MONTEREY, Calif., – For the nearly 550 owners of automobiles racing in the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, the histories of their cars are often more important than the joy derived from driving them, and there is no better case in point than Jon Shirley’s Alfa Romeo Tipo B (P3).
It was driven by Tazio Nuvolari in one of the most extraordinary victories in the history of motorsport: at the 1935 Grand Prix of Germany, held at the famed 14.17 mile Nurburgring.
In front of 300,000 German race fans and the Third Reich’s highest-ranking officers, Nuvolari proved that contrary to popular opinion, the Germans’ “Silver Arrows” were indeed beatable. It was a rain-soaked foggy day, and the Germans fielded five Mercedes and four Auto Union machines, against which the outdated Alfa – with only 330 horsepower – had to compete.
On the last lap of the race, the German driver Manfred von Brauchitsch, in his 445 horsepower W25 Mercedes Benz, held a 35-second lead over Nuvolari, and with Nuvolari chasing him down, Von Brauchitsch overstressed his tires. When the left rear tire deflated and finally gave out, Nuvolari flew past to take the checkered flag. Members of the Nazi party were stunned and enraged when their premature victory celebrations were dashed by the diminutive Italian in the little red Alfa.
“This car is a bit of a handful,” said Ericson Shirley, standing in to drive (in Group 2A on Saturday) for his father Jon who is unable to be here this weekend. “Because it is so tall and the center of gravity is so high, it’s very difficult to drift the car. The power-to-weight ratio is so amazing; it actually rivals many newer race cars. Even while going in a straight line, if you step on the throttle and the steering wheel is not straight, you can count on the car breaking loose, and even shifting gears in a straight line will cause the rear tires to chirp. It’s a 3.2 liter supercharged engine. The car is really fast, but in order to drive it you have to really be on your game.
Shirley drives many different types of vintage race cars but says the most fun he has on the track is with the pre-war race cars. “I hope some of the younger drivers carry on with this; it’s really a blast.”