Joe Buzzetta - A True Vintage Racer
© Andrew S. Hartwell.
Joe Buzzetta is one of those names in racing that can either register a blank stare on a face or instantly conjure up memories of sportscar racing in it's heyday, the late 1950's and 1960's. Buzzetta was around for the days of the Porsche 904 and 906 and he ran in some great cars teamed with some truly legendary drivers. As is so often the case in any sport that finds athletes sharing in success, one of the pair will achieve greater name recognition than the other. Often Joe Buzzetta was listed as the "other driver" in a race report thus reducing his overall visibility to the public at large. But he was a very visible presence on a racetrack.
There are many fans of sportscar racing that can tell you quite a bit about Buzzetta. Like the cars he drove for Porsche, and the circuits he raced on, and the races he won. He was what the people in the sport knew to be a serious driver with the experience to run fast and near the front. His history includes victories in the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC), wins at Daytona and Sebring, and stirring drives at legendary tracks across North America, including the renowned Watkins Glen circuit, where he finished 3rd in the 1969 6-hr race in a 908 Spyder. His career spanned the years 1958 through 1969, with a single drive for Peter Gregg coming in 1970.
Today, this very successful businessman (he owns several car dealerships on Long Island, about 50 miles east of New York City) can be found at vintage racing festivals like the one that just took place at Lime Rock Park. I caught up with him in the paddock there and we talked about his racing days. His time behind the wheel and his enthusiasm for racing - continues unabated today.
"I have been doing vintage races for about 17 or 18 years now. I wouldn't say I am a pioneer in the sport as my involvement in this form of racing began about four or five years after it all got started. My involvement began with the purchase of a Porsche 906 that I bought in 1980 and then restored. It was a car that I had driven at Sebring to 4th place overall - and first in class - along with Hans Hermann for the Porsche factory. They left the car for me in the states and I won five USRRC races with it. Then I sold it to someone who ran it for five years and then I don't know where it went to."
"I wound up buying it back again in a box, so to speak in 1980. I restored it and started vintage racing. Then I sold the car to a Swiss collector who took it home to Switzerland. From there it went to California and I bought it back again three years ago and it is currently being restored yet again. It should be ready to go in a few weeks.
Buzzetta has a substantial collection of vintage cars that he keeps in a wonderful climate-controlled museum-like environment behind one of his dealerships. The facility is quite large, with tile floors and numerous race event posters on display, along with the collected hardware of this racing veteran of so many years. It is evident from the collection's home, and the condition of the cars housed there, that Joe Buzzetta is serious about the sport and it's heritage and history.
"The 906 will be an important car to add to my collection, as it completes it. I have every fiberglass racing Porsche from the 1960's, every type that I drove. That includes a 904, 906, 907, and 908. I think there are only two or three other collections that are comparable in the world, with one of those being in Stuttgart (at the Porsche factory).
"The 904 is the Targa Florio winner from 1964, and it has a very extensive history. It ran at the Nurburgring, Spa, Le Mans, and Sebring. I drove it at Daytona in 1966, with Gerhard Mitter, and we finished first in our class and seventh overall. The 908 that I have I drove at Daytona with Dickey Attwood. It is also an important car as Jo Siffert and Brian Redman raced it and won in the Monza 1000 Kilometer race. "
There are a number of vintage racing associations active
in the world today. The LRP festival was co-hosted by
the SVRA and the VSCCA, bringing cars from both groups
together for one wonderful weekend. Buzzetta runs his
cars with both Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR) and the
Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA). The days
of driving a racecar at 9 or 10 tenths are behind him now.
The rules of the game in vintage racing are simply to go
fast, but not so fast as to put anyone or any car at
serious risk of injury. Buzzetta explains the difference
between his driving style in the past and his present
involvement in racing.
"Of course there is a different protocol in vintage racing. The cars are very valuable. When I drove them professionally and broke one or damaged it, no one got mad at you because it was a racecar and to drive fast you had to take some chances. In those days, to maintain my position on that team, and to maintain sponsors, I had to be successful. Super aggressive driving will get you in trouble with the associations. I drive the car about eight and a half tenths of the limit, sometimes nine, which is fairly close to the limit. When I drove professionally, I was often at nine and a half, never ten, except on occasion, because that is when you crash the car.
"Now I drive for the enjoyment of it. I still drive pretty quickly, but I don't challenge the turns as much as I used to. I think it makes for safer racing and a truly great spectator sport."
Vintage racing puts the best of the history of sportscar racing back out on the track for a few more laps. And fans that may or may not know names like Joe Buzzetta's can come away from a weekend of vintage racing with a much greater appreciation of the cars and the drivers that formed the foundations of this wonderful sport. Buzzetta knows that his contribution to the living history of racing is appreciated by fans of all ages.
"You are really out to show people what these works of art are like on the race track. What is great too is that you see people from all age groups out here. You see people my age, who saw these cars in the '60's and '70's when they themselves were younger, and are now very happy to see them again. But we also see kids in their teens and 20's and 30's who recognize the cars but love the idea that they can see them up close. They can smell them and feel them and see the driver in the car. They are really very special.
"And the other thing about vintage racing is that people can come into the paddock and walk around the cars and ask questions. And we make time for them because this is our sport. I think that is what makes it so special."
And special people like Joe Buzzetta keep the flicker of distant racing memories alive, while at the same time writing new memories into the collective minds of sportscar fans everywhere. Thanks for the memories Joe. Keep them coming!