Barbecuing Rubber At Road Atlanta: 50 Photos Of Historic Racing At The 2018 ‘Mitty’
Photography by Kenneth Midgett
For over forty years, the springtime in the rolling hills of a little town outside of Atlanta has been synonymous with classic cars being driven to the limit. As a result of the 1970s oil crisis, current President at the time—Richard Nixon—implemented a mandatory 50mph speed limit for all passenger vehicles. The new law didn’t sit well with speed junkies. Looking for an outlet to get their adrenaline fix, a local Jaguar car club organized the equivalent of a track day at one of the greatest road courses in the east, Road Atlanta. It didn’t take long for other car clubs and motoring enthusiasts to hear word of the event, and as one would expect the meeting was an immediate success. In the aftermath, an editor for the Jaguar marque aptly named the event “The Walter Mitty Challenge,” and the Mitty as we know it was born.
And this year’s Mitty included one of the largest entry lists to date. Over 350 participants from across the United States and beyond descended upon the 2.54-mile road course to indulge in their own Walter Mitty-inspired fantasies of racing glory. Every Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR) sanctioned event I have attended has included an incredibly diverse range of racing machinery, and this year and event were no different. HSR welcomes race cars from the ‘60s through the modern era, classed accordingly on track, creating what they like to call “a time machine of sight and sound.” Who would disagree?
Within the vast array of machinery, I’ll often find myself perplexed at a particular car. Driving into the paddock on Saturday morning, I was welcomed by a pair of bright orange rotary-powered prototypes, a 1986 Argo JM19c and a 1993 Kudzu DG-3, of which I’d previously not known a thing about. Hearing their rotary engines scream through the back woods of Atlanta was just as much fun as the Google search to learn of their obscure history. Even the parking areas and car corrals around Road Atlanta were packed full of rare and intriguing makes and models, from German classics and Italian beauties, to limited-run American muscle and even homemade one-offs. Thus is the appeal of the Mitty, a truly all-encompassing motorsport festival.
Nissan was the featured marque at this year’s event, and an impressive field of classic Zs, 510s and even an uber-rare Hakosuka were present to wow spectators with raucous noise and hard racing. Among the collection of Japanese metal was my favorite car of the weekend, the 1970-1971 Trans-Am championship winning BRE Datsun 240Z. I wasn’t alone, either, as the car was constantly surrounded by a crowd of inquisitive onlookers. Instantly recognizable in its simplistic red, white and blue livery, the BRE Z is one of the country’s cult racing classics.
Not only was the car driven in anger throughout the entire weekend, it was also piloted by John Morton himself. On Friday during qualifying, the engine suffered a major failure, forcing the team to swap out the original L24 block overnight with original parts that hadn’t been touched since the ‘70s. Miraculously, everything was mended in time for Saturday’s racing. By the end of the weekend, the Datsun was banged and bruised, but even a legendary car with such rich history deserves to be driven in anger amongst its brethren. Everything can and will be fixed.
The Mitty has been and continues to be one of the greatest spectacles of motorsport history on the east coast or anywhere in the country. With decades of success and ever-growing enthusiasm, the Mitty shows no signs of slowing down either. It is an outlet to release the inner Walter Mitty in us all, whether racer or spectator, to drift away in our own fantasy of the glory days of motor racing.