Harvey Siegel: Restoring Motorsport’s Past and Future
Harvey Siegel is one of the first members of the Founders Club. These people are helping to create the Piston Foundation as an independent national car charity that will provide education funding for young people seeking skilled-trade careers in the collector car industry.
Harvey’s amazing automotive story includes the revival of VIRginia International Raceway. Thanks to his efforts, thousands of people have been able to find their own joy with cars. His latest role as a founder of the only national automotive fundraising platform is a natural extension of his desire to share the fun and underscores what we at the Piston Foundation always say: no one makes it to the finish line alone.
Why did you decide to support the Piston Foundation as a founder?
It’s incumbent upon people who’ve enjoyed the game to give back and inculcate the opportunities we had, making them available to young people. Then, they can enjoy themselves and pass along the same opportunities to future generations.
How did the car bug bite you?
My father was very kind and bought a 1937 Pontiac for $50 so I could tinker. He also bought me some basic hand tools, which I think cost more than the car! I used them to take most of the Pontiac apart. I put the car back together again and then my sister joined me for a ride. The car ran even though there were a number of extra parts leftover because I didn’t know where they went. That was my first experience as a gearhead and I’ve been one ever since.
I started racing when I was studying at Tulane University. The vehicles fascinated me and I was very interested in the adrenaline rush. Since I didn’t want to kill myself on the road, I joined others racing at airports because there weren’t any road courses available. Virginia International Raceway wasn’t built until 1957. They’d shut an airport down for a few days and we’d race around pylons.
Why is the Piston Foundation’s mission important to you?
My friends and I had so much fun doing this but you couldn’t put your finger on what made it so good. We sought out activities like racing because we were intrigued. Today, the thrill and excitement of motorsports is getting lost in the roar of so many distractions and alternative activities. I’ve found that there is nothing more intoxicating to a young person than getting into one of these cars. When they see what it takes to control a car on a track, they realize that a video game pales in comparison. We need to engage these kids.
It’s incumbent upon people who’ve enjoyed the game to give back and inculcate the opportunities we had, making them available to young people.
These man-made motorsport devices are cars of so many different ilks: race, classic, truck, even motorcycles. They’re so varied in character that they need to be preserved, revered, driven, shown, and enjoyed for years to come. To allow all this to fall away out of the lexicon of our culture would be a crime. By funding skilled-trade education, we are making a significant move in the right direction.
You reference VIR and your name is probably most recognized in context with VIR.
VIR was a very important piece of blacktop, historically speaking, and needed to be restored after it was abandoned. The track was there at the start of the amazing road racing culture of America, a facility that hosted, inspired, and supported a whole generation of car enthusiasts. As a real estate developer, financier, and amateur road racer, I could put the pieces together.
People may not know that I am a founder and co-developer of New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, New Jersey. That’s a new facility adjacent to the Millville Airport, which was where American WWII pilots trained. I thought it was important to salute that part of American history and that era in the park.
My present project is VIRRESURECTION, a feature length documentary which uses VIR as a catalyst for taking us through the mindset and in most ways the history of road course racing in North America. Although it started as, and will include the history of VIR and the re-birth of same into one of the premiere road courses in America, the volume and scope of the project has escalated into something with a significant more global perspective.
The drivers who raced at VIR, who continue to sing its accolades, as well as share their mindset on the heart of racing include:
- Richard Petty
- Roger Penske
- Hurley Haywood (4-time Le Mans winner)
- Lyn St. James (Indy 500 Outstanding Rookie, 1978)
- Duncan Dayton (11-time Monaco Winner)
- Brian Redman
- Skip Barber (former owner of Limerock)
- Caroll Shelby (archival)
- Chris Economaki (archival)
- Paul Newman (archival)
We’ll also include the new generation of drivers like Katherine Legge, Spencer Pumpelly and Dylan Murry, whose first race at VIR was at the ripe old age of 15. Our trailer features all of these and more at www.virresurrection.com and we will be making it available for streaming in the fall.
What have you done outside of the Piston Foundation to support car culture?
Camp Motorsports was a program at VIR to get kids involved with the noise and action of racing. At the start, we used garages as dorms but then built a separate facility to teach young people about motorsport. Again, it goes to my theory that if you put a steering wheel, accelerator, and brake in front of a young person, they would be totally enamored and appreciate the characteristics of motorsport: the sound, beauty, functionality, and performance.
I’ve bought, sold, collected, raced, restored, and play with cars as part of my own personal fabric. I hold these things dear and it seems to me that young people should get a taste of it.
They may find it’s really delicious!
That’s why I’m a founder with the Piston Foundation. We’d be remiss in not making a concerted effort to share all this history and excitement with future generations.