The romantic notion of vintage cars racing on a woodsy road, bordered by cobblestone walls, bridges, hay bales and snow fence is a true throwback to an era of racing that lies in the memories of few—and the imaginations of many. Sadly, there are fewer of these events left in the world as even the great historic tracks have been “updated” to the latest safety standards—and are a catch-fence-lined shadow of their former glory. While venues like the famed driveway hillclimb at the Goodwood Estate in the UK remain, events like this in the U.S. are almost an anomaly.
At the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix (PVGP), now in its 34th year, large crowds gather for nostalgia, car culture and a look at what racing was truly like prior to 1953, when the nation began to reject the concept of racing on municipal roads. The PVGP is held in July, at Schenley Park, in the shadow of downtown Pittsburgh, and allows the attendee and participant-alike the experience of vintage racing—in an authentic vintage setting.
Shutting down the popular Schenley Park for such an event takes a great deal of effort and compliance—one that benefits the casual attendee as there is no admission cost to enter and observe. It is a tranquil weekend in the park, like any other, save for the sounds of everything from pre-war racing cars to sports cars and Formula Juniors roaring through the woods. The “over hill, over dale” circuit in the historic eastern city makes a beautiful backdrop for watching, photographing and most of all, dreaming of a bygone time in motorsport history.
Beyond the on-track activities, during the ten days of this festival, there are a multitude of car shows, parades, gala dinners and activities for all manner of enthusiast. Regardless of whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool gearhead or just a casual enthusiast, to spread a blanket out with a basket of wine and cheese and just revel in the sights and sounds, is one of the PVGP’s great treats. It is a celebration of summer, an ode to automobillia, a time for family and friends and a showcase for the beautiful “three rivers city.”
Amongst the sights and sounds of the racing, the park and adjacent golf course play host to some of the most beautiful iron to grace a road. Hundreds of vintage, classic and special interest cars are on display by their proud owners for close inspection. Nearly any make or model one could desire can found as significant car club involvement has been key in this event’s success throughout its 34-year history.
The weekend prior to the races in the park brings out the big bore cars on the 2.8-mile Pittsburgh International Race Complex. Just 40-miles northeast of the city, this relatively recent addition to the 10-day motoring festival provides a venue for vintage racing cars that would not navigate the park circuit as safely. The Pitt Historics Powered by Ford weekend offers up the ground-pounding, high-speed excitement notable at events like the Monterey Historics. The Pitt weekend has been expanded to three days for the first time in the event’s history. Organizers are anticipating more than 250 entrants. A full paddock provides a literal cornucopia of historic racecars sure to thrill spectators.
Yet, with all those positives going for it, perhaps the greatest gift of all is the fact that the proceeds from the event benefit the less fortunate. “100% of our net proceeds, over $4.3 million, help support the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Valley School,” notes the event’s Executive Director Dan DelBianco. “These are two area charities that work to improve the lives of people they exist to serve – namely, individuals and their families living with autism and physical and intellectual disabilities.”
For the fan of racing history and the automobile, this is Pittsburgh’s pre-eminent event. The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix is a bucket list item for those around the country and world to experience. For more information about the Schenley Park classic and all the great events surrounding the PVGP, go to http://www.pvgp.org and find your slice of the excitement.