Don’t get me wrong. I love the older cars. I love to drive them, to work on them, to just look at them. However, some of my favorite memories as a Jaguar enthusiast are not about the cars per se, but are experiences that wouldn’t have happened without them.
One of my most memorable occurred in 1990, when Debby and I were living in Chicago. Jim and Katie, our children, were four and three years old, respectively. The Chicago Historic Races were coming up at Road America in July, and we had for several years incorporated that event into a family summer vacation. We’d found a very nice hotel in Manitowoc right on the Lake Michigan beach. We would go up early in the week, spend a few days relaxing, then head to the track for the weekend races.
One of the weekend events was a touring session. For a nominal fee, non-racers could drive their own vintage cars around the track, provided the car passed a tech inspection. Once I discovered this event, I eagerly signed up for it every year as soon as the applications came out.
So in July 1990, we loaded our E-Type on a rented trailer and headed north. Mid-week, I decided to take the E-Type to the track to get the tech inspection out of the way, as the lines would get longer and longer as the weekend approached.
As hoped, there were only a couple of racers ahead of me in the registration tent when I arrived. While standing there, I became aware that some people had come in right behind me. As I turned, I recognized Juan Manuel Fangio standing with three other people, not 10 feet away! For those who may not know, Fangio is widely acknowledged as probably the best driver of the 1950’s, and by many as the best driver ever. He raced all types of cars in just about every category of racing. He won the Formula 1 World Championship 5 times in eight years, including four years in a row from 1954 to 1957. And, he was the honorary Grand Marshall of the 1990 Chicago Historics!
I slowly approached the group, excused myself for interrupting, and explained I just wanted to say hello to Mr. Fangio. Fangio graciously returned my greetings and shook my hand. I don’t speak Spanish or Italian, and he apparently didn’t speak much English, so we couldn’t converse directly. A tall, blonde woman standing next to Fangio, introduced as his personal assistant, immediately stepped in to translate. We stood there chatting for five minutes or more, and he even waited patiently as I ran out to my car to retrieve his autobiography (my vacation read that year) so he could sign it.
I saw Fangio again later that weekend when he signed my event poster, but getting the chance to talk with him in an unhurried and personal way remains a favorite memory. And it never would have happened without an old car.