horizon as warm sun rays showered the track’s grounds and a light, slightly unfamiliar hum of racing engines hovered in the distance.
Turning right through the main entrance gate my first sight of the racing surface was a daunting drop heading into turn twelve leading onto the front straightaway. It was immediately apparent that Road Atlanta’s changing elevation isn’t properly captured on television.
Still very early on a weekday, the spectator areas were mostly void of onlookers but things were soon to change.
My first destination for the weekend was the iconic Road Atlanta ‘Esses’ and this was where I caught my first glimpse of a beautiful Porsche 356 racer gliding towards me. The noise, the smells, the nostalgia – it was just how I had imagined.
‘A time machine of sight and sound,’ this marked the 37th running of the Mitty, the largest vintage motorsports festival in the eastern United States. Over 300 entrants traveled to Braselton, GA for vintage wheel to wheel racing around the 2.54 mile, 12-turn Road Atlanta road course.
The sheer volume of cars to arrive was amazing in itself, but the expansive variety made it that much better. Cars ranged from the 1950s all the way to modern day racers.
Production sports cars…
And even NASCAR stock cars raced over the HSR Mitty weekend.
The amount of Porsches in attendance was truly staggering with a countless amount of pristine 356s and 911s of every vintage and level of modification. While sports cars dominated, there was a small selection of more extreme Bavarian racers in attendance…
Including a 2006 Porsche RS Spyder Le Mans car, a 1979 935/K3 and 1984 962 ex-IMSA GTP racer that I’ll get to in a bit.
The weekend schedule included each group classification taking to the track for qualifying rounds on Friday and various races on Saturday and Sunday. Each grouping of cars (group 1 thru 10) designated a similar set of HSR classifications and placed them on the track at the same time to improve the racing and keep things as competitive as possible.
The less powerful classes ran first followed by the purpose built hard-core racers later, gradually upping the power and speeds as the day went on. With each new class that took to the track, I was left breathless by yet another icon I’d only previously seen in print. Epic keeps coming to mind.
I’ve been to some great events in the past – multiple Indycar races, the Grand-Am series, a hillclimb in the Blue Ridge Mountains, even the inaugural F1GP at COTA – but for pleasure, the HSR Mitty tops them all.
On Friday I spent a majority of my time exploring the track confines, searching for the best places to capture the most compelling compositions and most interesting action. I love going to a track for the first time. The unknown territory helps jumpstart my creative thinking in search of that next great shot.
It’s with this creative freedom that I explore more options through my viewfinder – tight crops, wide angles, slow shutter, fast shutter. I am constantly thinking outside of the box looking for ways to improve and capture moments that haven’t previously been seen.
I always start out covering an event with the goal to shoot each and every car in attendance, but somehow I end up focusing on a smaller selection in the end. My results are skewed toward the cars that stand out the most to me, the cars that have that extra bit of allure and presence.
Thankfully, the massive turnout and variety at the Mitty lent to a much larger selection of amazing machines to watch for, some by their looks and others by their bark.
There was no shortage of souvenirs to choose from either. Multiple booths housed flags of every color, prints, shirts, hats, pins, patches… you name it. I only took the time to quickly browse for fear of spending more than I could afford.
In particular, I had to stay as far away from the literature as possible. You could literally purchase any book, then walk a few steps and watch the exact car at full tilt that’s documented within it.
Heading into the weekend, the car I wanted to see most was the Lowenbrau Porsche 962. Regardless of livery, ownership or individual history, the 962 is simply a legend, an all conquering beast in Porsche’s rich racing heritage. This particular chassis, dubbed the 962-HR1 ‘Lowenbrau Special,’ was built in 1985 by the USA based Holbert Racing with permission from Porsche AG and was campaigned from 1985-88 under IMSA GTP specification.
It would go on to claim pole position in its first ever race, beginning a legacy of dominance for many years to come. By the end of its storied career, the Lowebrau Special scored a total of 11 victories and 19 podiums in the IMSA GT Championship, including three IMSA GT Championships and the overall win at the 1987 24 Hours of Daytona.
Because of this, the Lowenbrau Special is widely considered the most successful and recognizable 962 in history. With its simple but effective blue, gold and white livery and winning heritage, it’s not hard to see why. It’s an icon of speed in every sense.
Witnessing the $1m flamethrower at full bore around Road Atlanta was an experience lacking words. I patiently waited for each chance I had at capturing this incredible machine on track.
Other ex-GTP racers in attendance included a 6.0L V12 powered 1988 Jaguar XJR-7…
And an aerodynamically experimental 1990 Chevrolet Intrepid.
The Lowenbrau Special wasn’t the only car in attendance with such a rich history; another German creation deserves equal attention.
The 1973 BMW CSL 3.0 ‘Batmobile’ is immediately recognizable with its BMW Motorsport color scheme - the first to wear the iconic livery - and protruding wings and fenders. This example is a product of the same factory that would go on to produce the M1 and McLaren F1 V12 power plant. Powered by a 430 HP straight six, the CSL was capable of a 180mph top speed in Group 2 trim.
It also claimed a class victory and 11th overall finish in the 1973 24 Hours of Le Mans, the most grueling endurance race in the world. The BMW CSL, built to varied specification, is written in history as one of the most successful production race cars of all time.
Group 7 fielded a beautiful selection of thunderous Can-Am racers including Denny Hulme’s 1971 McLaren M8f…
a 1967 Matich SR3 which spent a majority of its life in Australia…
And multiple gorgeous Lola T70 series Can-Am chassis’…
Complete with mid mounted 5.0L v8 sledgehammer.
There was so much eye – and ear – candy to absorb, I could litteraly write on for days. I equated the Mitty parking lot alone to the best Cars & Coffee showing of the year. I strongly recommend viewing the complete photo gallery on our AFM Facebook page.
I was fortunate enough to be granted with full access of Road Atlanta, allowing me to roam freely within the grounds and practically anywhere alongside the curving road course, assuming the necessary safety considerations.
At some points around the track, I could stand mere feet from so many incredible classic racers.
Even though my main objective over the HSR Mitty weekend was that of a motorsports photographer and automotive journalist combined, I periodically took the time to rest my trigger finger and simply enjoy the oral and aural assault on my senses.
So what makes these icons of speed so great? For me, it’s a quality beyond the obvious. It’s an intangible element that can’t explicitly be described with words.
It’s a feeling evoked only by racing machines of yore, the enjoyment that comes from a mechanical simplicity and rawness. Brought on by the smooth revving of a carbureted flat-six, the distinct turbo sounds of a Porsche 962 or the brutal presence of a Ford Gt40 in Gulf livery, it’s a feeling that never gets old and one I hope to repeat.