As the story goes, City Manager Mike Trio was inspecting some buildings in the city when he walked into the Diamond Street workshop of Dick Miles. Miles, a machinist and avid vintage motorcycle and go kart racer—among a laundry list of other occupations and talents—plies his trade of repairing cars, motorcycles, and just about anything else that has a motor attached to it, in a shop that looks like it is locked in the past. While outside, the city moves in the 21st century; inside Miles’ cluttered shop could easily be 1950.
Every inch of the shop is covered in vintage racing posters or parts from vintage motorcycles, racing speedboats, or racing go-karts. Standing there, you suddenly realize your eyes just can’t quite keep up with the sheer amount of visual stimulation they are being exposed to. And so it was for Mike Trio when he walked in. Inspired by what he saw there, he relayed to Dick Miles that he had just watched the Ron Howard film, “Rush,” about the rivalry between Formula 1 greats Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Seeking to tap into Miles’ racing acumen, he asked if he thought an “open-wheeled” race could be run within the city streets of Coatesville.
After some time discussing it, the two agreed on the possibility of running some sort of a “vintage” event. They came to the conclusion that an all-out race was beyond the scope of the city’s budget and ability to host. Miles suggested a timed event run like the famous Isle of Man TT motorcycle race, where a single bike is sent off every 10 seconds to complete a lap of the course before the next bike is sent off. The fastest lap of the day is declared the winner. The idea seemed doable within the city and within the budget and the two agreed to give it a go.
Because it was being run by the city, it was also decided that any proceeds from the event would go to benefit the city’s Parks and Recreation projects to help build and maintain recreational facilities for Coatesville families and their children.
The two set about looking for help to form a planning committee. The committee was made up of men and women with both organizational and racing knowledge. A date was set for September 24, 2016. City Hall became race central and weekly meetings were held to finalize details, lay out a 2.2-mile race course through the city, get volunteers, and invite owners and racers of vintage and historic race cars to attend. The city’s police were recruited to provide crowd, traffic, and safety control. It was all coming together.
On the morning of September 24th, 2016, at about 9 AM on a warm but cloudy day, just over 50 vintage and historic cars and motorcycles roared to life to the delight of the spectators. The city streets echoed with the exhaust sounds of famous race cars, like owner/driver Dave George’s 1936 Bear Special Indy Champ car, and former Eagle Head Coach Dick Vermeil’s beautiful 1927 Miller Schofield Sprint car. Len Rusiewicz brought his Le Mans-prepared and raced 1969 Ferrari 365 Daytona prototype. Roger Radbill’s incredible original 1923 Mercer Raceabout was the oldest car there.
The start and finish line was positioned at 3rd Avenue and the historically famous Lincoln Highway, part of America’s first transcontinental highway. Cars and motorcycles sped down Lincoln Highway for eight blocks, their speed somewhat controlled by old-style hay bale chicanes arranged along the entire length of the racecourse. The hay bales, like those used in the early days for racing, lent an air of nostalgia to the event.
Throughout the day, the spectators and townspeople were entertained by the sights and sounds of these marvelous machines as they sped through their neighborhoods, giving them a unique glimpse of what it might have been like in the by-gone days of American racing, where races were held in rural towns across the country just like Coatesville.
A vendor area was set up in Gateway Park, where families could gather for food and drink and a break from the action. The racecar paddock for the drivers and their cars was between 1st Avenue and 3rd Avenue. Just before the start of the event, the paddock was open to all spectators to get a close-up view of the drivers and their cars. Many of the gracious drivers allowed some of the kids to sit in their cars and have pictures taken. Both the owners and the kids loved it.
It seemed like all the planets and stars aligned for the race that day, and what started out as a wild and crazy idea hatched in a back-alley-cluttered machine shop had actually worked. The townspeople and spectators enjoyed it. The racers were excited about doing it again. And the City Council that had the courage to approve the idea in the first place was happy with its success—so much so that they have given the Committee the green light to do it again the following year.
So, save the date! September 23, 2017 will see the second running of the Coatesville Invitational Vintage Grand Prix. Plan to come out and be part of the continuing history of the great city
Below are some of the people who made this event possible. Click on the photos
for more information.