Joining in the festivities celebrating opening weekend at Watkins Glen International racetrack, the International Motor Racing Research Center in the village featured a model car show and panel discussion on Saturday, April 12. The model car show opened on Friday and continued through Sunday.
A dozen collectors and one model car company brought hundreds of model cars to display on tables and in cases around the racing library. Four of the collectors formed a panel on stage, telling how they got started collecting and taking questions from IMRRC President J. C. Argetsinger and the audience.
About 100 people filtered in and out of the exhibit throughout the day on Saturday. The turnout pleased organizers, especially considering it was one of the first sunny, 70-degree Saturdays of the season.
Participating collectors serving as panelists were: Dave Wild of Fairport, NY; Rich Chernosky of Keystone Cards, Sayre, PA; Tom Clark of Oswego, NY; and Anthony Madison of CMC (Classical Model Cars - USA) in Rochester, NY.
In addition to the above, other collectors whose cars were on display included: Dick Buck of Geneva, NY; Charles Franzese and Bill Green, both of Watkins Glen, NY; Tom Gunshannon of Larksville, PA; Al Isselhard of Wolcott, NY; Rich Lattin of Montour Falls, NY; Jim Scaptura of Watkins Glen; and Frank Spena and Jan van den Blink, both of Elmira, NY.
IMRRC President J. C. Argetsinger introduced the panel discussion by saying that this was the opening weekend of the 67th season of racing at Watkins Glen and the 17th season of the racing library.
Admitting that he "got goosebumps" when he saw some of the model race cars on display, he said that this was "one of our most exciting programs" hosted at the library. The center tends to hold a talk in its "Conversation" series about every month or so throughout the year.
On the panel, a retired engineer, Dave Wild, said that his collection represents toy cars that he has been collecting for decades. When it comes to collecting toy cars, he said, "The boxes are important." Boxes that are "quite well lithographed can double the value of the toy if the box is in good shape," he said. Though one car he has is still in its box wrapped in cellophane, he is tempted to remove it to check it out more closely, even though it is worth more if he keeps it wrapped as is.
Rich Chernosky does not sell the model cars he builds but keeps them on display in a "museum" he has set up in the basement of his collector card shop. If people know about the collection and want to see it, he may take them down, he said. He spends years sometimes completing the finer details of the small car replicas he builds. For the checkered flag design on the seats of one Porsche model, for example, he finally landed on the idea of taping the seats in black, then in white and carefully cutting away tiny alternating strips in the tape with a knife to create the black-and-white checkerboard effect.
Anthony Madison described the process German-based CMC goes through in producing one of its European car models. The company decides on a car to replicate and researches it. Cars typically produced have a history or an interesting story behind them, such as a significant race win or notable driver.
The company then tries to find the actual, original car and take measurements and study it. It also works with the original car's manufacturer which, CMC says, is also interested in seeing that the replica be made accurately. The companies share blueprints, etc.
Modellers then make a large-scale model in detail after which engineers scale things down further. The process from selecting a car to build to actually having a model ready to sell can take several years, and each individual model can take about 18 hours to assemble. The company seeks to use correct materials such as stainless steel and alloys. Genuine leather is used for the tiny seats if the original seats were covered that way, and the paint comes from the car's manufacturer.
After the panel discussion, the collectors gathered with audience members at the center for more conversation about their models, about collecting, and about racing.
In listening to collectors tell their stories, it was clear that it's the memories the cars bring to their minds that drive their "sickness" (as one collector called his hobby) as much as the replica cars themselves. Many frame their collections around their own experiences with cars or racing.
Collector Tom Gunshannon, for example, brought just one car to the model car show. It was a replica he made of a car he had actually driven and raced with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) from 1965 to 1971. Gunshannon raced the car, a 1959 Alfa Romeo Guiletta Spider, at Watkins Glen and throughout the Northeast. He told Rochester Motor Sports that he enjoyed his racing and actually set the Formula Vee record at Giants Despair Hillclimb in Laurel Run, Pennsylvania in his late twenties, something he had promised his father he would do when he was a boy watching Oscar Koveleski set records. His father was there to witness the whole thing.
Then there were the humorous stories. Dick Buck, for example, a retired CEO of a lumber distribution company, described the delicate balance a collector must sometimes strike between a hobby and a spouse. He used to keep his cars in his office until he retired and needed to move them home. When there were a few more that needed space on the shelves already allocated, he slowly added one or two at a time, shifting cars inches apart on the shelves, hoping his wife would not notice the gradual increase in number.
When the boxes for the models also needed a place to be stored, he kept them inside a BMW he was working on in the garage for quite awhile, slowing adding a box here or there to the stacks of them in the basement. Finally, he had to fess up, but by adding to the collection over time, he was able to get away with it. When offered at the show on Saturday a chance to look at some cars another collector had for sale, he said if he were to buy any more model cars now, his wife may very well divorce him.
Included in Mr. Buck's collection is a race car signed by British racing legend, Sir Stirling Moss. Another model, #1 in a limited edition, is signed by Buck's favorite driver, Dan Gurney.
The model car show illustrated that, while some car enthusiasts buy, restore, and drive or race actual life-size automobiles or race cars, enthusiasts who enjoy small replicas of these cars are in a category closely related to the life-size hobbyists. Model car builders and collectors are just as passionate about their interest.
The Racing Research Center is an archival library dedicated to the preservation of the history of motorsports, of all series and all venues, through its collections of books, periodicals, films, photographs, fine art and other materials.
For more information about the Center’s work and its programs, visit www.racingarchives.org or call (607) 535-9044.