The 2023 Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix was held the weekend of July 21-23, marking the 41st year of this annual event. BMW CCA’s Allegheny Chapter hosted its trackside corral for the races which topped a weekend full of other fun Bimmer-related activities. The Club parked over 225 BMWs on the lawn for the Saturday corral, raised over $20,000 for PVGP charities (the Merakey Allegheny Valley School and Autism Pittsburgh), and, thanks to North Atlantic RVP Larry Engel’s efforts, saw over 30 new members join.
The weekend began with a tour through the Laurel Highlands east of Pittsburgh. Allegheny Chapter touring committee members Chris Wadsworth, Dante Bongiorni, Michael Meehan, and Tom Dressel lead the group through shade-covered switchbacks and scenic hilltop peaks on the way to picturesque Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania before heading to lunch at the Stone House Inn on historic Route 40, the original National Road.
The Allegheny Chapter hosted its welcome reception on the rooftop deck of Hotel Indigo Pittsburgh University-Oakland, which offered wonderful views of the Monongahela River and city skyline. The host venue was a great change for 2023 as Hotel Indigo is owned by Allegheny Chapter members Charles and Laura Aftosmis. Charles and Laura treated guests by displaying their 1974 3.0CS in the hotel lobby for the weekend.
Saturday morning dawned picture perfect with temperatures in the mid-70s and low humidity. It was the perfect race day and a great crowd came out for the races. The Allegheny Chapter returned to an old tradition by giving featured cars special parking for the races. Tim Swisher and his E30 Touring—a wagon version of BMW’s second-generation 3 Series that was never offered in the U.S.—greeted fourteen other BMW wagon owners who enjoyed front-row parking. Both Lindsay Draime and Greg Farrell approached organizers separately, saying: “I thought I had the only six-speed, E60 wagon in the country!” Lindsay and Greg were thrilled to park next to each other in their almost identical green 5 Series wagons.
Local ABC affiliate WTAE-Pittsburgh recognized BMW’s presence, interviewing both Mike Renner of the BMW Performance Center and Melissa Cunningham, a Roundel columnist, BMW (and Mini) fantastic, and long-time PVGP volunteer. Cunningham reflected on the weekend, saying, “There’s something here for everyone. It’s a great event that seems to get bigger every year.” She credits all of the volunteers for making the event such a success and points out that the event benefits charity, something she wrote about in her July-August Roundel column, “Enriched by Pittsburgh’s Vintage Grand Prix.”
The excitement was dialed up when WTAE’s reporter took a ride on the track. The anchor says, “We even got inside a BMW winding through the streets of Schenley Park.” But it wasn’t just any BMW, it was a BMW Performance Center G80 M3 with Mike Renner behind the wheel, giving his guests an exciting ride through the street course. Renner says, “I love Pittsburgh. The people are great—they’re always so welcoming and it’s always a joy for me to be here.” He continues, “It’s so dynamic in the Park, and it’s great to see people’s reactions.” Renner enjoys the PVGP so much that he even recruited Dwayne Mosley from the Sandlapper Chapter to join Jonathan Webb and Tim Clark to organize charity rides for over 63 people during the course of the weekend!
More touching to those in attendance was something Cunningham secretly arranged months ago. She nominated brothers Jim Williams and Chris Williams for the “Friend of the Club” award, which is one of the highest awards that can be bestowed on a CCA Member. In front of WTAE’s rolling camera, Cunningham explained that she met the Williams brothers through the Club over ten years ago and that a friendship that lasts more than ten years usually is permanent. She said Williams brothers are always the first to arrive at an event and the last to leave. For over 25 years, they have taken the day off from work the Friday of race week to set up the tent and the corral in Schenley Park so the rest of us can enjoy the festivities over the weekend. Long time BMW owners, Jim and Chris Williams helped the Club with everything from setting up tables to driving charity laps in a dealer sponsored MINI.
True to form, when the race track went quiet on Sunday and everyone else went home, Jim and Chris Williams were two of the last three people still in the park. Asked why they volunteer for the event, Jim gave a simple answer: “It needs to be done.” The Allegheny Chapter PVGP Corral would certainly not be the same without them. There are no two people more deserving to receive the Friend of the Club award. Congratulations!
—Eric Zagrocki and Mike Bevels
[Photos by Tom Dressel.]