It will be like old times next weekend at Summit Point, W. Va., for the Don Beyer National sports car road races. A field of 250 will jam the paddock. Two national champions, Paul Newman and Col. Joe Hauser, will race. And the Roethels will be there.
David and Sue Roethel have been part of the local sports car racing establishment since 1960 when the Marlboro (Md.) course had monthly meets with big entries and good crowds. Marlboro had its last race in November, 1969, a month after Summit Point opened. The Roethels span the two eras and helped make both successful.
Each has served two terms as chief executive of the 600-member local Sports Club of America chapter. David, a trade association official, is a national governor. Sue chairs two local racing committees. Daughter Betsy, 21, is chief of race timing and scoring; teen-ager Susan works on race-day registration.
"Of course, everyone seems so young now," said Sue, "But the fact is there are more young people working at sports car meets than in the old days. Only adults were admitted to the infield at Marlboro. There was no room for kids. Now, Betsy says two of her best timers are 13 and 14 years old."
David adds, "The SCCA's dropping the age limit for a racing license to 18 five years ago brought in younger drivers. They are more commercially minded than the Marlboro group, too. They work hard at getting some sort of sponsorship to help pay for racing."
Marlboro always seemed to be cozier than most tracks, the Roethels agree. It was 1.7 miles around but the course was flat and wrapped around an oval so spectators could see almost all of it. The two miles of Summit Point winds up and down hills and surrounds a heavily wooded infield.$$"The safety workers and others felt closer to each other because they could see everything and everyone," Sue observes. "That was true even if no one camped at Marlboro. We could drive home Saturday night and come back Sunday."
A racer since 1961, David feels most cars of the Marlboro era were just a step above showroom models. Of course, today's basic car is more sophisticated in every respect and the level of pre-race preparation is very much higher. What is the same is the element of competition, especially among the classes for showroom stock cars."
Summit Point has had to survive money and ownership difficulties and was closed one season. Basil and Thomas De Lashmutt of Arlington, who are land developers, acquired the track three years ago and have revived it, under the tireless management of Pat Goodman.
Sports car racing itself is on upswing in the East. Local SCCA events there last year averaged 175 cars per meet. In June, a national meet at Summit Point drew 205 entries while a similar event the same day at Pocono, Pa., had 200 racers. There was even a mini-traffice jam of spectators getting into the West Virginia track.
Still, David Roethel finds something missing. "At Marlboro, we staged races counting in world championships. In the '50s and '60s, almost every top road-racing driver came there - Moss, Stewart, Shelby, Hansgen and others. We had major pro races, and I would like to see them revived here."
It was Roethel who guided the 12-hour sedan race at Marlboro into international prominence and encouraged staging the Trans-Am pro sedan races there. Those were the high points of motor sport in this area.
Next weekend's show starts at 10 a.m. Saturday with practice and qualifying sessions. Sunday's 50-mile championship races begin at 10 a.m. One thing hasn't changed since the Marlboro days. The meet goes on, rain or shine.