Pittsburgh Races, Oktoberfest Were Even Better Than Expected

Every once in a while, something comes along that confirms some of your life choices. In the past week and a half, my re-confirmed life choices included joining the BMW Car Club of America, vowing to attend every Oktoberfest I could, fulfilling a lifelong desire to go motor-racing by joining BMW CCA Club Racing, and choosing the historic races at Pittsburgh International Race Complex as my “can’t miss” racing event.

Let’s start with the racing. I’ve been doing this since 2002 and have raced in Connecticut, Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Michigan, Alabama, Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania. In 2009 I started attending the historic races at the track formerly called Beaverun, and now known as the Pittsburgh International Race Complex, or Pitt Race. The event has always been great; it was a fun track, the organizers treated the drivers very well, and the proceeds went to very worthy charities: the Autism Society and the Allegheny School. It was a gate event, meaning spectators paid to get in. Having race fans who appreciated what we did meant a lot, especially when we had the chance to make a kid’s day by letting him or her sit in the race car and being rewarded with their smiles.

Major changes have come to Pitt Race, including new facilities and the opening three years ago of the new South Course—an exciting technical addition to the fast but older original North Course. The owners then went one better by repaving the North Course; the resulting big layout is smooth and grippy, and both a challenge and a joy to drive. I think it is now my favorite track. After the races and the other driving events in this year’s Oktoberfest, many more drivers now appreciate the gem that Pitt Race has become.

But as excellent as four days of racing under beautiful skies were, that’s not what made the event so memorable for me; as is almost always the case when it comes to club events, it was the people.

I was fortunate to arrive Wednesday afternoon at about the same time as our old Gateway Tech friends from St. Louis, Karen and John Barhydt and Greg Campbell, and fellow One-Lappers—and rally foes—Adrienne Hughes and Roy Hopkins from Rochester, New York. We circled the wagons in the freshly paved paddock and for the next four days; when we were not on the track, we were sitting under the Barhydts’ awning, enjoying cold drinks and excellent storytelling.

The weather was perfect. It was like summer camp for adults—adults who haven’t quite grown up yet. You know what I mean.

Due to the wonderful track and the aggressive but skilled drivers in the BMW CCA Club Racing groups, the racing was exceptional, and we put on a great show for the spectators. After being out of the cockpit for two years, I gradually worked my way back to my best lap time of two years ago—not particularly fast for my class, but fast for me. More important, it was fun—and my hard-working car and often-abused motor were still in one piece at the end of the weekend as I packed up and drove to the airport to pick up Betty, who was flying in to help celebrate Oktoberfest 2018 in her hometown of Pittsburgh.

And it was a great celebration! Talk about action-packed; there were so many events and activities that it was hard to keep track of them, let alone fit them all in. Tuesday’s Shell-sponsored Gilligan’s Island-theme riverboat cruise was a lot of fun, with many club members sporting really great creative costumes. I donned my Skipper hat, and Betty went as Gilligan, since she has always been my “little buddy” ever since we were married in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Chapel 36 years ago.

Earlier that day was the Shell V-Power NiTRO+ TSD Rally. For the rally, Murphy’s Law applied itself, as my navigator Dave Farnsworth and I discovered before the event that my TimeWise rally computer was not computing. As we lacked the tools, time, and equipment to diagnose the problem, we opted to run the rally in Class C—which meant no computers at all. Dave furiously attacked the math during the four-hour run, and gave us a fighting chance; in the end, we tied for third place but lost the trophy on a tie-breaker.

Wait till next year.

Also in the rally were a couple of Oktoberfest first-timers: my brother Brian and his daughter Kelly. Brian has been slowly catching me when it comes to BMWs; he now has two. He and Kelly ran in Class B and did very well, earning a third-place trophy. Now my brother will forever point out that it took Betty and me four Oktoberfests to win a rally trophy, and he did it first time out. I don’t mind, because in order to get an Oktoberfest trophy, he first had to attend Oktoberfest—and now that he has, he will be back.

His youngest son, who has also been infected with the BMW bug via an E92 M3, also attended O’Fest for the first time. Since his name is also Scott, the volunteers at registration briefly experienced a little confusion, but quickly sorted it out.

This Oktoberfest was billed as the ultimate celebration of the 50th anniversary of the BMW 2002 in America—and was it ever! Nothing demonstrated that fact better than the Pirelli Concours at Heinz Stadium, where dozens and dozens of 2002s and other classic and modern BMWs graced the riverfront venue. It was intoxicating and overwhelming.

   

The Pirelli dinner at the Carnegie Science Center was another highlight. Between great food on multiple levels and the interactive science displays that turned many of us into inquisitive kids again, the time flew by, until it was time to be ferried back across the Ohio River to the hotel.

On Thursday and Friday, Oktoberfest attendees were back at Pitt Race for the Yokohama high-performance driving school, Michelin Driving Experience, the Tire Rack autocross, the car-control clinic, and BMW CCA Foundation charity rides in BMW of North America race cars. As I watched the cars on track, it reminded me that a whole year would pass before I would be back on track here in 2019. Bummer.

The cherry on top of this year’s Oktoberfest sundae was the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix in Schenley Park on Saturday and Sunday; this was my first time at the 36-year-old event. If the vintage BMWs tearing through the streets in Pittsburgh’s urban park were not enough, the BMW CCA hosted a 700-plus-vehicle corral to watch the races from “German Hill.” It was motorsports and socializing with our BMW CCA friends all at once—another day in paradise.

I fear that you may have heard this so many times that it may have lost its meaning, but it shouldn’t: The best thing about Oktoberfest is not the activities, it is sharing the activities with our friends—old friends and friends we just made this week. It’s why we look forward so much to attending Oktoberfest, and why leaving at the end is bittersweet, knowing that it might be at least a year before we see many of our friends again.

This year’s racing at the Historics at Pitt Race was probably the best time I’ve ever had at a BMW CCA Club Racing event. That was followed by a jam-packed week of fun with people with whom Betty and I really love to hang out, this year in a wonderful city. It’s hard to see how it gets any better than this—but when we celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary at next year’s Oktoberfest in South Carolina, it might just be better. You should plan to be there to find out.—Scott Blazey

[Photos courtesy of Mark Jon and Melinda Calabrese and Scott Blazey.]

 

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