Vintage Grand Prix offers more than a race

Annual race attracts fans who gather to cheer on their favorite vintage car and support Allegheny Valley School and the Autism Society of Pittsburgh


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The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix is the largest race of its kind in the country. But the event that has been staged annually for 30 years is more than vintage cars racing around the streets of Schenley Park in Squirrel Hill.

Sunday, the last day of the 10-day event, there were about 2,000 classic, vintage and antique cars, parked and on display and some were for sale. There were funnel cakes, corn dogs, cotton candy, ice cream, lemonade and other food. There were lots of dogs on leashes and many children at the family-friendly event that included free games, contests and activities at the Ford Kid's Pit Stop.

Vintage Grand Prix roars on

More than 100,000 spectators were expected to attend the final day of the 30th annual Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. (Video by Nate Guidry; 7/22/2012)

Vendors sold a wide array of merchandise ranging from car parts and accessories to jewelry, purses, sunglasses and "colored hair and feather extensions."

PG VIDEO

At the entrance to the Vendor Village, business was brisk under the tent selling many colored T-shirts adorned with pictures and the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix logo.

Proceeds from the $15 shirts directly benefit both Grand Prix charities, said Shawn Ryan of Baldwin, who was volunteering at the sales booth with his daughter, Katelyn, 13.

Mr. Ryan works at Allegheny Valley School, which is one of the beneficiaries of the Grand Prix. The other is the Autism Society of Pittsburgh.

Since 1983, the Grand Prix has donated $2.95 million to those organizations, including $200,000 from last year's event. Admission to the Grand Prix is free, so money raised comes from sponsors and partners. The event program lists 58 sponsors, including car dealerships and other local companies and businesses, and seven "car club partners."

Allegheny Valley School serves 900 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in more than 125 programs, including residential programs.

The Autism Society of Pittsburgh provides information, advocacy and referral services for children affected by the neurological disorder that impairs behavior and communication.

Adam Hollander traveled from Miami, Fla., to see the races "because I am a big car guy and this is awesome. A vintage Grand Prix race on roads" instead of on a race track "is really unique."

The only other vintage street race is held in Europe, at Monte Carlo, and that race is by invitation only, and is held only every other year.

The Schenley Park course is 2.33 miles, and cars raced for eight laps around the hilly, course that includes 22 turns.

Mr. Hollander said his father has been involved in car racing since the 1960's, and he himself owns a 2008 JCW special edition Mini Cooper, which he enters in events, though not the Pittsburgh Grand Prix.

Mr. Hollander had a front-row race seat under a tent erected by Eyetique, a "gold" sponsor. Company founder and president Norman Childs of Squirrel Hill said the Grand Prix is "a great party and a great event " for Pittsburgh that benefits local residents and agencies. He doesn't own a vintage race car "but I'm a big fan," Mr. Child said, and he owns a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair convertible.

Mr. Child's gold sponsor status earned him, friends and customers a ride in a blue and white pace car.

Nearby sat John Fullenkamp of Swisshelm Park and his friend, Irene Ottersbach who traveled from Louisville, Ky., to see the races.

"You have to get here kind of early to get good seats," said Mr. Fullenkamp, who set up two blue and gold "Pitt" chairs covered by an umbrella. He and Ms. Ottersbach brought red wine in glasses and packed cheese, fresh fruit and cashews.

Mr. Fullenkamp, who recently retired as a registered nurse at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, said this is his ninth year at the races because "it's just a good afternoon out."

Dan Joseph traveled from Wheeling because he is a racing fan and because he is getting tips for the vintage boat race and regatta that he and his wife, Debbie, will chair in their hometown on Labor Day weekend. The boat event is in its seventh year and benefits an Easter Seals rehabilitation center.

The Pittsburgh Grand Prix "is a premier event and this is a beautiful setting," said Mr. Joseph, who is an orthodontist.

Clare Gallagher of McMurry, a retired middle school teacher, has attended all of the Grand Prix events because her husband, Don, has always worked in the car industry, including many years as a car dealer.

Yesterday Mrs. Gallagher was supervising three grandchildren at the Kid's Pit Stop, including Emily Frisch, 11, of Canonsburg. Emily was the proud winner of the "Hula Hoop Hits" contest at the Radio Disney tent. She had the best "creative moves" because of her ability to keep a purple hoop spinning while waving her arms in time to music, said the judge who awarded her a T-shirt and poster.

Jackie DiMarcelli of Penn Hills supervised her four children -- Gianni,7, Milena, 10, Breonna, 12, and Lezlee, 15. Activities included making paper models, spin art and building race cars from interlocking blocks and racing them down an inclined track.

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Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0087. First Published July 23, 2012 4:00 AM


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