Buttonwillow 2000

Under a beautiful, blue May sky, the fifth annual Moss Motors British Extravaganza attracted record numbers of competition and show cars to Buttonwillow Raceway in the San Joaquin Valley of central California.

Organized by VARA, and sponsored by Moss Motors in association with Chrysler Corporation and Title West Mortgage, the event has continually proved to be an extremely popular early season opener. It draws entries from Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Oregon, in addition to the usual suspects from California.

Throughout the weekend, the thousands of enthusiasts attending had the opportunity to witness over 250 classic race cars compete in a variety of classes. Vehicles ranged from diminutive three-wheeler Morgans, to the faster full-race prepared British classics such as Jaguar, Austin-Healey, MG, and Triumph.

From early on Friday, spectators were able to get into the action as scrutinizing and track testing took place. One of the features of Buttonwillow is the fact that one can get up close and personal and speak with competitors as they prepare their cars for the two days of racing ahead. Always eager to tell you of modifications to their steeds, this is where novice drivers can pick up useful hints and tips, in addition to receiving a friendly welcome from seasoned veterans.

Entries this year were at record levels, with no less than 50 cars entered for each of the Group 5 and Group 6 races. To see half a hundred MGBs, Triumphs, Sprites, and Minis trailing the pace car prior to the start was a real treat. Streaming halfway around the 2 1/2-mile circuit, the half markers seemed to be no more than a few car lengths in from of the leaders as they thundered around the first turn and across the line.

One of the highlights of the Moss Extravaganza each year is the wonderful turnout of Historic Racers. This time, the magnificent oldies included a 1910 Essex Racer, Lagondas dating from 1929 and 1939, and Peter Gidding’s superb Bugatli Type 59.

It was not only the racers who enjoyed this thrilling little circuit. Mr. or Mrs. Average Spectator was allowed on the track to drive his/her own British classic for a 60-minute period. This gave casual race fans an opportunity to see firsthand what the competitors had to contend with as they hauled the opposition at much higher speeds.

With over 30 practice and race events, the battle lines for the weekend were drawn, but the highlights were the MG/Triumph and Sprite/Mini Challenge races that attracted record entries. Let’s start with the Sprite/Mini event and feature the father and son Matthews family.

Mark Matthews Sr. had loaned his Sprite to Mark Jr., a promising rookie for the last two VARA races at Las Vegas and Willow Springs. You can imagine Mark Jr.’s disappointment when his father informed him that he (Dad) would be driving the Sprite at Buttonwillow. Friday afternoon, dad pulled in with the car trailer and rolled out not only his own Sprite but also the very quick, ex-Tom Colby Sprite which, unknown to Junior, he had bought for him. Dad had sweetened the deal by already having his son’s name painted on the cockpit. To say young Mark was overwhelmed would be an understatement, and there were even a few teary eyes among the hardened racers as father presented son with his very own race car.

Wait, it gets better! In the Sunday Sprite/Mini Challenge race, young Mark held off his dad as they finished first and second in a very keenly fought event. This is the stuff that racing dreams are made of.

In the MG/Triumph Challenge race, Doug Schirripa in his 1966 MGB took the checkered flag, making it to the line just one half-second ahead of the 1962 MGB Bonnie Lel-esch was piloting. So what, you may ask? Well, Bonnie has painted on the side of her MGB the “Racing Grandma” because that’s what she is! We only give the ages of cars in this publication, but believe us, Bonnie is a truly mature competitor, and a delight to watch in action. She was overjoyed at her placing and even happier when the corner workers presented her with their own award (or the “Spirit of Competition,” an award also presented to young Mark Matthews, from experts who really see the action close up).

Incidentally, without the tireless efforts of the Ding Beach MG Car Club flag team working the track, it would be impossible to successfully hold an event as large as this. We offer sincere thanks to all that stood out there for two days to make the event run smoothly.

The traditional Saturday night barbecue saw nearly 500 folks sit down to steak, beans, and good California wine. Sunday’s awards presentation was highlighted by a check for $10,000 being handed over to charities such as the Boys and Girls Club and various other worthy causes nominated by Chrysler.

Nearly 100 British classics entered the popular vote car show, and competition was very keen. Best of Show went to the beautiful while Jaguar F.-Type of Wallace Freeman. A highlight of this event was seven-year-old Clarke Knight from Henderson, Nevada, who entered her superbly restored 1953 Austin J40 (a pedal car no less) and took home an award.

All in all, another great weekend to remember, and next year promises to be even better with additional attractions for young and old in the pipeline.

Grateful acknowledgements go out to Schanda and Nigel Olsson of VARA and their team, without whom none of this would be possible. (Note: If you don’t know who Nigel is, dig out your Elton John records and look who plays drums on many of them). Everybody who participated enjoyed a good time and are looking forward to Buttonwillow 2001.

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