David Holmes wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when he rolled his sky blue 1960s MG twin cam onto the grid at the Mosport Park (now the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) last weekend. The amateur racer has been shredding rubber for 12 years now, and can take a corner faster and harder than most people will putter down the 401.
But “twin cams are notoriously fussy,” says the long-time Elmira resident and enthusiastic speedster, with easily one of the finest collections of vintage cars in town. “This is the third motor I’ve put in this car, and this previous weekend is the first time I had finished a race. And I finished third in my class, which I was absolutely overjoyed to do.”
Holmes was competing over the weekend at the Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada (VARAC) Vintage Grand Prix at Mosport, and came away with a podium finish in his respective automobile class (VH-5) out of 18 others.
“The starts are always very hectic, because you’ve got a lot of cars in a small area all trying to make the first corner, second corner, third corner until after a lap or two, the cars spread out and it depends on who’s in the race. Sometimes you’ve got somebody right besides you all the time,” says Holmes.
“Some of your best races are when you’re dueling,” he adds. “You’ve got somebody that’s your speed and your ability, and the two of you are having a competition.”
Clocking in at 1:53 on his best lap of the 4-kilometre (2.5 mile) long track, Holmes was literally going over a mile a minute in his decked out MG. The car has been all but stripped to the bones to maximize speed, while the engine inside the car has been shifted completely to give him a perfect 50-50 weight distribution along the length of the car.
It’s that careful design, along with Holmes’ ability behind the wheel, that saw him beat out his opponents at the Grand Prix Circuit.
The track is a challenging one to race. Situated in Durham Region, the road takes some of its cues from the hilly environment, offering plenty of twists and turns to throw off all but the most disciplined drivers. There are 10 turns built into the track, and an inattentive driver risks spinning out, or otherwise falling behind the rest of the pack.
Fortunately for Holmes, it’s drifting through those tight corners where he excels.
“It’s no problem with a straight line. It’s the cornering,” says Holmes of the innate challenge of motor racing. “My car isn’t fast in the top end, but I’m very fast in the corners, and on a short, windy track I will beat a lot of cars. On a track like Mosport with a very long backstretch, the fast cars, they’ll get by me. And then sometimes I’ll pass them through the corners and then they’ll get by me again on the backstretch.
“You’re going through corners at full throttle. Especially Mosport: Mosport has very fast corners. It’s a very fast track,” he says.
It’s an exhilarating experience, but it can also be a dangerous one too. Asked if he ever thinks about just staying at home instead of taking the risk, Holmes admits it’s come up. But once the race starts, all that nervous energy just melts away.
“You think about that sometimes when you’re on the grid, especially if you have a long wait you’ll think about that. But once the checkered flag goes, everything is out of you mind except for racing and concentrating on what you’re doing.”
Concentration is key when you’re taking those turns, especially when you are sharing the track with upwards of 40 other racers.
“I have gotten out of the car in a tough race absolutely panting,” says Holmes. “The concentration is phenomenal. You have to concentrate 100 per cent of the time.”
Holmes has made a name for himself on the vintage racers’ circuit by competing in as many races as possible, as evidenced by the medals and trophies accrued in his display cabinet. He entered into the world of racing just before his 60th birthday, and has no plans on slowing down anytime soon.