The fun thing about historic car racing is the level of recognition. Audience and competitors alike, they all enjoy the races like they did in the day. A few wrinkles, some grey hairs, a little scratch, a few dents, but always young at ‘heart’. Racing cars has always been a game for the young and the old. Martin Philippo shares his memories.
My first time at Circuit Zandvoort I was still a little boy. My uncle, who worked for the Datsun importer at the time, had hoisted me into a windbreaker that was way to big for me, to come and enjoy the driving of Han Tjan, who raced the Datsun Dealer Team car, a heavily tuned Janspeed 240Z. Today, forty years later, that same competition is called the GT4 class. The cars that used to race it 40 years ago now do the same trick in the historic class. Zandvoort scheduled the final races for both classes, a hell of an opportunity to go and watch the practice like in the old days.
The way professionals run the GT4 class make for a pretty lame experience in the paddock. The entire pit lane is blocked by an endless row of heavy trucks. Not a glance of racing cars and drivers in sight. Luckily the programme also features some historic monoposto racing and they offer a brilliant display backstage. Roaming behind the curtains we stumble upon the orange racer of Mr. Frans Parfant. He and his daughter travelled up from Heerlen to Zandvoort for the weekend.
With his very enjoyable Limburgian accent, Frans tells us a thousand stories about his 1966 Formula Vee. Soon a photo album is taken out, the first page showing a black and white picture of a very young Parfant next to a racing car. Unbelievable, Frans used to assist on the build of this very here car at age fifteen, becoming the teams mechanic once it was finished. Proudly he tells us he and the car have been together for fifty years this year. After the original owner died, Frans was able to acquire the vehicle. For years he raced it in the competition. When Formula Vee was followed by ‘the real thing’, the car disappeared in lock-up.
Frans doesn’t like to discard of things. Almost everything holds a memory, and memories are there to be cherished. In the nineties the Vee returns from its hideaway, the engine is overhauled and the bodywork resprayed in its original colour. From that moment on, the car is being raced in the historical class. In its day, Formula Vee was created to offer a cheap alternative for racing. It still is today. Where some racing drivers put up an entire circus, Frans keeps it simple. A tent used for tinkering, eating and sleeping. And it all comes in a trailer behind an ordinary station wagon. That’s all one needs!
During our conversation the work never stops. A battery charger is connected, oil is topped up and the fuel capacity is being measured by sticking a wooden clothes peg in the tank. In the mean time, Frans keeps on telling stories. About the mascotte on the car, about how he went for cigarettes in this here car when he was still a youngster. On public roads, straight through the village, without the police even blinking an eye. It is so much fun talking to someone so full of stories, stories being told so extremely well. These kind of experiences alone are reason enough for a day at the races.
In the tent somebody shouts lunch is ready. My cue for another stroll around the circuit for some pictures and taking in some more of the brilliant atmosphere. My mind wanders back to that first time, when my movements were limited to the VIP-rooms above the pit and the balcony above that. I’m happy with my current arrangements, leaving me to get a chance to really meet the racing drivers. And my trusty windbreaker? Ah well, I guess it wouldn’t be all that oversized anymore. Alas.
Text and pictures: Martin Philippo