Jim Hall's Chaparral racers highlight Pontiac's American Speed Festival

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Pontiac — The ground will shake this weekend when three of the most legendary race cars in motorsport hit the M1 race track at the inaugural American Speed Festival.

Created by Texan Jim Hall, the Chaparral 2, 2E and 2F revolutionized motorsport in the 1960s with their daring aerodynamic designs. Along with Lotus-founder Colin Chapman of England, Hall — who also raced his cars — helped define a golden age of racing that pushed the boundaries of technology and speed.

Jim Hall's Chaparral 2E will be on track at M1 Concourse for the American Speed Festival in Pontiac.

Hall is being honored with the Festival’s Master of Motorsports Award as his creations headline a unique weekend celebrating auto racing past, present and future. In addition to ogling dozens of racers covering the spectrum from NASCAR to IndyCar, fans will get to see the thoroughbreds perform on track — including the rare Chaparrals in their signature vanilla white livery.

The Texas engineer’s showcase is timely as motorsport experiences a second renaissance with more offerings than ever before — yet in a very different industry environment where a government and corporate electrification push is forcing the homogenization of production and race cars alike.

“I came along at a time when a lot of latitude was given to change cars,” said Hall, 86, in an interview looking back on six decades of racing. “As anything becomes standardized and everyone focuses on the best equipment, then everyone heads in the same direction until someone comes up with a new idea.”

In addition to industry pressures, motorsport has self-regulated to encourage competitive racing that attracts TV coverage. The ‘60s, by contrast, were the Wild West of motorsport and independent innovators like Hall, Chapman, Dan Gurney and Bruce McLaren were full of new ideas.

Some of those ideas are prominently displayed in the Festival’s Chaparral Corral.

At the American Speed Festival in Pontiac, famous race cars past, present, and future will take hot laps around the campus's 1.5-mile track.

Powered by a ground-thumping Chevy V-8, Hall’s Chaparral 2 exploded on the scene in 1963 with an aviation-inspired chassis design. Using fiberglass-reinforced plastic, a mid-engine layout and automatic transmission, Hall notched 22 wins in 39 races.

The next-gen Chaparral 2E, however, would be the car that captured the world’s attention. Entered in the 1966 Can Am series — the fastest sportscar series on the planet — the sleek racer featured a high-wing (operated by the driver’s left foot) to generate downforce to push the car into the road for better cornering grip.

“We started with a brand-new sheet of paper and put everything we knew about aerodynamics at that time into the car,” said Hall, who calls the 2E his favorite design. “It was a major change . . . and after (people) saw that, they realized (the wing) was a very important feature.”

Jim Hall's Chaparral 2 will be featured at this weekend's American Speed Festival in Pontiac.

Wings are ubiquitous on race cars today. Hall competed with the 2F — designed with a similar high wing — in the 1967 World Manufacturer’s Series, competing neck-and-neck with full factory-funded teams from Ford, Porsche and Ferrari.

Models from those famous marques will also be on display in a sweeping look at motor racing’s evolution.

Henry Ford’s original 1901 Sweepstakes car — the winning racer that grabbed the attention of investors — will take laps around M1 Concourse’s 1.5-mile race track. A 1973 Porsche 917/30 — generating more than 1,000 horsepower — will make an appearance, as will a 2015 Ferrari Challenge GT car.

Jim Hall built Chaparral race cars in Midland, Texas, that would revolutionize racing aerodynamics.

Modeled after the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England, the track days will also showcase great drivers including England’s David Hobbes and Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, who will demonstrate his 1966 Eagle-Ford V-8 Indy car. Hall will not make the trip to Pontiac, but his son and grandson will be on hand to pilot his cars on track.

“The American Speed Festival allows race fans to get close to some of the greatest performance and race cars in the world and learn more about some of the legends of the sport,” said Tim McGrane, CEO of M1.

Speed Festival follows an active summer at the private racing club that began with legal drag racing at Dodge’s Roadkill Nights kicking off Woodward Dream Cruise week on Aug. 14. Roadkill was book-ended by the Woodward Dream Show the following Saturday and featured some of the wildest modified cars in existence. Last weekend, M1 hosted the inaugural Motor Bella — a scaled-down, outdoor version of the Detroit Auto Show that focused on experiential rides in everything from Ford Broncos to Dodge Hellcats.

American Speed Festival continues the show trend away from static displays — and toward putting vehicles into action. Each year, ASF will feature a class of cars and honor an industry legend. This year’s featured Can Am cars defined a '60s racing era with no limits.

“I don’t know that there is anyone who, by himself, changed the sport of auto racing globally as much as Jim Hall,” said George Levy, president of the Motorsport Hall of Fame of America and author of a coming biography about Hall. “To car-crazy kids like me in the 1960s, Jim Hall was the Neil Armstrong of motorsports.”

The American Speed Festival kicked off Thursday with an exclusive “Dine and Drive” event throughout Metro Detroit for behind-the-scenes looks at Motor City automotive history. Friday and Saturday heat up with fast laps, while Sunday offers the ASF Exposition, which judges the best cars in all classes. Guests also have a chance to ride shotgun with a pro drier in a Dodge Hellcat or Lexus sports sedan.

A map of this weekend's American Speed Festival in Pontiac.

The family friendly American Speed Festival offers a Festival Pass for $75 per person with free attendance for children under 12. In addition to the cars, there will be daily live entertainment, including music and RC cars for kids to race.

“I get a real good feeling from the youngsters who read about (my racing) but didn’t get to see it,” said Hall. “And they still get excited about it.”

For more information, go to https://americanspeedfestival.com/

American Speed Festival, Friday, Oct. 1-Sunday Oct. 3

Gates open at 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.