The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Association’s mission is to produce a world-class vintage automotive event to raise funds to help provide residential care, treatment and support for autistic and intellectually/developmentally disabled individuals in the Pittsburgh region. Because of the generous support and contributions from our sponsors, and the dedication of our volunteers, we have been able to donate $5 million to date.”
In 2018 we celebrate our 36th annual event. Many volunteers never imagined we’d get to this point, but they are still here making it all happen each July. It’s a testament to the dedication of our volunteers and the allure of the Grand Prix.
Though our first race was in 1983, our organization actually started the year prior. Art McGovern and Mary Beth Gmitter envisioned the city streets winding through Schenley Park in as a perfect venue for vintage auto racing. Told that City of Pittsburgh approval hinged on assurance that any money raised would go to charity, they first approached Myron Cope of WTAE-TV Sports fame – also an autism awareness advocate. Meetings with the city’s parks people followed and then-Mayor Richard Caliguiri gave his enthusiastic approval. The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix Association was created, consisting of volunteers, and net proceeds would be donated to charity. In April, 1983, during a meeting in vintage racer Alan Patterson’s Shadyside garage, the planning began for the first Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, scheduled for Labor Day of that same year.
An incredible amount of work ensued thanks to the volunteers from the Sports Car Club of America and the Vintage Sports Car Club of America. Some 75 entrants raced on what would become known as one of the most challenging vintage courses in the country. Five races, along with a parade of patrons, were scheduled, and the plan was put in motion.
We would be lying if we said that the first year went off without a hitch. The complications of a temporary track in the middle of one of Pittsburgh’s most popular public parks reared their heads almost immediately. Huge fence gaps and the labyrinth of infield trails left the course open to penetration from above and below. Recreational joggers were running with the cars zooming around the track. Our volunteer security struggled mightily to overcome these logistical challenges. Nonetheless, the event was regarded as a great success.
The experience only fueled our imaginations and motivations, and in 1984 the expansion began. We added an invitational car show and the Sunday tailgate known as Patron Parking. By 1985, our spectator count grew to 40,000 and included participants and fans from all over North America as well as Europe. The genesis of Race Week, in 1987, was ushered in with our first Kick-Off Rallye the preceding Sunday. Our volunteer army grew by leaps and bounds and by 1989 we reached 1,000 volunteers – many of whom still volunteer to this day. Race Week spectator draw has consistently grown throughout the years and is now estimated at close to a quarter-million.
With the added size came added attention – from Pittsburgh and beyond. In 1996, Buick signed on as our first Presenting Sponsor. They also brought new models and concept cars to the event, and helped legitimize our stature within the auto industry. Modern race cars from the Indy 500, Le Mans, and elsewhere have blasted down the Boulevard of the Allies and snaked between Serpentine’s stone walls. Ferrari, Marque of the Year in 1993, showed up with museum-piece cars and actually put them on the track – in the rain. In 1994, Marque of the Year one-upmanship began as each attempted to better the proceeding’s donations and spectacle. The gauntlet, first thrown down by Porsche, has been eagerly picked up by BMW, Mustang, MINI and others since then.
Shop ‘n Save took over the Presenting Sponsorship from 2001 through 2013 that oversaw many events being added to occupy 10 straight days of motorsport events. In 2004 a second weekend of racing was added at Pittsburgh International Race Complex and it has developed into a self supportive historic racing event. A blacktie gala was started in 1997 and has established itself as a staple of the Pittsburgh summer social scene while becoming one of our biggest fundraisers. Our Tune-Up party was created in 2006 and has grown into a tremendous event that recently moved to Heinz Field.
The Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Foundation took the wheel as our presenting sponsor in 2014 and the partnership has driven our greatest growth! A Countryside Tour was started and filled Thursday, the last remaining Race Week opening. In 2017 a Jet Center Party was added, elevating our event to the top tier of world-wide automotive events.
All the while, we’ve held true to our mission – To maintain a world-class racing event that is free to the public to give all money to our two charities – the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and Merakey Allegheny Valley School. It has been 36 years since a cadre of car nuts met in Alan Patterson’s Shadyside garage, and each year brings its challenges. But, with the undying dedication of the volunteers and the enthusiasm of our racers, car show participants, sponsors, and spectators, we continue to grow and with 10 days of motorsport events and 250,000 spectators we have become the nation’s largest vintage sports car racing event….and the largest one run on city streets.