GALLERY: Historic Racing At Monza Conjures The Past At The Temple Of Speed
Photography by Armando Musotto
I imagine it is hard to forget anything about the Targa Florio, if you’ve been. I would like nothing more than an opportunity to go back in time to watch Porsche 908s, Ferrari 312s, and Alfa Romeo 33s taking on the tribulations of the infamous Sicilian road race in the twilight years of the original event, but the historic revival version will have to make do. And it does. It’s an excellent peek into what it was like—after all, the views from the mountains above Palermo are pretty much the same as they have been for centuries.
One thing I’ll always remember from my first visit to the historic Targa Florio is somebody telling me I should go somewhere else. “You’ve never felt what speed is until you get to Monza.” I highly doubt that Merzario and Munari felt like they were meandering along and taking their sweet old time in the 312PB they won the Targa with in 1972, but there was something in his voice, an obvious reverence for the Italian temple of speed, that made me instantly enthralled with the myth of Monza.
It’s a similar story to the Targa Florio. The old banked track and the gladiatorial battles that were waged on it are no more, but there is still racing to be done. Plenty. Unlike the hillsides of Sicily however, Monza hosts F1 in the modern age. The circuit is still a part of the modern motorsport conversation, even if its far from the circuit it used to be. I’m happy knowing that dads bring their sons here to watch the Scuderia and Tifosi do their thing, but I would much rather show up for the displays of speed from times gone by.
It’s a venue that takes a certain type of racer to call it a favorite. Even in its modern layout, it is a track that tempts one into the deep end of the speedometer with distended straightaways that reward anyone with the gumption to keep their foot in it. For me, I’ve always been drawn to photographing race cars rather than driving them. It’s a bit safer this way, sure, but it’s also a bit easier on the wallet. Still, it costs to travel, and I had to be patient before making my pilgrimage to this primordial church of horsepower and guts. I say primordial with some hyperbole, but only some, as this is the third oldest automobile track still in use.
Monza is more than a track though. It’s a crazy idea that just happens to manifest as a track. It’s a challenge against physics and the elements of our brains that try to keep us from catching on fire at 150mph. Let’s get even more dramatic: It’s a way to show God that human bravery hasn’t wained even if our lives have only gotten more comfortable since we first stepped out of the garden, or the ocean, or whatever it is you believe.
I’d been to Monza for other events, but had never made it for the historic formula and sports car racing organized by Peter Auto. Imola played host for the Italian portion of the Peter Auto schedule the last two years, but when it came back to Monza in 2019 I made sure to be there.
Parabolica. Ascari . Prima Variante. These names are enough to add a few beats to your standing heart rate. Corners synonymous with courage and madness both, they require trust in your machinery like few other corners in the world—line it up properly with enough faith to see yourself through to the other end, and you can take them flat out.
During the three-day event, some 300 cars were given their due exercise to the delight of the onlookers who themselves were exercising appetites for good food and better wine. And while something like an Abarth’d Fiat will always leave a good taste in my figurative mouth, you get much more than the Italian heroes at this event. Porsche 917s, Shelby Mustangs and Cobras (real ones), Beta Montecarlos, Ferrari 250 SWBs, BMW CSLs, and Saleen S7s are just a small example of the massive cross-section of motorsport on display here. You won’t see every single major race car from the last seventy years, but you will see just about every series and manufacturer well represented.
Time moves coldly, ever forward, and there is seemingly less of it to spare the more modern our lives become. But as long as we appreciate the past enough to celebrate it somewhere other than inside our heads, we don’t have to leave it behind. These cars will never be driven like they once were, Monza will never be as alluringly dangerous as it once was, but if you get a chance to see what I did this fall, good luck being that cynical in the face of a 935 barreling down the Rettifilo Tribune.