Car enthusiasts gear up for Darlington festival

DARLINGTON - Bob McConnell has a passion for restoring cars and will go anywhere to showcase them.

That's why McConnell will be making the journey from Urbana, Ohio, to South Carolina this weekend for the second annual Darlington Historic Racing Festival.

"I am definitely looking forward to it," McConnell said. "We got a chance to come to last year's event and were treated with great hospitality."

McConnell has been restoring cars for 30 years. He started with late models and gradually worked up to open-wheel cars, which are his specialty.

"I'm an avid fan of the Roadster era and have a great love of vintage cars," McConnell said.

McConnell and his friend Steve Miller restore about four cars a year, and he has "several" in his collection, including ones driven by Al Unser, A.J. Foyt and the 1960 Indianapolis 500-winning car driven by Jim Rathmann.

The problem, McConnell said, is trying to find the right parts. But once the cars are restored, McConnell takes them to racing festivals and out for laps on the track.

"It gives us a chance to exercise these cars," McConnell said.

He is bringing two Indy Roadsters to the Darlington festival on Saturday and Sunday.

One of them, which was originally owned by Frank Curtis, was supposed to be driven by former NASCAR champion Junior Johnson at Indianapolis in 1963. The car, which didn't make the race, features a roll cage and independent suspension that are rare for that type of car.

McConnell's 1963 Watson Roadster was driven by Johnny Rutherford, who will be doing a Q and A session and signing autographs at the festival.

McConnell's entries are two of the more than 120 cars from 22 states scheduled to be at the festival, Raceway president Chris Browning said.

In addition to vintage vehicles, the event will feature appearances by some of racing's former superstars, including Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Johnson and former Lowe's Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler.

"To see some of these cars and for fans to have a chance to see the former drivers and Q and A sessions is a pretty neat bargain," Browning said. "There really isn't another event like this in the country focused on just oval racing, and we are excited about that."