By Myles Kornblatt
(reprinted from Society of Automotive Historians Journal, April 2008)
While planning a trip to the great automobile plants and museums in Germany, I was lucky enough to come across a historic performance car showcase event at the Nurburgring. Modena Trackdays is an event that takes museum pieces and lets them perform what they were born to do – breathe fire. The event stretched over two unseasonably rainy and cold days in June and mainly focused on the best machines Ferrari has ever built (including street, track and formula models.) But there were also other notable performance cars in attendance including a Shelby Cobra Daytona, lightweight Jaguar E-Type, Lola T70 as well as a variety from Porsche, Alfa Romeo and Maserati.
Although the 12th Modena Trackdays was held in celebration for Ferrari’s 60th anniversary as an independent automobile manufacturer, Ferrari’s full history goes back almost 20 years further. Enzo Ferrari formed Scuderia Ferrari in 1929. He had raced with moderate success for about a decade and was now modifying Alfa Romeos for his race team. In 1938, Enzo became the head of Alfa Romeo’s racing team, but split as Alfa Romeo became nationalized for World War II. After the war, Ferrari needed to fund his racing projects, and in 1947 Ferrari began selling their first model, the 125. Since then Ferrari has built premium street automobiles for consumers, as well as pushed the technological and speed envelopes for professional and amateur race drivers. Modena Trackdays was established to celebrate that entire history.
The event was open to owners and drivers of performance cars in four classes: Modern Street Cars (1976 and up), Historic Cars (1975 and below), Formula Cars and Supersport Cars. Each class had exclusive time on the track, and everyone behaved – it was a showcase, not a race. To help close the event, former driving partners Brian Redman and Jackie Ickx were reunited for exclusive tracktime in their champion Ferrari 312 PB.
The current Grand Prix track at Nurburgring is not as famous or historical as the North Loop, but its abundance of twists and turns through the German hills has made it one of world’s top rated racing tracks. The biggest downside to the track is the lack of straightaways for the cars to build speed. This was evident when I asked the driver of a Ferrari 312 P what he though of the track, and after much deliberation, he answered with a disappointing, “It’s too short.”
The event was so packed with Ferraris that I had to maneuver around a 356 GTC 4, a 250 GT and two Dinos, before I even arrived at the entrance to the pit area. I had a press pass to Trackdays, but it did not grant me any special access because nothing was off limits to anyone. Everyone was allowed access to every pit bay – unlike anything I have ever seen in events in the United States. In fact, the only way for spectators to access the track observation areas was by walking through at least one bay.
At no time did Trackdays ever feel like being in the presence of museum pieces and trailer queens. Instead, the smell of race gas, oil and rubber along with the low-pitched rumble of engines firing up to start a few track laps made the atmosphere feel like any car in the pit bays was just resting between laps. In a small way, the full experience of the event made every spectator feel like he or she was part of a race team.
It is hard to pick a car to highlight the event because Modena Trackdays satisfied every performance car fan’s tastes. There was a pre-World War II Alfa Romeo originally raced by Enzo’s Scuderia Ferrari. More modern race fans marveled at a few different Le Mans winning Porsche 917s, a Ferrari 250 GTO, a Ferrari F40 or a McLaren F1 GTR. There were even future classics on hand such as Ferrari’s new F430s and 599.
For me, my favorite car was much less glamorous. It was the Zagado bodied Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ1 from the early 1960s. The TZ1 is an icon that included victories at Sebring, LeMans and even at the North Loop (the Green Hell). Although the car has proven itself a successful racer, this example was by no means the top pedigree at the event. What made this car so unique was that it looked like it had not been touched since its days as a competitive racer. Almost like a badge of pride, the Alfa had a tattered interior, faded paint, chips in its glasswork, dents in the aluminum body and the driver door was no longer fitting correctly. Anywhere else this would look like a used-up racer, but that is what made Modena Trackdays so special. After spending the day poring over perfectly maintained and restored examples of the best cars ever built, the Alfa was like a time capsule. Every chip and scratch screamed from this little machine, telling how it met the challenge of the best tracks and races in the world, and how it held its own against other brilliant racecars. Its history was not in the bodylines but in the scars. Although it may seem silly, being able to touch that kind of history almost made me feel like my own racing dream was not so far out of reach.