There was a time when racing mattered. When an appearance in the winner’s circle on Sunday meant cars would fly out of the showroom on Monday. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, that was the Trans American Championship where in the over 2.5 Liter class Mustangs, Camaros, Barracudas, and Javelins battled for pony car supremacy.
Earlier in the decade, a feud between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari resulted in the greatest achievement by an American car company in the history of motorsports when the famed Ford GT 40 Mk II finished swept all three places on the podium at the 1966 24-hours of Le Mans.
While those days are long gone, the good news is the cars aren’t and you can see classic race cars from almost every era on tracks around the country each summer. On local and storied raceways from Maine to California, you’ll find vintage cars in the hands of excellent drivers going wheel to wheel as if the clock had been turned back 50 years. I had my chance to see some of the cars I remember watching as an 11-year old boy in 1971 as I followed my father’s Trans Am team from Lime Rock to Donnybrooke, Watkins Glen, Mid Ohio, Michigan International Speedway to Road America.
It all came flooding back as I drove the handsome Atomic Silver Lexus RC350 through the front gate at Road America and pulled into the parking lot across from the start finish line. The Lexus turned out to be a perfect car for the drive, with its silky smooth V6 and comfortable NuLuxe simulated leather seating surface, the car handles the twisty roads through the Wisconsin Countryside like butter. This isn’t a sports car, but a grand touring coupe in this configuration. I’d driven it briefly when Lexus launched this line a few years ago. If you’re looking for performance, the V8-powered RCF is the one you want. But for all around cruising and comfort, it’s hard to beat the RC350.
With a curb weight of 3,750 pounds, it’s not exactly light, but that only helps contribute to the comfortable ride. Steering is on the light side without a lot of feedback, but again, this isn’t the car you’re going to go carving up the corners with. 0-60 happens in a very reasonable 5.8 seconds and though you’ll probably never see it, top speed is 143 miles per hour.
Uncredentialed for the Weathertech International Challenge with Brian Redman presented by HAWK, I was going to watch as a civilian, enjoying the racing at one of America’s most storied tracks. But the beauty of these events is a ticket to the track gets you into the paddock area so you can get up close to the cars and talk to the owners and drivers. I saw and amazing array of vintage cars during my day at the track and some great racing. So whether you’re in Monterey or Charleston, New York or Texas check out an event near you for some classic competition. You’ll find a lot of information at the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association or check the schedule at your local road course for an independent event like the one I attended.
Some of the highlights from my day included seeing these cars run.
1970 Bud Moore Boss 302 Mustang battles a Corvette coming out of turn 5
A bevy of Ford GT40s line up to take the track
The Brock Racing Enterprises Datsun 510 powers through turn 7
The under 2.5-liter class was competitive back in the day, it still is
In addition to the racing action, you’re sure to see a bunch of fun stuff in the paddock and parking areas (don’t forget your checkbook!)
This guy has the right attitude.
After a full day at the track listening to the unmuffled roar of big V8s and all other configurations of internal combustion engines, I was glad to be able to relax in the comfort and quiet of the RC350. And while I missed having the excellent Mark Levinson audio system I usually get in these press cars, the standard stereo certainly helped put the din of the day behind me as I listened to some blues on the Sirius/XM radio and unwound on my hour and a half drive from Road America to my home in Madison.
2017 Lexus RC350
Two-door, 2+2, rear-wheel drive, luxury sports coupe
Base Price: $44,005 (includes delivery)
Price as tested: $47,510
Major Options: Premium Package includes heated and ventilated front seats, blind spot monitor with cross traffic alert ($1,240), Navigation package with remote touchpad, Enform destinations and App Suite, Navigation, In-dash CD player, voice command ($1,470), F Sport 19-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels ($795)
Engine: 3.5 Liter, 24-valve DOHC, V6 with aluminum block and cylinder heads
Transmission: 8-speed Sport Direct Shift with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters
Horsepower: 306 hp @ 4,800 RPM
Torque: 277 lb.-ft. @ 4,800 RPM
0-60: 5.8 seconds
Top speed: 143 mph
EPA MPG: 19 city, 28 hwy, 22 combined