NAMGAR at the GLEN 2014 - A Neophyte’s Recollections

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Being the owner of a recently restored 1959 MGA 1600, and having few mechanical skills, this was a momentous adventure. I had never driven the car on a long trip at sustained speeds of 65mph, so had no idea of what to expect. I felt like a member of the Lewis & Clark expedition, but enjoyed the comfort of being part of an 8 car caravan headed to Watkins Glen, NY.

My neighbor, Bill Marshall, NAMGAR’s Historian and the President of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter, assured me that I wasn’t going to be left stranded. He casually recommended that along with a change of clothes and toothbrush, I should have a tool kit on-board, spare parts, oil, water, road flares, flash light, emergency phone numbers, and especially my cell phone. Now I really began to wonder if I knew what I was getting into. “Oh, and don’t forget to bring a poncho,”

Marshall suggested, “in case you need to fix something when it’s raining.” My heart was pounding with excitement just thinking about all of the new experiences I was about to enjoy! This reminded me of my first date, when I got to drive solo in the family car. I was a little apprehensive just thinking about having a chance to take laps on both the current track as well as on the original course through the picturesque Village of Watkins Glen and the surrounding country roads. I was also looking forward to renewing friendships with members I hadn’t seen in a while; and meeting others about whom I had been reading in MGA! magazine. The itinerary was chock full of activities that I just couldn’t wait to enjoy.

Needless to say, after a few hours on the road I began to understand that this sturdy little 1800 cc engine put out some serious heat. With the MGA 1600 rear-end, I also noticed that the engine was running at 4300 rpm to keep up with the group. The temperature gauge rapidly read 200+ degrees, so I knew I was going to have to keep an eye on this. The fact that the rubber on the accelerator pedal melted and stuck onto the bottom of my shoe was a dead give away that I had a problem. But with the top down, at least my upper body felt comfortable. We arrived at the Ramada Inn, in Painted Post, NY without any breakdowns or accidents and were ready to start the fun!

Thursday morning was a beauty, and everyone was raring to get to Corning, NY to tour the Corning Glass Museum. If you’ve never been, it is fascinating to see what’s involved in creating the beautiful pieces of art as well as the practical applications such as windows for the space shuttle and fiber optic cables used for unlimited data transmission.

Corning Glass MuseumCorning Glass Museum

A half hour drive from Corning took our group to the scenic Heron Hill Winery. The hillside view overlooked Lake Keuka, one of the five larger Finger Lakes, in upstate New York. This offered a wonderful break for lunch, visiting with new friends, plus a chance to sample some delicious proprietary wines. Needless to say, several bottles found a safe storage place in the back of my MGA. A short hop from there and we were at the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport. I could have spent the entire day there, looking at the vintage planes, cars, boats, and the WWII P-40 warplane being restored. My wife, Pam, is going to be so bored when I share all of the pictures with her. Thank goodness I thought to bring her three bottles of wine! After a few glasses she may actually enjoy hearing all about this trip. Dinner that evening gave us an opportunity to have a few drinks and connect with other members. I was especially pleased to get to know Lee and Liz Niner who write the column “The A’s Have It;” Mike Tooke, the Editor of MGA! magazine, with a wicked sense of humor and who looks much younger without the hat; Vice Chairman, Carol Shamonsky, and her husband, Bill, who did such a terrific job in organizing this event; Mike Eaton, the MGA Historian, who gave a very interesting pictorial history of the origins of Watkins Glen races; and his guest speaker, Dave Nicholas, driver/owner of the #76 “Honey Bee.” All of these folks have much in common, not the least of which is their passion for 'A's and their willingness to volunteer their time to keep the Register alive and vibrant for its members.

Heron Hill

Friday was a hot one for the long awaited Tour de Marque drive. Over 130 cars participated, and the sight of these vintage beauties was a feast for my eyes. The Tour wound its way through the countryside to the current Watkins Glen International (WGI) track. Having a chance to take two laps was very exciting for me and a chance to exercise my hot MGA engine. From WGI, we drove to the Village of Watkins Glen and ended at the Start/Finish Line on Franklin Street for two laps on the old course. I was so happy to be a newly minted Stone Bridge Driver; but even happier that my car survived. The Vintage Race Cars (and drivers) that raced that afternoon looked like a collection from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! The day exceeded all of my expectations!

Tour de Marque

Saturday provided us with exceptional races for the Vintage Grand Prix; and I quickly learned that there are some very fast vintage cars driven by colorful vintage drivers. Unfortunately, Dave Nicholas, the “Flyin’ Hawaiian,” and his #76 car only survived three laps before dropping out with engine problems, but NAMGAR member Bob Vitrikas and his #267 MGA was able to finish.

After the races, we drove back to the hotel in a downpour, and I was most pleased that my new top, installed by Mid-Atlantic Chapter member Charlie Adams, didn’t leak and my windshield wipers actually worked. That is, until I pulled into the hotel parking lot, where the wipers abruptly stopped. So, I donned my poncho, got out my tools and started with the fuses. They were okay, so I checked the wiring that looked good as well. Finally, with no other thought as to the cause of the problem, I was looking somewhat dumbfounded when a gentleman parked next to me in his 'A.' After explaining the situation to him, he said, “have you tried jiggling the wipers”? So, I tried that, thinking it a total waste of time, and sure enough, that did the trick! So much for my tools. Dinner that night at Gaffers Grill in Corning was a boisterous affair, with a chance to share stories and meet more members.

Our last day, Sunday, provided a cool morning for a scenic drive to the falls at Montour and Havana Glen. After a quick repair of a broken throttle cable on one of the cars, we arrived at Watkins Glen International for the final day of races. Liz Ten Eyck explained that 'A's have gremlins and owners just have to love that about them. That evening, we enjoyed a relaxing boat tour of Seneca Lake, followed by a wonderful dinner at the Seneca Lake Harbor Station restaurant. Gotta love George Kress, NAMGAR’S Treasurer and collector of MGA parts. I was lucky enough to sit next to him and his wife, Bonnie, for dinner. He offered several options to deal with my engine running hot; and even offered to help me fix the problem if I were to visit him in the Pittsburgh area. This willingness to help, I found, was typical of NAMGAR members.

Monday morning I was outside early, to pack up my car for the return trip to Manassas, VA. The “Sunshine Gals” were singing the Roy Rogers’ theme song, “Happy Trails to You” and reflecting the mood we all shared. Parked next to me were Ron and Linda Jones, soon to be new members. They had purchased some fresh corn that they said was wonderfully sweet. Insisting that I try some, they gave me two ears to take home. Since the car was full, I had only the passenger side floor to pack the corn. The ride back took about eight hours, and my 'A' was pumping out enough heat to warm my entire house. After safely home, I was delighted to find both ears of corn were fully cooked! Whatta trip! I can’t wait for the next one!

[Article written by Meade Gwinn. Photos by Meade Gwinn, Scott Holmes (racepix.com), Bill Shamonsky, and MGA! staff.]

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Last updated on November 29, 2014.

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