Quietly, without any fanfare, a single driver stepped out of the shade at Road America’s Brian Redman International Challenge vintage racing event and, attired in the same racing suit he wore thirty years ago, Jim Hall, legendary designer, builder and driver of the Chaparral road racing cars, took his place behind the wheel of the 2E, with gleaming white paint and the old racing number 66 painted in black, sitting there poised for just one more run.
Hall, returning to Road America’s sportscar scene after an absence of 31 years, fired up the V-8 engine and the entire crowd surrounding the four-mile circuit went completely silent. It was an eerie moment, almost like when there’s a big crash and the crowd quiets down until it finds out what’s happened. The Chaparral accelerated out of pit row, off on two valedictory laps around its old hunting grounds and the crowd moved quickly and almost reverently to the track’s edge. As the car sped through Turns 1 and 2, the engine sound became muted a bit as Hall started down behind the hill into Turn 3 and the sounds of cheers started to mark his progress around the course and could be heard all the way up on pit row. It was a tribute seldom heard for a racing driver and even more seldom for a man who had not driven a competition lap since the 60’s.
Hall sped up Road America’s long front straightaway, under the steward’s tower and off into the final lap for the 2E, soon to be ensconced in a special museum in Texas. This lap was highlighted by applause not only from the fans but by the many corner workers coming out to the border of the asphalt to wave all the signal flags in their possession as a final goodbye to the Chaparral 2E, one of the most innovative cars to race for America, and to Jim Hall, the man who made it all happen.
As Hall glided into the pit at the end of the lap, clearly moved by the outpouring of goodwill, he was met by one of the organizers who asked him how he felt about the corner workers’ tribute. Hall, his sense of humor coming through as always, said with a wry smile, “I thought, my God, there must be tons of oil all over the track!”
As Hall glided into the pit at the end of the lap, clearly moved by the outpouring of goodwill, he was met by one of the organizers who asked him how he felt about the corner workers’ tribute. Hall, his sense of humor coming through as always, said with a wry smile, “I thought, my God, there must be tons of oil all over the track!” He was quickly joined by Troy Rogers, his old crew chief, who came one last time to Road America to help his boss put on another good show. Rogers, who had been at the static display virtually every minute over the four day event, was grinning from ear to ear and then, with his usual efficiency, directed the support team (composed of his family members there as guests of the track) in getting his driver from the car, the 2E was pushed back in the tent and the glorious moment was over.
Hall repeated the lap on Sunday afternoon with another car, the 2A, from his stable of seven (four being exhibited at Road America) and while the crowd enthusiasm was outstanding, it was Saturday’s laps that were the ones to be remembered. Hall said, at the close of the weekend, “I don’t know if the cars will ever turn another lap but, if not, this was a wonderful weekend with which to close out the Chaparral story.”
The weekend came to an end as the cars were put aboard the transport in a gentle rain, as if the clouds were shedding one last tear along with the Chaparral team and the hundreds of fans who gathered around the truck to say goodbye to something special. It had been a bittersweet time – seeing the cars after a very long absence from the racing scene and watching them load up and go back to Texas. Many of these fans had seen the cars race here when the Canadian American Series ruled the road racing circuits and now they had brought their children with them, just as they had come with their parents years ago, to see the cars one more time. The last car disappeared into its rack, the trailer door was closed up, the driver started the rig and moved out of the paddock and down the hill and an era came to an end.