Lavender is a color that is not ordinarily associated with adventure and speed. With Easter eggs and bonnets, yes. With sports car racing, no. Well, around Washington, D.C. you'd better smile when you say that, for lavender is the rallying color of one of the most successful and resourceful sports car organizations in the country. When the Washington region of the Sports Car Club of America ran off its inaugural national race meeting the other day at the new Marlboro Motor Raceway, lavender was, in fact, the color of the day.
Why lavender? Three years ago, when some of the Washington lads zipped around the Cumberland, Md. course with their usual zeal, a race official rapped their hands verbally in an article for the SCCA magazine, Sports Car. The official, the well-known Anglo-American racing driver Dr. M.R.J. Wyllie, characterized "five percent of the entrants" as "egregiously unsporting pothunters," i.e., overeager trophy seekers, and suggested that their brand of racing was more attuned to the Indianapolis "500." At the same time, the Alec Guinness film, The Lavender Hill Mob, was playing in Washington. The link between trophy hunters and an engaging pack of British thieves may be a bit tenuous, but the boys from Washington found it, nevertheless. They formed The Lavender Hill Mob Racing Association, adopted lavender as their battle color and went off pothunting with a new esprit.
Early in 1955 The Mob opened a 7/10th-mile race course on U.S. 301 near Upper Marlboro, Md.—only 15 miles east of Washington. The Mob realized it could not obtain a national race day with so short a course, so last winter it began to solicit financial help for expansion. More taxing than financial ways and means was the problem of squeezing a road course of satisfactory length into a tiny plot of 28 acres. The old course was modified and extended into a twisty, 1.9-mile layout with seven turns and a tricky chicane.
Already accustomed to filling a little with a lot, The Mob crammed 11 races into the one-day national SCCA program and challenged the rest of the country to come a-trophy hunting. "We feel," said Robert J. McKinsey, a Washington lawyer, head of the 500-member Washington SCCA region and a founder of The Mob, "that if you can handle this course, you can handle anything, and we think we have, overall, the best drivers in the SCCA."
July 28, 1957
A WARM, WET DAY
On race day, hot, humid air lay heavy over the raceway. The cars and trappings of 118 drivers jammed the infield. In the stands, 6,000 spectators perspired patiently. They were to see some of the liveliest dicing of the sports car year as Charlie Wallace, a Washington hair stylist, started things handsomely for The Mob, poking the lavender fenders of his Porsche Spyder ahead of the Porsche driven by a newcomer who is going places, Bob Holbert of Warrington, Pa. Washington's Richard Nash kept the lavender aloft with Porsche victories in the second and seventh races; the Washington dentist, Dick Thompson, extended the lease on his reputation as the nation's best Corvette driver by dominating the fourth and ninth events; and Wallace finished second in an electrifying Porsche duel with the talented Holbert in the sixth race.
It wasn't The Mob's day altogether, though. New Jersey's Walt Hansgen, whose heavy foot and increasing security have hurtled him to a place among the top U.S. drivers, thumped his opposition in a 10-lap preliminary and in the featured 25-lap closer.
Each race course has a character of its own; Marlboro, with its excellent visibility, is likely to become known as a spectator's rather than driver's course. For the driver, the high quotient of gearshifting and braking tends to be tiring—"like beating each other with short sticks," as Carroll Shelby, whose Maserati was dogged by mechanical trouble, put it.
All in all, though, it was a big day for The Mob. "It's embarrassing," said Bob McKinsey, trying hard to look embarrassed, "how many trophies are staying right here."