Ivan Lessner

Vintage cars hit the track in Mission

White Rock driver buckles in for historic motor races

White Rock racecar driver Ivan Lessner will be among those behind the wheel in Mission this weekend, when the Vintage Racing Car Club of B.C. holds its annual BC Historic Motor Races event.

Lessner, 63, will take part in the two-day race series while behind the wheel of his 1958 Austin-Healey two-seater – of which just a few thousand were ever made. Fewer still were painted Pacific Green, as Lessner’s is.

“It’s a very rare car,” said the White Rock resident, who has raced locally since the mid 1980s, along with a few forays into Washington and Oregon races.

Though the car is not a daily driver anymore, it is street legal – the car’s only accident came on the road, rather than the track, Lessner points out – and while it is one of the older cars on the VRCBC circuit, it’s still served him well.

Lessner is a four-time series champion, and this year is “still doing OK” against cars that, while still classified as vintage, are newer and often faster.

“It’s not always about speed,” he said. “The (Healey) might not be as fast as some cars now, but there’s more to it… how you take a corner, things like that.”

Lessner was born in Hungary – he emigrated to Canada in 1981 – and admits that racing is in his blood. His great-uncle was a racecar driver of some repute in Austria during the 1920s and ’30s, and another distant relative – more of a family friend, he explains – also raced in Hungary in the 1950s.

In fact, one of Lessner’s earliest racing memories is from when, as a three-year-old, he was plunked into the driver’s seat of the parked race car of said family friend.

“My family was full of car buffs. We were always going to races,” he said.

When he first came to Canada, Lessner lived in Calgary, where there was not much of a racing scene. It wasn’t until he moved to B.C. that he connected with other drivers.

Now he’s become a fixture on the vintage-car racing circuit, only missing a handful of races in nearly 30 years. And while some drivers come and go each year, Lessner said there is a real spirit of camaraderie among them, which is part of the appeal of racing.

“It’s competitive but it’s still about driving and having fun,” he said. “You can’t drive (aggressively) out there – if anyone behaves badly, they’re sent home. And you help each other out where you can.”

Lessner has no plans to slow down his racing schedule – “If you enjoy something, you should keep doing it,” he said – and in fact, hopes to be able to focus on his hobby even more in the coming years.

“Just wait until I retire,” he said.

Race-day details

The BC Historic Motor Races are set for Aug. 16-17 at Mission Raceway Park.

There will also be numerous car displays and vendors. As well, ride-a-longs – in which spectators can do a few laps in the passenger seat of a car like Lessner’s – are also offered, with proceeds going to charity.

For more, www.bchmr.ca

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