The next few years (yes, years) are spent continuing to study the lineage and learning the various iterations of the Sprite. This includes projecting pictures on the back of my eye lids of the wife and me tooling across hill and dale in this great little car. A lot of day dreaming goes on in this phase, actually. It is an amazing transition that occurs when you plop your butt down in the seat of a project car isn’t it? The vision through the windshield (yes, it had a windshield!) changes to sunny skies, top down driving, in a perfect British sports car. Of course it’s in perfect condition; and at full chat! My oldest son David actually drew a cartoon with me in the car, making motor sounds, my driving goggles on ……while the Healey is up on jack stands! True story!

We jump ahead and pick up where I have already done much of the work on the car. The body is solid now; the original 950 cc engine has been swapped for the huskier 1275. The early four-speed transmission is replaced with a newer “rib-case” version with the synchromesh gears. The Austin Healey is now in new blue paint with a white racing stripe front to back, and it actually runs up and down the road.

The plan in those early years was to restore the car back to its “original” trim and use it to go to shows and such, and just generally have fun with it. It was during this time that I attended a vintage race weekend at the famous Watkins Glen, NY track. Out on the track that day were several Sprites and Midgets, bug-eyes and square bodies, all in race trim having a really great time. They were ducking in and out of traffic; flying down the front stretch and sliding into turn one with one wheel off the track. Then and there the master plan takes a hard right turn. An idea that until that day was totally foreign to me begins to formulate. “I’m going to race the Austin Healey……yeah, that’s the ticket!”

So, the next day I’m sitting on an airplane next to the Chief of Tech for the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association. We start talking about cars, the Watkins Glen event and the vintage racing sport in general. And he says, “Why don’t you join our club and we’ll help you get into Vintage Racing?” Well, there you go….positive reinforcement! I am officially propelled into my own Walter Mitty adventure, and there is no turning back!

I subsequently do join the SVRA and they send me the rules and regulations promulgated to control how the various cars can be configured and what will need to be done to the car to make it safe. To make a long story longer it turns out that you can’t just build up your car in any which way. The SVRA had been chartered to preserve the cars as they were raced on great European tracks and US airports dating back to the early 1950’s. These guys come out and say “You can only use what was common to your Sprite when it was constructed!” My 1962 car came with a 950cc engine and other features unique to that car and that is what will be allowed to run with the SVRA by their rules.

It’s about this time that my youngest son, Mike, develops an active interest in the Sprite. He has been watching from a safe distance to see if this conversion plan will really happen, taking clues from his mother’s posture, not sure if Dad can pull this race car thing off…..go figure! But as it turns out his elevated level of interest becomes a critical and important turning point in this little saga. Mike will rapidly become engrossed in the workings of the small bore British engines and the mechanics of the Sprite in particular. He reads and absorbs everything he can get his hands on. His new mentor is some guy named Vissar, supposedly a guru on the little BMC engines. His mother and I buy him Mr. Vissar’s technical manual, among others, and he commits sections of these to memory, He haunts the race circuit pits and paddocks, asking questions of other Sprite owners and builders. He begins to build a wealth of knowledge that ultimately will help take us to the next level of performance.

By the way, this is not an epiphany moment here; no bolt out of the blue thing; no classical music building in the background. Mike had developed and honed his mechanical skills keeping his daily drivers, not to mention farm tractors, running through his high school and college days. His hand-me-down Porsche Yellow VW bug was the source of legends…….and that is a whole other story!

After a less than auspicious race debut in the fall of 1990, racing with the SVRA at Watkins Glen, a long range plan starts to take root relative to the Sprite’s future. Okay, so far we are getting by using recycled parts with only a minimal investment in the primary running gear, just barely meeting the SVRA regulations. We are feeling our way through this early phase while looking at the back end of a lot of cars out on the track! Don’t get me wrong here. No matter how poorly we did in our first outings it was more fun than I could have ever imagined! I mean, come on, we are actually racing an Austin Healey on the same tracks where Jackie Stewart, Sterling Moss, Mario Anderetti and other great drivers performed feats of legend in road racing history. But, come on, let’s get serious, huh?