We met on Friday, May 5th on N. Territorial Road in Whitmore Lake. From there we took very pleasant, two-lane, and scenic back roads until, well until construction reared its ugly head. After recovering via the dreaded, one-mile of dirt road detour, we were back on track, sort of. The balance of our journey went well - but avoid being too close to downtown Kalamazoo during rush hours on a Friday afternoon.
The Holiday Inn Express was new, clean, and very modern. It was located just a short drive from both the raceway and downtown South Haven. That evening we enjoyed dinner at Clementine’s, located in a former bank building in downtown South Haven. Great location, menu, and service. If you haven’t been there and you get over near South Haven, visit them. It is well worth a
short wait on a warm Friday evening (of people-watching).
Friday was a lovely day with temps hitting the low seventies, and the forecast called for much the same through the weekend. Nevertheless, on Saturday morning we were surprised to encounter misting rain. The misting rain would be on and off for the better part of the day.
GingerMan Raceway was new to us, and we were pleasantly surprised. After a short stop at the main entrance, where we paid the $15 entrance fee and the $35 fee to take some “touring” laps in our Jags during the lunch break, we parked our cars just across the main road from the paddock area.
GingerMan is substantially larger than Waterford Hills Raceway. The paddock was filled with all varieties of vintage race cars. A decent estimate would be 120 - 140 cars getting ready for initial trial runs and qualifying runs. Later we would find out that the track is also wider than the one at Waterford Hills.
As we wandered through the paddock area, we spotted a ‘70’s era Nissan 240 Z, decked out as a replica of the John Morton car that was the SCCA national champion for 1970-71. The owner, Scott Albers, from Battle Creek, spent some time talking with us about his car. At just over 1900 lbs without the driver and about 325 horsepower at the rear wheels, it promised to be an exciting car to watch. We did watch as Scott drove during qualifying laps and routinely passed the car ahead after coming out of the first turn and into the first straightaway. That was the pattern for at least the first six laps.
Later we had another interesting conversation with the owner and driver of an unusual-looking, tiny, yellow fastback coupe. We asked what it was and learned it was called a Unipower. It was one of only five built for racing in the short history of the marque (the total production was fifty cars, in 1966-67). The Unipower has a fiberglass body mounted on a tube frame, with a Mini powertrain mounted behind the seats in a mid-engine configuration. Have any of you ever heard of Unipower before?
At 11:00 AM we attend the mandatory “touring laps” drivers meeting. The rules are simple. It is not a race. It is an opportunity to experience the raceway course and learn to drive the lines. Don’t pass the lead car (the one with the flashers on) or pass any car in a turn. Only pass on the straights and signal the driver about to overtake you as to which side to pass (arm out the windows). Drive safely at all times and within your abilities and those of your
car. Race cars can do the laps too, so give them a wide berth as they can out-accelerate and
Phil and Steve put their cars on the raceway at about noon. Gary decided not to do the tour sacrificing himself to camera duty. The touring laps ran from 12:00 PM - 12:45 PM. So, for a $35 fee, which we later learned was a donation to a VSCDA to-be-named charity, this touring lap session was a bargain.
So how did the laps go, you ask? Our experiences were a bit different. Phil took about 10 laps and got off the track after breaking his rear tires loose five times. He said it is better to not tempt fate with such a trend going. Steve later admitted that he too broke his rear tires free once and
got off the track after 12 or so laps to pick up Gary. They completed a few more laps together. The misting rain
had something to do with our experiences that day.
The ”Spring Brake” weekend at GingerMan Raceway will be on our “to-do” list again next year.
If you’ve been wanting to get some race track time in your street car, this event is an easy and
inexpensive way to do it. Another great thing about Vintage Racing is that the owner/drivers of the cars are approachable and great fun to talk to. Everyone seems to have stories to tell about their cars.
See the Past Events listing for this event on JAGM.org to see a couple of short videos of the racing.
We left the raceway just after 4:00 PM and headed back east, stopping at Schuler’s in Marshall for a fine dinner. It should be a rule that if you go close to Marshall you stop at Schuler’s. See you at GingerMan next year!
Phil Crutchfield, Gary Hillebrand, and Steve Myerscough