'The Tale of the Dragon'
by Richard Lewis
"I spent more time under the car than in it", said Gus Fell about his eight-year racing career. But we'd better back up a bit.
The tale begins with a young sailor who found himself in Hawaii in 1963, where he found two treasures, his first British car and, even more importantly, his wife Ann.
First things first - Ann was a Toronto girl who, after high school, left the cold of Toronto for balmy Honolulu. Young and pretty, she was too great a temptation for a young, unencumbered sailor and soon, as they say in all the love songs, moonlight and romance.
No doubt to gain even more of her attention, he soon found and bought a second-hand Triumph TR3. Spic-and-span and bright and shiny, both sailor and car were an unbeatable combination. Soon there were wedding bells and a life together that has lasted 50 years.
Although driving the TR with a pretty girl in the other seat must have been a great thrill, Gus was soon attracted to the lure of driving a fast car around in circles or down twisty roads. So started his Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) racing career.
The first step on that journey was to get qualified to race. This involved, in those days, an SCCA Friday and Saturday training session and a performance test on Sunday. Then he was ready to roll. His first racer was a TR3, roaring off with 100 horses, competing in races against other TRs, Spridgets, Fiat 850s and 124s and similar G Class cars. This took him and Ann, for she was always by his side or cheering in the stands, to places like Daytona, Atlanta, Savannah and Lake Charles, to name just a few of the places where SCCA events were held. This lasted for a year.
The explanation for the short duration is simple - the cost of racing. Gus recounts, "We were trying to set up house and things like furniture, rent, food, house payments, and clothing came first before racing. It cost back then about $400 for a weekend of racing, considering food, motel, tires, gas, spare parts and the unexpected repairs.
"I paid about $3000 for my first car and spent more getting it ready to race. Things like a roll cage, upgraded steering components, shocks and engine modifications added another $1-2000, and I did all or most of the work. That's before you bought a fireproof driving suit, shoes and helmet. It's wasn't cheap, especially for a pair of newlyweds. I had to put racing on the back burner for a while".
But racing didn't stay on the back burner. About 1980, the racing bug, lying dormant for about a decade, bit and Gus and Ann were back at it - the both of them.
Gus explained. "Ann liked cars too and had pretty good knowledge about them. She enjoyed the thrill of racing, which is, especially for the driver, one of the greatest adrenalin rushes ever. The notion of coming up on a curve, heart pounding as you try to take in everything, the 40 or so cars ahead, behind, and beside you, and trying to keep your car stuck to the road... well, there is nothing like it".
Before it was over in the late 80's, Gus, driving an MG Midget, had accrued three Regional and one National SCCA trophies. Never injured, he was crashed into only once but saw plenty of other not-so-lucky drivers.
Gus said, "I remember fondly all those cars I drove in races, but for daily driving, my favorite car is the Triumph TR8. Lots of room, great power and handling, and just a blast to drive. I love them, and I love all the Z cars, especially the 240, even the 260s, maybe the 280s. I'll likely never own a million-dollar car, but I would be happy with another TR8. That would make my day. Can't get in such a car anymore, so I'm driving a MINI Cooper, a great car, but I can still dream".
So that's one chapter in the story of a couple, Ann and Gus Fell, who have made British cars and racing a part of their life. They still go to events like the "Walter Mitty" in Atlanta and even helped out at the 2016 Amelia Island Concours d'Excellence, and lots more. Doesn't seem like it will ever end for them.
Maybe not the tale of a fire-breathing dragon, but one that at least roared for a while.
April 15-16 -- Friday events, the Friday Night Welcoming Party and Saturday's "Brits on the Bay". Your Loyal Correspondent will run out of superlatives in describing both day's events. The tour of Pensacola and the visit to the Henry Hensel Museum were great fun and the Friday Night Welcoming Party saw 160 members and friends, plus out-of-town club members show up for a veritable feast. Lots of good talk and bad jokes filled the air, some of it from Pensacola Mayor Aston Hayward, as old friends met and greeted each other. Then Saturday, as promised by YLC, not a drop of rain fell all that gorgeous day as about 140 cars showed up from as far away as Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Indiana. A great array of cars and lots of prizes and trophies went home with lots of happy people. What a day!
May 7 -- Panhandle Cruisers Car Show at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola drew a large crowd, including some PBCA members. PBCA member Bill Moseley is a linchpin in that group. See his report in this issue [of the British Marque].
May 21 -- Bagdad Riverfront Festival Car Show at the Bagdad Mill Site Park in Bagdad to help open the new Park, ten years in the making. Lots of events like a tractor show, kayak cruise, boat building contest, kids' fishing contest, music, food, railroad exhibit and more marked the occasion.
May 28 -- Silverhill Car Show in Silverhill, Alabama.
June 4 -- Euro Show, National Naval Air Museum in Pensacola, a great event with cars from all over Europe and lots of door prizes and awards. Paul Salm is the PBCA representative for this show and last year did a great job chairing the event.
Until next time, remember time is ticking on your timing belt.