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Santa Margarita Ranch Vintage Times Trials brings out the gearheads on July 11th 

It’s Saturday, July 11, and my wife and I are pulling into Santa Margarita Ranch on a warm, clear Central Coast morning. As we make the turn to the ranch that cuts through a residential area, we see a homemade sign that says, “Drive Slow.” As soon as we’re through the gate into the ranch, however, we see signs that say “FAST” with arrows pointing the way.

click to enlarge START YOUR ENGINES!:  Once a year, the Santa Margarita Ranch airstrip hosts FAST time trials. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • START YOUR ENGINES!: Once a year, the Santa Margarita Ranch airstrip hosts FAST time trials.

We’re in the right place, because today is the annual Santa Margarita Ranch Time Trials, when ranch owner Rob Rossi is nice enough to lend his airstrip to Ford four-cylinder engine enthusiasts who race their modified creations down the straightaway to determine whose car rules!

As an added bonus, if you show up in an old car, you get to park down on the strip instead of in the upper parking lot, which creates a mini car show for spectators who come to watch the action. My wife and I park our 1963 Corvair and feel like total bosses.

Spectators are wandering around checking out the old cars or finding their spots along the side of the track. Racers are having their cars inspected to assure they’re race-ready. Announcer John Kerr is warming up at the microphone, letting people know the trials will start shortly and that drivers are allowed to make as many runs as they want, time permitting.

click to enlarge ALL CUSTOM:  Local builder/fabricator Hank Van Gaale built his Ford roadster pickup from the ground up, using a 1929 Model A motor. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • ALL CUSTOM: Local builder/fabricator Hank Van Gaale built his Ford roadster pickup from the ground up, using a 1929 Model A motor.

The only rules for the race cars is the motor must be based on the original Ford motors of the Models T, A, and B years. Some race cars are nearly stock, others highly modified. Some cars, like the 1929 Model A Ford roadster pickup piloted by SLO metal fabricator Hank Van Gaale are almost completely custom. Aside from the motor, wheels, and tires, Van Gaale’s vehicle was manufactured by hand. His hands.

Others are vintage race cars, like a Willie Chambers-built custom from the ’60s or ’70s (opinions vary) that was almost immediately disqualified from racing back in its day because it lacked a starter motor, so soon after it was built, it was “retired” to a See Canyon barn until being “rescued” a few years ago. For the past three years, brothers Jonathan and Justin Jurgens have raced it. It still doesn’t have a starter, so whoever’s not behind the wheel uses a vintage VW Bus to push the racer until it can pop the clutch and get it going. Old school, baby.

The trials begin, and Kerr announces the cars and their racers as they line up and make their runs. When he gets to Van Gaale, he praises him as “a fine young fabricator from San Luis Obispo,” but after his run Kerr manages to get a few joking swipes in as well. “We’ve been told that Hank is leaking something out of his rear end.”

click to enlarge BARN FRESH :  Justin Jurgens, part owner of British Sports Car in SLO, pilots Willie Chambers’ racer, which was pulled out of a barn in See Canyon a few years ago. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • BARN FRESH : Justin Jurgens, part owner of British Sports Car in SLO, pilots Willie Chambers’ racer, which was pulled out of a barn in See Canyon a few years ago.

Cars hit the starting line, put the pedal to the metal, and fly down the track, some faster than others. As they return, Kerr announces their overall time as well as their top speed. After about an hour or so, a bi-plane shows up in the sky above us and starts doing barrel rolls, loop de loops, stalls, and spins. Free air show! Bonus!

“When I was a kid, if you could hit second gear before the next block, you were in nirvana … until you saw the flashing lights behind you,” Kerr waxed poetic. “Hang onto your hats, toupees, and small dogs,” he adds as another car inches toward the starting line.

Soon Jonathan Jurgens is using the VW Bus to push his brother Justin in the Willie Chamber No. 7 Crown Royal Racing car, but after he gets it going, it stalls out before it gets to the starting line.

“Looks like the fire went out,” Kerr quips as Jonathan comes in for another push. It fires up again, and soon Justin is ripping down the track in what I think is the coolest car out here.

- GO FAST!:  FAST, an all-volunteer non-profit, stands for Ford “A” Speed Technology. The special interest group features vintage Ford enthusiasts interested in speed technology for four-cylinder Model T, A, and B engines and the vehicles they power. Keep up with all their events at hotforhotfours.com. -
  • GO FAST!: FAST, an all-volunteer non-profit, stands for Ford “A” Speed Technology. The special interest group features vintage Ford enthusiasts interested in speed technology for four-cylinder Model T, A, and B engines and the vehicles they power. Keep up with all their events at hotforhotfours.com.

It’s a real classic—streamlined but antiquated compared to today’s racing technology, but that’s the point. People are here to enjoy the old ways, when you didn’t need sponsors and tons of money to race, just know-how, elbow grease, and camaraderie. 

There’s plenty of all three on hand today. Vroom!

Glen Starkey takes a beating and keeps on bleating. Keep up with him via twitter at twitter.com/glenstarkey, friend him at facebook.com/glenstarkey, or contact him at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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