When it comes to road racing in the United States, there aren’t too many places more famous than Watkins Glen, N.Y., home to an annual NASCAR competition, former site of Formula 1 races, and the location of several other automotive showcases and other related events. It’s an iconic spot—and it’s a role model for Coatesville.
Make no mistake, the Chester County city isn’t about to have muscled-up Fords and Chevys bombing through its streets at 200 mph. But on Sept. 18, the streets of Coatesville will host 60 classic autos in the fifth Coatesville Invitational Vintage Grand Prix. Beginning in 2016, the event has grown from a small race to a three-day experience that includes a party, a cruise night and the competition itself. More than 5,000 spectators are expected to enjoy Saturday’s festivities.
“The idea for the Grand Prix was to make it evocative of Watkins Glen in the late 1950s and early ’60 – and even before that,” says Bob Turner, a member of Wilmington-based Brandywine MotorSports and a steward at the event. “We want to bring great cars to the streets of Coatesville.”
There is no “race,” per se. Instead, cars will take off, one at a time, every five minutes and negotiate the 2.2-mile road course. There will be awards for fastest drivers in a variety of classes. The ultimate prize is the Brian Hoskins Trophy, bestowed upon the driver who best displays sportsmanship, skill and safety on the course.
The course begins on Lincoln Highway at First Street, continues up to Eighth, on which racers travel until Oak Street. They turn onto Oak, follow it to Fourth Street, go around Ash Park, move onto the Third and finish back on Lincoln Highway. It’s a chance for residents to experience the cars up close, promoting a festive atmosphere that fosters a greater sense of community in the city. Although there was no 2020 event due to Covid-19 restrictions, there remains tremendous support for the race.
“When someone came up with the idea of a Grand Prix in Coatesville, people said, ‘Are you kidding me?’” says city manager James Logan. “There were a lot skeptics. But organizers wanted to bring a cool event to the community and bring in car enthusiasts to put the city on the map. They wanted to show the new opportunities for revitalization.”
Proceeds from the Grand Prix benefit Coatesville’s parks and recreation activities, with the goal of “improving the quality of life,” according to Logan. It begins Thursday night with the “PrixView Party,” co-hosted by the Coatesville Rotary Club and Leading Edge Autosport. It provides guests the opportunity to mingle with drivers, enthusiasts and sponsors all whose ranks have grown over the years. It will take place at the Brooklawn Estate in Unionville, home of Nancy and Crosby Wood. The party takes place from 6-9 p.m., and the general public is invited. Tickets are $50 and include cocktails and light fare.
Attention turns to the vehicles on Friday for the Cruise-in, which should feature a wide variety of cars on display, from vintage models to more updated versions. The goal is to create excitement for the main event and bring more people to Coatesville. Local businesses will be encouraged to stay open to provide their wares for attendees. “There are a lot of cool things going on in Coatesville,” says event director Lisa Thomas. “I hope we get to the other side and everything takes off. The Grand Prix is a real showcase for the city.”
The first drivers take to the course on Saturday morning. Organizers have selected three cars to be the first on the track, beginning with a 1975 Lola T360, a Formula Atlantic open-wheel race car. “Anybody who looks at the car will need a towel,” Turner says. “There’s going to be some drooling.”
Next up is a 1928 Model T Speedster driven by Marcia Barker, a veteran driver and collector who won the 2019 Hoskins Trophy. She’s also part of an elite group of people who’ve gone at least 200 mph behind the wheel. The final member of the trio is a 1920s-era Ford racecar. Thomas also expects Cobras, Mustangs, British sports cars, racing motorcycles and even a cycle or two with sidecars. “This is curated like a museum,” she says. “We want as many different types of cars as possible. We’re trying to present to the public something interesting to watch. We want people to hear and see a variety of cars—especially children.”
The party will conclude at 3 p.m., and though there is no admission price, Logan hopes the proceeds from fees paid by sponsors like lead patrons Brian Hoskins Ford and Jennifer and Bob McNeil will help the city provide greater recreational opportunities for local families. “This is a historical area and was once thriving because Lukens Steel was here,” Logan says. “We want to show that cities like Coatesville can pivot and rebound.”