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The first car to win at Laguna Seca returns for this year’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Pete Lovely crosses the finish line at Laguna Seca’s opening race in the poster art, painted by Bill Patterson, for this year’s Motorsport Reunion. Images courtesy Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Chances are good that no one had money on Pete Lovely, driving a 2.0-liter Ferrari 500 TR, to win the inaugural race at Laguna Seca on November 10, 1957. Lovely was an accomplished racer, but he was up against the likes of Carroll Shelby, Jim Hall, Richie Ginther and John von Neumann, all driving significantly more powerful cars. When the checkered flag waved, however, it was Lovely who crossed the finish line in the lead, followed 10-seconds later by von Neumann. On August 17-20, in honor of the track’s 60th anniversary, Lovely’s diminutive Ferrari will be making a special appearance, part of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s “Racing Through the Decades” feature display at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.

Chassis 0650MDTR, the Ferrari raced to victory by Lovely that November day, was first driven in January 1957 by von Neumann, who finished sixth in a Pomona Preliminary, followed by 18th in the main event. Next, in March 1957, the car went to Bruce Kessler, who campaigned it at Paramount Ranch (in Agoura Hills, California) before bringing it east to run at the newly opened Lime Rock Park in Connecticut. There, in the track’s first race (on April 28, 1957), Kessler scored a win in the Preliminary followed by a second-place in the SCCA Regional. Kessler also raced the car at Thompson Speedway, while George Arents is credited with driving it at Cumberland.

Pete Lovely with his first wife, Patricia, following his Laguna Seca win.

In September 1957, 0650MDTR was acquired by Lovely and Fred Armbruster, and Lovely delivered a second-place finish in his first outing, at Arcata. Palm Springs followed, and the driver delivered again, this time earning a third-place finish. His third race in the Ferrari was the opening of Laguna Seca the weekend after Palm Springs, and the track has published Lovely’s own account of his battle with von Neumann for victory:

Johnny von Neumann and myself were the main survivors after the first race was complete because Carroll Shelby, Jack McAfee and Richie Ginther had all dropped out with various mechanical problems. That left von Neumann and myself battling for the lead. Johnny had a new 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine in his Ferrari TRC and I had a plain old 500 Testa Rossa with a 2-liter engine.

I could get up close to von Neumann, but I couldn’t pass him because I didn’t have enough power to get by. I devised a scheme by which I would very gradually fall back to where he couldn’t see me in his mirror. I then turned on a couple of really hot laps and I got right on his tail when we reached Turn 9. When Johnny saw me there, he got flustered, missed a shift coming out of that turn and I passed him. The rest is history.

That day was very exciting for us because we had no intention of having that little 2-liter car being an overall winner when Fred Armbruster and I bought it. That little Ferrari was a pretty amazing car. I liked the old Laguna Seca track because it took a lot of skill to hold your foot down around the old Turn 2. You had to be really on your toes or you would miss that corner. If you did that, it was certain disaster.

Chassis 0650MDTR continued to be raced regularly through the 1960 season, though Lovely sold the car in early 1958. Other drivers who enjoyed success behind its wheel include Richie Ginther, Gordon Glyer, and Chuck Cornett, and today the Ferrari (now powered by a 2.5-liter four) is part of a private collection.

For additional details on the 2017 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, visit MazdaRaceway.com.