The 9th Annual Put-in-Bay Road Race Reunion held the last week of August can be summed up best by this comment. “It appears the word has gotten out about how cool this event is,“ said a frequent Put-in-Bay Road Races Reunion participant as he drove off the incoming Put-in-Bay Ferry boat onto Ohio’s South Bass Island. He was expecting the usual sleepy Sunday arrival day before the traditional Monday-Tuesday race days held the week before Labor Day. “In past years you’d just drive on the ferry, but today we had to take our place in line and wait for the next boat. And when we got to the island, the place was just buzzing. It was obvious to me that this event has ramped it up quite a few notches!”
Indeed. Unique in vintage racing for many reasons including offering race- and non-race activities for participants — Put-in-Bay Road Race 2017 drew record-level entries for both racing- and non-racing cars… in total a little over 100 race cars and 60 street cars. Representing a 50 percent increase over the 2016 event, entrants hailed from some 19 states and Canada. Those entrants were treated to more race time than previous years on an expanded 1.2-mile racecourse (receiving rave reviews from the drivers) plus a newly added paddock area providing generous space for large race rigs.
Why the dramatic increase in entries? “There’s no single reason,” said race director and event co-founder Jack Woehrle. “Obviously, a more interesting race course and more track time helped. But we think the growth stems from a combination of the unique atmosphere that our entrants enjoy, the positive exposure we’ve received in both print and digital media and the enthusiastic support of many of our past participants who brought their friends to discover what the Put-in-Bay event is all about.” Enthusiasts can look forward to coverage of this year’s event in a number of national automotive publications in the months to come. Live coverage of the races was also provided by the folks at WPIB TV and great videos are available on their website. The “friends-bring-friends” impact can’t be understated. For example, Kurt Niemeyer, the event’s marketing, sponsorship and advertising director, brought a large group of his Cincinnati-based sports car and vintage racing buddies – a total of 38 cars.
Today’s Put-in-Bay Road Races began with a “reunion” in 2009 when long-time vintage racing organizers Jack Woehrle and Bob Williams held a modest event celebrating small-bore sports car races that ran on the challenging, rough and narrow roads of tiny Put-in-Bay from 1952 to 1959 and once in 1963. Growing annually from that modest beginning, the modern-day event evolved into a “race revival” with racing at the island’s airport beginning in 2012. The “featured marque” for 2017 was all things Italian, and some 15 Alfa Romeos and several Fiats came to play along with a large turnout of marques such as MG, Triumph, Porsche, Lotus, Elva, Austin Healey and others. There were four race groups plus an exhibition group leading up to the finale Put-in-Bay Cup race inviting the top finishing cars from the race groups to vie for “King of the Rock” status. For the third year in a row, Joey Bojalad’s ’60 Elva Mk VI took home the honors. Island racers again participated led by Sadowsky Racing’s Scott Sadowsky who once again took honors in the Exhibition class in his Porsche 914.
Following right on his heels was The Reel Bar’s Mike Chervenak who most folks said was the most improved driver in the event in another 914. Miller Marina’s Rich Myers overcame head gasket issues to his Fiat 124 to finish strongly. Unfortunately, The Goat Racing Team Triumph Spitfire driven by Rich Hahn had mechanical gremlins that knocked it out of the competition. Rich, thanks to his wife Noreen’s lapse in good judgment, has already taken ownership of a new Datsun roadster race car and guarantees to his sponsors Scotty and Caroline Jackson that The Goat Team will prevail next year!!
In addition to two days of spirited racing around the hay-bale lined airport circuit, entrants also were treated to a briskly paced original race course tour through the town where flaggers waved their yellow flags and residents and visitors lined the streets cheering for their favorite cars. The parade was so large this year that the entire length of the original course was covered. There was also lunch-hour track touring, a car show, rocker cover races, and several social gatherings. The Put-in-Bay Chamber of Commerce sponsored a free track-side “Fan Zone” providing tent-shaded bleachers and plenty of nearby concessions for spectators and entrants. This year’s special guest was 84-years young Bill Jackson of Hummelstown, PA, who won the 1957 E-Production race at Put-in-Bay in his Morgan. To say Bill was a “hit” on his first visit to the island since his win 60 years ago would be an understatement.
Also returning was Carol Clemens, who raced her MGA in the final 1963 Put-in-Bay race and now volunteers as a Lake Erie Communications corner worker, and the senior Joe Bojalad who raced and won in his AC Ace in 1955 and was reunited with the car at Put-in-Bay Road Race 2012. After the Wednesday car show held downtown the event’s highest honor, The Paul Henry Award was presented to the entrant deemed best representing the “spirit” of the Put-in-Bay Road Races. This year’s recipient was Barry Prosser of Dayton, OH who raced his green ’72 Fiat 850 Spider in Group 3. Barry was recognized not only for his several years of enthusiastic participation in the event but also for his tireless and creative contributions to the Put-in-Bay Road Races Facebook page which currently has more than 700 followers.
New this year was American Modern Insurance, the “presenting sponsor” for Put-in-Bay Road Races 2017. Representing the company was Senior Claims Specialist Rick Drewry who frankly admits to being “blown away” by the event. Afterward, Rick had this to say about his experience: “The event went far beyond what I anticipated. I’d never been to Put-in-Bay before and it was like an awakening for me. First of all is the atmosphere. It starts with the build-up on the Ferry ride over to South Bass Island, which is like its own ecosystem. The lack of commercialization is a breath of fresh air. No traffic lights, no Speedway stations, no McDonald’s very much adds to the flavor of the event. On top of all that I found myself at the coolest race event/car show, I’ve ever been to and I’ve been to a lot! It’s like the perfect storm…the layout of the event and the island partnership make it unique. The camaraderie of the people was amazing. It didn’t matter what kind of car you drove. It’s like everyone was part of a big happy family.”
Carl Goodwin, race historian and author of the book Put-in-Bay Road Races, 1959-1963 summed it up. “Many people think it was the best Put-in-Bay Reunion yet.” For more information see Put-in-Bay Road Race Information and feel free to join us on our facebook page.