Even the most ardent BMW supporters among us will likely concede that cars of other marques can also periodically fan our enthusiast flames. If you want those ancillary flares to ignite into a raging fire, you need to attend the Velocity Invitational, an annual event that is rapidly accelerating into the forefront of must-attend U.S. automotive events.
Billed as a luxury motorsport festival, in just its third year it has quickly become an autumn California destination for many of the who’s-who in the automotive community. After starting in Sonoma as the Sonoma Speed Festival, Velocity spent 2021 and 2022 at Laguna Seca. Held just two months after the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, it still creates a unique experience even if there is some crossover. Each car participating in Velocity’s ten race groups brings history and provenance. While the event might be designed for fewer cars than the Rolex Reunion, the historical impact of the participants is on another level.
For BMW fans, there were both familiar and new cars to admire. Anyone still buzzing from seeing the FINA F1 GTR at the Rolex Reunion was probably in heaven seeing three F1 GTRs, either around the paddock and ripping around the track.
Mark Krumme, head of marketing for Eibach North America and a BMW CCA member, knows both BMWs and the race track, including putting in plenty of laps in his E36 M3. He sprang at his chance to attend his first Velocity, mostly to appreciate the historic motorsports action on the track.
“This was an amazing experience. I’ve been to the Rolex Historics twice, but with Velocity, I appreciated the way they set up their large tents and corrals,” Krumme says. “Each race group was together, making it much easier to see all the cars and talk to the groups of racers of the same class. Everything was so accessible, creating a really great community feeling. It was incredibly immersive. They set up seats on ‘grass’ with fencing on both sides of the grid keeping people safe—but really darn close for access, photos, and videos. It was clear that great effort was made to curate the experience for people who don’t often have this opportunity to be this close to these vehicles.”
For Krumme, even with all that history in front of him, some of his favorites did not stray far from his BMW roots. “I really appreciated the McLaren presence there,” he adds. “It was amazing getting up close and personal to cars like the MP4/5, but my favorites were probably the three F1 GTR cars powered by BMW. Those are cool, unique vehicles.”
The environment Krumme describes did not develop randomly. For specific background on the Velocity Invitational, we checked in with Velocity Invitational general manager Ryan Turri. “We pride ourselves on providing excitement for any and all car lovers, while also having an incredible range of cars on display and on the track,” Turri explains.
Turri appreciates the BMW inclusion as well. “The event has countless highlights, but it’s no secret that the historic BMWs o capture plenty of fan attention,” he continues. “With three historically significant CSLs and four 2002s with an equally impressive provenance, the BMW field was again strong. And it was hard to miss the three imposing fan-favorite BMW-powered McLaren F1 GTRs. The smell of race fuel might still be in the air, but we are already hard at work on the plans for next year’s Velocity Invitational. We’re confident that regardless of your favorite marque or car, there will be plenty of intrigue for you next year, too.”
One of those CSLs that Turri mentions is owned and raced by Chandler Briscoe. “Driving at Velocity Invitational was a great experience for so many reasons,” Briscoe says. “First and foremost, though, my wife and my thirteen-month-old son endured traveling from Houston with me to enjoy the event. Getting to share all of the ‘Laguna Seca ambience’ with them was very special. My family and I are in our fifth year of racing and continue to compete at vintage racing events several times per year—mostly on the West Coast. Having my son there, who loves cars, and locking in memories of him getting to experience the event with all of us was truly priceless.”
Briscoe’s mother, Debbie, raced her 1965 Cortina in Group 8, while his father, Brad, joined their son in Group 5, piloting his 1976 Greenwood Corvette. “I’ve been driving this 1973 Jägermeister BMW CSL for the past few years and remain really happy with it,” the younger Briscoe adds. “It seems as though we’re meshing quite well recently. The car seems to be so perfectly balanced compared to other race cars I’ve driven. Maybe it’s just that I’m more familiar with it than others, or maybe it’s just that it’s a BMW—let’s go with the latter, as they are the ultimate driving machine, after all.”
At 29, he certainly knows that racing, especially vintage cars, is not only about the driver. “Big thank-yous are due to many, starting with the Racecraft team that supports our racing family and keeps the CSL dialed in and a weapon on the track. Second would be the Laguna Seca support staff, from corner workers to recovery teams; we couldn’t do this without them. Third, to the Velocity team who put on a wonderful event, not only allowing drivers to enjoy the weekend but also providing an incredible amount of stuff for the spectators to experience and soak in.”
Another vintage BMW driver who is no stranger to Laguna Seca is Rial Barnett. Barnett made the trip to Laguna Seca with an SVRA event in 2021 racing his “Hot Wheels” 2002 and was back earlier this year in the Hyde Park 34 car he acquired from fellow vintage BMW racer Steve Walker. Since that April event, the car has gone through a fantastic and accelerated restoration to its original livery. This Velocity would be the first time it would be on the same track with its #35 Hyde Park sibling since 1973.
“I attended the first Velocity in 2019 at Sonoma and was blown away by the quality of the cars, the entire presentation, and the people,” Barnett says. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be racing in their third event. It was fortuitous that Velocity included a run group for B-Sedans. That might be partially attributed to the great work Dave Stone and Glen Chiou have done with their Historic B and C Sedan group—and also to the fact that this is the 50th anniversary of the last 2.5 Challenge Trans-Am race in 1972. Ten years ago, there might not have been enough restored B-Sedan cars that raced in period.”
The #34 car has an extensive racing pedigree and history, so it’s no surprise that Barnett and his wife, Maureen, were excited for the event. “To own the Hyde Park car is one thing. It was important to Maureen and me to get it ready so it could compete in the 50th celebration at Velocity. We made the decision to get it restored in time for this significant event. It was really cool to drop off the car and roll it into the dedicated spot in the tent next to Tim Brecht’s matching #35 car. I knew that this would be the first time these cars had been together in this orange-and-blue MacMillan Oil livery since 1973, and to see it was really cool.”
There was good news and bad news, though, for Barnett. The good news is that the weekend started with the two cars looking amazing next to each other. The bad news is that while Barnett was okay, t#34 did not make it through its inaugural weekend due to an all-too-close-encounter with a Turn Eight wall. “The car was running great, and we’re still trying to find out what happened,” says Barnett. “It reminds me of a quote from Warren Buffett: ‘You don’t know who is swimming naked until the tide goes out’—similarly, you don’t know the quality of your fabricator until you’re in an accident. Credit to Ken Blasko and Mano ‘Manofied’ Agulian, who built a car that enabled me to walk away safely from the crash—and the reason there was not more damage. We are definitely going to take our time with the new restoration, but we’d love to do more historic B and C Sedan events in 2023.”
It was a short-lived weekend behind the wheels for Barnett, but still an enjoyable one. “Just to see that line up of B-Sedans and to read the history on the placards and the brotherhood and sisterhood of the fellow owners and racers was incredible,” he continues. “It was really a world-class venue and event. The Drivers’ Lounge was amazing, and the Sip-and-Savor pavilion was a destination in its own. Our five-year-old enjoyed the children’s game area, which really helped us, too!”
The Drivers’ Lounge was awesome—literally, full of awe—for others, too, specifically automotive hyperrealism artist Rae Roberts. A long-time BMW fan herself and BMW CCA member, she was one of only two artists featured in the Drivers’ Lounge, with four of her works hanging on the wall inside. The invitation came about almost accidentally. “I was at an event and bumped into another guy who initially I saw was an artist,” she explains. “We were sharing paintings, and the first one I showed him was of Ayrton Senna. Not only was he an artist, but he was Senna’s old Formula 1 racing teammate, Stefan Johansson! When I later showed him the actual Senna painting in person, he said that he loved it so much he extended the invite to come to Velocity to display my work.”
While she arrived at Velocity from Hollywood in her 2015 X5 50i M Sport, she also enjoys a six-speed E92 M3 that she acquired after her previous F30 335i. But like so many at Velocity, her automotive passion was revving for so much of what the festival had to offer. “Velocity was by far the most diverse and versatile motorsport enthusiast event I have ever attended,” she adds. “There were cars there from as early as 1905 all the way to 2023. There were historic Formula 1 cars and countless other classes, like the Porsche Cup cars, the old Trans-Am cars, the BMW classics like the 2002s and CSLs, and more. It was insane to see the variety everywhere. It was constant entertainment. I found myself running back to the track to hear and see what was flying by then. I was like a kid in a candy store.”
To set up her work in the Drivers’ Lounge, she arrived so early that much of the paddock was still asleep. “The first day I got there setting it up, many of the cars were covered up so I didn’t see all of it right away,” she continues. “Once the tarps came off, it was like when you pass the fairgrounds as a kid, waiting for it to open, and then the day comes, and you want to go on all the rides at once; you couldn’t be in enough places at once.”
Another Southern California BMW enthusiast and M3 owner, Blake Adams, has now been to all three Velocity events. “These get better every year,” Adams says. “I attend to fill the vintage-race-car-shaped hole in my heart! Attending vintage races is easily my favorite car-related thing to do these days. I often miss the Rolex Reunion, so this is a perfect alternative to scratch that itch.”
That says a lot in terms of events; Adams is the founder of Southern California’s rapidly growing E36 Meet group, and in addition to his E90 M3 also has an E36 M3. Part of that itch he describes comes in the form of vintage BMWs, but this year it was even more. “Normally, I’d have said my favorite cars were the McLaren F1 GTRs, but Zak Brown brought out his Ford Capri RS 3100. I never thought that I would see one stateside, let alone at full tilt on the track up against its rival E9 CSLs and so many others. It was a real treat.”
It wasn’t just the attendees who were excited about having the hypercars there. A company executive with Czinger echoed that enthusiasm. “We were thrilled to be able to demonstrate the capabilities of the 21C on the track at Velocity,” he said. “For us, it is really important to support an event like Velocity Invitational, which looks like it’s quickly becoming the Goodwood of the USA.”
Velocity fans might not even have known the treat they were getting. The Czinger 21C holds the record at Laguna Seca for the fastest lap time with a time of 1:25:446. While this was set in a much quieter environment, there they were, moments after watching the CSLs chase each other around the track, watching the track record holder follow their lines.
The juxtaposition of old and new cars was prominent in the displays (and track runs) from McLaren, but also the line-up of Ferraris. Colleen Sheehan, owner of the oldest BMW in the US and sales manager of Ferraris Online, was in attendance, and even with her impressive mostly red showroom, she was in awe of so much at Velocity. “Having most of the big five classic Ferraris and most of the big five modern Ferraris in one venue is really impressive,” she says. “The newer models are kind of the pinnacle of the modern supercar collection. The classic big five were the ultimate rare machines that were absolutely dominant back in their day, and won almost everything they raced.”
The lineup on the lawn of the Enzo, F50, F40, and 288 GTO was impressive, but seeing the late-’50s and ’60s examples of the 250 GTO, 250 TDF, 250 SWB, and 250 Testa Rossa was jaw-dropping for many, including Sheehan. “Seeing these cars on the track was especially fun for me, someone born in the ’90s who never had a chance to see them race in period. Seeing them in the paddock was one thing, but being able to see them racing and do what they were built to do is another thing entirely—and an incredible experience I won’t soon forget,” says Sheehan.
We don’t think any of the fans at Velocity will soon forget that weekend, whether they went for the BMWs or went just to get their overall automotive passion motors running.—Kyle van Hoften