The Passion, and Sometimes Profit, of Vintage Racing

The Passion, and Sometimes Profit, of Vintage Racing

“I didn’t have any money,” Mr. Barber said. “I was going to Harvard on a scholarship and driving a borrowed 20-year-old MG.”

Mr. Barber said couldn’t afford track time to practice, so he would tear around the roads surrounding Boston after 2 a.m., when nobody else was on the road. Those breakneck excursions through the moonlit countryside paid off. He won three Sports Car Club of America national championships in a row in the mid-1960s.

Along the way, he had an epiphany: If athletes in every other sport could benefit from coaching, why wouldn’t racecar drivers? More to the point, why couldn’t their instructor profit from helping them hone their skills on the track?

In 1975, with two borrowed Formula Ford open-wheel racers and four students, he started what is now called the Skip Barber Racing School, whose alumni include Mario Andretti, Tom Cruise and Jerry Seinfeld. Today, there are dozens of high-performance racing schools around the country, certified by the Sports Car Club of America and offering courses that can cost up to $7,000 for five days of instruction. The Skip Barber Racing School — Mr. Barber sold his controlling interest years ago — charges just under $2,000 for a one-day program.

Then there’s the matter of the car.

A race-worthy model — an old Mustang or Corvair — can be had for as little as $15,000 to $20,000, said Terry McGean, editor in chief of Hemmings Motor News. But that’s just the beginning.

“Chances are you’ll need to restore it, and that can cost another $15,000 to $20,000,” he said. “Or you can buy one ready to race for $50,000.”

Safety equipment will add to the cost: a helmet and a fire suit for the driver, while a HANS device — to support the driver’s head and neck — and a fire-suppression system must be fitted to the car. One ready to race, a vehicle that’s not road legal must get to the track, requiring a trailer and something to tow it. Any vintage racing event will be generously dotted with expensive motor homes.

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