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Father, son go vintage racing together

Published June 13, 2014

Pocket change, spare-time racing is great for bonding

DUNDAS — It’s a rainy night, but the grey skies and misty air do great things for the vintage Alfa Romeos sitting in the driveway of Vytas Svedas.

Water is beading up on the flaming red hood of No. 83. The scorching yellow of No. 23 punctures the gloom from the darker regions of the garage. No. 23 is a 1966 Giulia Sprint GT. No. 83 is a 1972 GTV. The engine for the Giulia is elsewhere, a leftover leaf from the fall is still stuck in the grille, which looks suspiciously like farm fencing.

This is what pocket change-spare time racing looks like. And Svedas loves every minute he can steal to do it.

“The best thing is, I get to race with my dad,” the 29-year-old carpenter says as he leans his six-foot-two frame against the pint sized Sprint GT.

“We had three daughters, and then Vytas came along.”

Read between the lines and it’s clear dad Tony was just waiting for a male mate so he could go messing around with cars.

From age 9. Vytas would poke around Ontario tracks with his dad, watching drag racing, oval and road events. Vytas dabbled in go-carts, but busy lives prevented any serious pursuit of racing. Tony runs an architectural firm, Svedas Architects Inc., and Vytas pursued a career as a finish carpenter specializing in heritage restoration through Svedas Carpentry.

Alfas, however, remained a bucket list car for Tony, and in 2008 he persuaded his son to start racing one in the vintage auto racing series in Canada and the U,S. “I was happy to watch him and be nervous, but then rather than do that it was better to get involved,” Tony says.

So dad races the 1972 GTV, and son the 1966 Giulia Sprint GT, and they’re both entered in the Canadian Historic Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this weekend.

The GTV was put together bit-by-bit. First the shell arrived from California, the engine from Flamboro, a roll cage was added and the car with its 2-litre, 4-cylinder engine and close ratio gear box is “fast enough for a tin can,” says Vytas.

Just how fast depends who has the floor in the Svedas garage. “It’ll do 100 miles an hour on the straight at Mosport,” Tony claims. Jackie, Vitas’ wife who’s joined the conversation, says 200 km/h. Vytas declares emphatically, 220 km/h.

At the vintage races at Canadian Tire Mosport Park, Vytas will drive the Sprint GT. It’s faster with an output of 190 horses, and lighter than the GTV. “I got it as a tricked-out race car, but it’s starting to show its age,” he says.

The father and son might do four races a summer, picking between Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Watkins Glen, Mont Tremblant and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. They’d do more, but there’s the issue of time and money.

Vytas and Jackie have two kids, 3-year-old Charlotte and nine-month old Georgia. During our garage talk, Charlotte has been climbing in and out of the race cars, and will even assist her dad, going into the house to ask Mommy for “a No. 5` wrench.”

But they estimate it costs about $5,000 to race a car for the season. “I don’t buy shoes, clothes; I don’t even have a cell phone,” Vytas confesses with a laugh.

It’s clear the lovely little Alfas have a hold on the father and son. Neither of them is much interested in today’s performance cars, including the Jaguar F-TYPE I am testing.

“There’s just so much car there that can’t be used,” Tony says. And they’re too polished for Vytas.

”With the Alfa it feels like you’re driving something that is really raw. There’s no power steering, it smells, sometimes, it doesn’t idle right, it’s hot, it rattles, there’s always a shake, it’s not perfect, it’s like a living thing.”

That, race fans, is the definition of love.

When Tony and Vytas are on the track with the other vintage historics — the MGBs, the Porsche 914s, Lotus, Fiats, Boss 302 Mustangs and other Alfas, it’s a holiday. They forget about everything else.

“It’s like to me, an architect, once you get into a design, you’re focused. Hours go by, the same on a track, all of a sudden there’s nothing around you that you’re aware of except what’s in front and immediately beside you,” said Tony.

Adds Vytas: “Unless you’ve raced, you don’t understand it.”

Watch for Numbers 83 and 23 at the Canadian Historic Grand Prix this weekend — father and son racing in their hot, shaky, smelly cars. And loving every lap.

wheels@thestar.ca

The Toronto Star for Wheels.ca

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