American Speed Festival: Chaparrals, hot laps, $100K for Pontiac charity

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Pontiac — Parting is such sweet sorrow.  

Workers packed up Jim Hall’s legendary Chaparral race cars at M1 Concourse after headlining the inaugural American Speed Festival. The display of the pioneering race cars — the first to sport aerodynamic wings — was the first time the vehicles had been seen on track outside their Midland, Texas, museum home since 2005. 

The Chaparrals led the fourth major public auto event at the private race club facility in two months as the COVID pandemic has shifted the epicenter of Metro Detroit auto events to Oakland County. 

Jim Hall's four Chaparral racers headlined the American Speed Festival. The 2F and 2E (at left) were the first race cars with wings.

The American Speed Festival, touting a “celebration of speed past, present and future,” played host from Oct. 1-3 to more than 100 cars covering 120 years of race history. Taking laps around the 1.5-mile Champion Motor Speedway was everything from the 1901 Sweepstakes car that Henry Ford piloted to Grosse Pointe glory to a 1973 1,100-horsepower Porsche 917/30 Can-Am car.  

Other highlights included the 1952 Hudson Hornet (financed by the Detroit department store of that name) that dominated NASCAR in the 1950s and a state-of-the-art 2020 Ferrari 488 GT racer. Both were among the 11 winners for best in show. 

The show-stopper was Hall’s high-wing Chaparral 2E, which pioneered aerodynamic tech in the mid-1960s CanAm series. Today, wings are an essential aerodynamic feature on everything from IndyCars to IMSA sports racers. 

“Chaparral is going to be a tough act to follow. To see that kind of racing history on track was such a unique opportunity for the fans that won’t be soon forgotten,” smiled Tim McGrane, CEO of M1 Concourse, a transplanted Brit who previously ran Laguna Seca Raceway in California.  

Henry Ford's 1901 Sweepstakes racer was on track at the American Speed Festival with modern thoroughbreds like Mustangs and IndyCars.

He has overseen the facility as it played host, since August, to Roadkill Nights, Woodward Dream Show, Motor Bella and the Speed Festival.  

“We’re very pleased with the success of our inaugural Speed Festival weekend,” McGrane continued.  “Although weather hampered us a bit Sunday, we had a tremendous three days of on-track time trials.” 

The Festival also played host to a sold-out Checkered Flag Ball charity event supporting M1 Mobility. The event raised more than $100,000 to assist with the needs of transportation-challenged Pontiac residents. 

Hall was also honored at the ball as ASF’s first Master of Motorsports for a career that is compared with that of Lotus’s Colin Chapman for racing innovation. Hall, 86, accepted the award in a live feed from Motorsports Hall of Famer David Hobbs. The weekend was livestreamed globally by Speedsport TV.  

Category winners as voted upon by ASF attendees and officials were: 

Best Can Am Car — 1966 Chaparral 2E (Jim Hall, owner)                                

Best Indy Car — 1972 Parnelli VPJ-1 (Chuck Jones)                      

Best Endurance Car — 1959 Maserati Tipo 61 (Team Stradale)                

Best Featured Car — 1992 Jordan 192 Formula One (RM Motorsports)            

Best Stock Car — Kyle Petty #42 NASCAR Pontiac (Michael Haislet)                

Best Super Car — 2020 Ferrari 488 Challenge EVO (Bob Hertzberg)                  

Best European Performance Car — 1967 Maserati Ghibli (Larry Smith)                        

Best American Performance Car — 1952 Corvette Duntov Mule (Ken Lingenfelter)            

Best Import — 2008 Subaru WRX STI (Michael Aumick)               

Selection Committee Award — 1952 Fabulous Hudson Hornet (Al Shultz)                             

M1 Concourse Award — 1901 Sweepstakes Race Car (The Henry Ford)                

The American Speed Festival will return Sept. 29-Oct. 2, 2022, featuring the Shelby race cars in honor of the 60th anniversary of Shelby American. 

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