Sarasota is home to a unique group of auto enthusiasts who share a passion for everything high-performance.
The group calls itself the Café Racers and gets together twice a month at lunch to talk about cars. Participants cross all socioeconomic and cultural lines, and interest levels run the gamut from hot rods and racing to classic collecting, muscle cars and mega-power exotics.
The Sarasota area is home to many traditional car clubs, often dedicated to single marques like Corvette, Ferrari, Jaguar and Rolls-Royce. Others appeal to owners of broader ranges of automobiles, such as the Suncoast Chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America and the British Car Club. But this club is different.
Café Racers is a non-club club for hardcore high-performance and specialty vehicle enthusiasts. There are no membership cards, no dues and no club shirts or hats. And there's no membership roster because there are no formal members. What ties them together is their love for everything automotive and the pulse-quickening experience of driving high-performance cars. Anyone sharing that passion, regardless of gender, is always welcome to attend.
Comparable groups have surfaced in other parts of the country. Los Angeles has its car guys who make early Saturday morning breakfast runs to the Do-Nut Shop in Manhattan Beach. They turn the parking lot into a full-blown car show and by 9 a.m. are well on their way home. In Santa Fe, enthusiasts flock to the Santa Fe Grill for the weekly Tuesday Car Table lunch. In her "Now and Then" column in AutoWeek, Denise McCluggage wrote, "The Tuesday Car Table is not a club; it's a fixed place and time and a floating assemblage of people who are keen on cars." To that, the Café Racers have added: "keen on high-performance cars."
Sarasota's car guys started in 2002 with occasional lunches and, by mid-2004, had established a more formal biweekly event. They meet at the Steak & Ale on South Tamiami Trail, which-not coincidentally-has a huge parking lot.
"Since there is no treasury or records kept, we don't have to sit or sleep through reports and minutes from the previous meeting," says Café Racer regular Steve Keech. Born and raised in Sarasota, Steve owns Keech's Performance Machine, a shop specializing in building high-horsepower street and racecar engines. He drives (and drag races) a restored 1957 Chevy Nomad powered by a twin turbocharged, 1,000-horsepower 406 Chevy engine.
Paul Zazarine, a Corvette-driving automotive editor, photojournalist and author of a number of books on muscle cars, recently moved to Sarasota with his wife and family and has become a Café Racer regular. "It's great having lunch with real car guys who know what they're talking about and who put their money where their mouths are," he says. "Conversation is always spirited and, like Cable TV's Speed Channel, it's all cars all the time."
"Testosterone levels run high, and we can be a tough crowd," agrees Gary Roberts, a high-profile luxury homebuilder (Bamboo Building & Development) and one of the group's founders. Roberts owns an enviable collection of super-fast exotic cars, including Ferraris, a new 200-mph Lamborghini Murcielago and a twin turbocharged V-12 Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG.
Fellow Café Racer regular Larry Jaworske echoes Roberts' sentiments. "When you come to one of our lunches, you'd best park your ego sensitivity with your car," he says. After selling his precision metal fabrication and prototyping company a couple of years ago, Jaworske and his family moved from the Boston area to Sarasota. "Finding the right house was not easy. My wife had her requirements, our teenage daughter rides and wanted to live close to where she could board her horse, and my son wanted to live in an area with lots of kids his age. Me, all I really wanted was a six-car garage," says Jaworske who drives a S500 AMG Mercedes and shows a classic E-Type Jaguar roadster.
"Just about anything goes at our lunches, but you can't cross the line. Mean-spirited people and arrogant snobs, regardless of how many cars they may own, are not welcome," says vintage sports car racer Archie Urciuoli.
Retired as chairman of Merrill Lynch International in 1999, Urciuoli has been an amateur road racer since the early 1960s when he actively campaigned Jaguars in the Sports Car Club of America's (SCCA) New England Region. Shortly before retiring from a 30-year career at Merrill Lynch, he took his Mark IV Ford GT-40 to Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats (Utah) and was clocked at over 226 mph.
Last summer he shipped his GT-40 to France for the 24-hour Classic for vintage racecars at LeMans. "We didn't have a podium finish, but we finished and placed well in a prestigious field of vintage racecars at one of the most exciting race tracks in the world," says Urciuoli, who showed up at a recent Café Racer lunch in his latest pride and joy, a custom green 1968 Mustang fastback, just like the one Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt.
Café Racer regular Jon Ford, who runs MDC Engineering, a company that designs and builds packaging machinery for the pharmaceutical industry, built Urciuoli's highly modified, five-speed Mustang. Ford's passion is hot rods, and he has a small shop that creates show-winning specialty vehicles. When Ford needed a high-performance engine for the Mustang, he turned to fellow Café Racer Steve Keech, who built him an aluminum-head 390-cubic-inch Ford V-8.
"Since you have to have lunch, why not eat with people who have like interests and you can have fun with?" asks Bill Tracy, who has been living in Sarasota for almost two decades since retiring as a Captain at US Air. A car guy since he was old enough to drive and a Café Racer
original, he has a penchant for the color red-and Ferraris. He has a half-dozen red classic Jaguars, a red Ferrari 575 Maranello and a red-trimmed, Ferrari-badged black Ford Excursion that he uses to tow his show car trailer. Even his boat, a rare Riva-Ferrari 32-footer powered by twin 400-hp Ferrari-spec V-8s, is red.
Tracy's wife, Jackie, shares his love of cars. "I didn't want another red car at the house," she says. So she opted for silver when it came to ordering her daily driver, a supercharged Mercedes SL55 AMG.
Tracy manufactures and markets restoration parts and accessories for Jaguars and travels extensively, yet rarely misses a car guy lunch. "Lunch is good, but the real kick is the post-lunch show and tell in the parking lot. That's when hoods get popped and we just hang out like a bunch of kids vying for bragging rights," he says.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
Joe and Debbie Angeleri's trophy-winning 289 Shelby Cobra has few peers.
For more than 40 years Ida Angeleri has been sending her son, Sarasota luxury home builder Joe Angeleri, two birthday cards. One celebrates the day he was born (Sept. 9, 1943), the other commemorates the purchase of his prized Cobra (July 22, 1964). Joe Angeleri first saw his Cobra in a Manhattan showroom. "It was a wire-wheeled 1964 289-and I was in love," he says. "The 271-hp Ford V8-powered Cobra was one of the ultimate power symbols of the day."
Angeleri returned to the Ford dealership with a check for $6,700 and his fantasy became reality. His 289 Cobra is one of 453 street models built and the only 1964 Cobra painted green. It is one of six known original-owner 289 Cobras.
Joe Angeleri drove the car every day when he and his wife, Debbie, attended the University of Miami, Coral Gables, and then used it as a second car for years after that. In 1978 he put it in storage, where it remained for 25 years. In 2003 Joe brought the Cobra to one of the country's top restorers, Manfred Krukow in Naples.
Completed in May 2003, the Cobra has won top awards at every show entered, including the Amelia Island, Fla. and Meadow Brook, Mich. Concours. The Cobra has also won the Premier Award, the highest honor presented at the Shelby American Automobile Convention in Nashville, Tenn.
Car guy Martyn L. Schorr, president of PMPR, Inc., a marketing agency specializing in automotive and luxury brands, drives a Mercedes 560 SL and owns one of the first 50 of 412 Iso Grifo GT cars produced by Sarasota's Rivolta family in Italy in the 1960s.