Chic Vandagriff’s influence can be seen in many chapters of the history of motor racing in the United States. One could argue that his involvement began before he was even born, since his grandfather, Harry Buchanan Grey, was one of Barney Oldfield’s riding mechanics at Indianapolis during the early years of the 500-mile race.
Growing up, Vandagriff raced his own hot rod on both the dry lakebed at El Mirage and Glenoaks Boulevard in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, before becoming general manager of Burbank Sportscars in the early 1950s. He helped shape the California Sports Car Club and did his first road racing with them in an Austin-Healey in 1959.
He opened Hollywood Sports Cars in 1960 as a distributor for various British marques, then added Ferrari two years later, soon becoming the second largest Ferrari dealer in the world. Eventually, however, Ferrari chose to establish its own dealership in Beverly Hills instead.
After a heart attack forced Chic out of the cockpit in mid-’61, Ronnie Bucknum took over his Austin-Healey and drove it to 35 consecutive National race wins! In ’63 HSC added an E Production MGB—built by hot rodder Doane Spencer who also served as chief mechanic—that would regularly beat Corvettes. Later the stable grew further with a factory development program for a Sunbeam Tiger that emerged victorious from six of seven meetings with the similarly powered 289 Shelby Cobras.
Beyond his efforts with Cal Club, Vandagriff also had a hand in the creation of some of the SCCA’s greatest hits, including the National Championship Runoffs for club racers, as well as the Can-Am, Trans-Am and Formula 5000 series for the pros, as the club grew from a strictly amateur outfit into a more professional organization.
Vandagriff also pioneered safety awareness, instituting training classes for marshals, and working with Dick Audi, who invented the Jaws of Life, to create other safety equipment for Cal Club—including the first racing fire truck. He began requiring seat belts before almost anyone else, and for the ’66 Runoffs at Riverside, broke new ground by making harnesses mandatory.
HSC fielded a Ferrari 612 for Chris Amon in the 1969 Can-Am—marking the first time the factory had ever loaned out a racecar—but results were mixed in a season when the works McLarens won every race, and the car returned to Italy at season’s end.
Vandagriff was also one of the original partners—with Jim Kaser, Chris Cord and Steve Earle—in General Racing Ltd., formed in 1971. He later left the company, however, somewhat disillusioned by all the death and politics in the sport, and unsure that Earle’s idea of historic auto races at Laguna Seca was a good one.
All this aside, however, his primary legacy may be his son Cris, who began going to the races with his dad at age 8, and presently heads the Historic Motor Sports Association that, ironically, now oversees the grand success that vintage car racing has become on the Monterey Peninsula.
To Cris and the other family members, as well as all of Vandagriff’s many friends in and out of the sport, Vintage Racecar extends our sincere condolences.