Volkswagen’s debut in motorsports officially began in Daytona, Florida, in August 1963. That’s when the first sanctioned Formula Vee race was held, launching a series that, in the beginning, was founded by racing enthusiasts for racing enthusiasts.
Formula Vee was born with one simple idea in mind: contain costs to level the playing field and make racing affordable. During the height of the series’ popularity, Volkswagen Beetles (which donated driveline and chassis components to the Formula Vee racers) were cheap and plentiful, adding to the series’ appeal.
Crash a car during a race, and parts could be often be procured at a junkyard on the way home from the track. The same formula of cost containment and ease of repair found favor in Europe, too, and Formula Vee made its official European debut in July of 1965.
In Europe, winning in Formula Vee was considered an essential step in a motorsport education, and such Formula One luminaries as Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet, Emerson Fittipaldi, Joachen Rindt and Keke Rosberg first proved their skill in the FV series.
Many familiar names in other motorsports spent time in the cockpit of a Formula Vee car, too, including Michael Andretti, Arie Luyendyck, Elliott Forbes-Robinson, Hurley Haywood, Didier Theys and Hans-Joachim Stuck. Even World Rally Legend Markku Alén got his start at the wheel of a Formula Vee racer.
Early Formula Vee cars carried a 1.2-liter boxer four-cylinder engine rated at just 40 horsepower, but later Super Vee models ran 1.6-liter engines that produced as much as 200 horsepower. Strict regulations on both sides of the Atlantic ensured close competition in a series where driver skill, not net worth, generally determined the winner.
In conjunction with last weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, Volkswagen brought together some of Formula Vee’s biggest stars for a “family reunion.” The event culminated with parade laps of the Daytona track in various generations of Formula Vee racers, bringing back memories for drivers and fans alike.
Formula Vee stars on track at Daytona - image: Volkswagen
While series like Chumpcar and LeMons have made a serious effort to bring racing to the masses in recent years, neither can be seen as a springboard to a career in motorsports. Some would argue that the world really needs a new Formula Vee series, while others would complain that the days of inexpensive racing have come and gone.
Both are correct, we’re afraid, which creates something of a stalemate in contemporary motorsports. It’s too late for us to kick off a career in racing, but for those coming up through the karting ranks now, we hope that someone delivers an answer in the not-too-distant future.
Photo note: Pictured in the group shot at the top of the article are, from left to right, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Arie Luyendyk, Klaus Niedwicz, Mika Arpiainen, Kurt Bergmann, Dieter Quester, Markku Alén and Prinz Leopold von Bayern.
Disclaimer: Volkswagen got us into this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona and put us up overnight, allowing us to bring you coverage of various events related to the race.