At the 2016 Road Atlanta Walter Mitty Historic Races I saw a number of cars that brought back fond memories of the Trans Am, Can Am and sports car racing of the 1970’s. It is hard for race fans of today to believe that back then the Trans Am and Can Am SCCA racing series were far more popular than Nascar. Unfortunately, as fast as their popularity rose it died. Luckily, the historic races of today bring back a small portion of that terrific road course racing.
One of my all time favorite sports cars from that time has to be the Cheetah. It was not manufactured in large numbers or made by one of the big race teams nor was it conventional. Arguably, the most conventional part of the car was its Corvette engine. It was this uniqueness and underdog status that most likely attracted it to me.
When I spotted one of the Cheetahs on track at the Mitty during practice I knew a trip to the Paddock was in order. I just had to get an up close look at this old legend. It was Friday at the track and the surface was wet from early morning showers plus on and off drizzle. This didn’t stop many of the diehard Walter Mittys from taking their time machines out for practice. Some of the more conservative owner/drivers decided to stay dry and safe in the Paddock and not practice or attempt to qualify.
The brave Cheetah owner had his car on track and was doing well during practice. My wife and I decided it was time to stroll through the paddock area and visit our favorite cars in their garage area. We were having trouble finding the Cheetah. We kept looking and just as we turned a corner I spotted it in the back of a trailer. The crew was obviously getting it ready to qualify and was working on it inside the trailer to stay dry. Just as we approached there was a roar from inside the trailer and the car began backing out. We stepped aside and with a few blips of the throttle the driver disappeared down the garage area drive and onto the track for some qualifying attempts.
We continued our visits to other garage areas and eventually found our way into the track restaurant for some lunch. Just as we were finishing I looked up from my sandwich, stared through the window in shock as I saw that beautiful Cheetah go by on a rollback with the entire front end missing.
We quickly finished our sandwiches and headed back to the Cheetah’s trailer. As they unloaded the car it was clear that the qualifying attempt in the rain was not a good idea. The driver was not seriously injured but that beautiful Cheetah was not so lucky.
Selfishly, I missed seeing the car on track the rest of the weekend but I am thankful the driver was ok and the car can be repaired and race again. It is these racers that risk their lives and fortunes to bring us humble fans a glimpse of what we remember and idolize from our youth. Thank you for saving these cars and letting us see them at speed, hear them roar and once again excite all of our senses at the race track!