Jeff O’Neill knows what makes for a successful car show.
“More wine, more food, more picket fencing,” he says, describing this year’s edition of Velocity Invitational.
Of course, some of the finest vintage race cars, street cars and modern hypercars will assemble at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Oct. 14-16 for the third of what has become an annual event drawing vehicles and prominent figures from around the world. And they are not simply eye-candy. Although some cars will be on display only, most take to the track all three days.
In some ways, Velocity Invitational is similar to the Monterey Motorsports Reunion, which takes place during Car Week. Yet it is also something much more.
The enigmatic word “lifestyle” is defining a new type of car show. A little more than a decade ago, Gordon McCall introduced The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering to Car Week. Porsche created Rennsport—which returns to Laguna Seca in 2023—with a similar notion.
Lifestyle is reflected in offerings that have more to do with both fineries and family, such as select wine, live music and things aspirational. So Velocity Invitational will feature a Sip & Savor pavilion, a beverage garden and other distractions from the paddock. For children there are interactive activities where they, for example, might take part in designing a new vehicle.
“Historically these events haven’t been friendly to kids,” O’Neill points out, adding that not everyone wants to lean over an open hood for an hour, examining a Ferrari 12 cylinder engine.
And so the concept of wine, food and picket fencing to set aside play areas and beverage gardens, a focus shared with some of the finest automobiles and racers in the world.
The field includes track legends like a 1928 Bugatti T-37A, a 1953 Jaguar C Type and a 2008 Porsche 997. There are Porsches, Corvettes, Shelby Cobras and Ford GT 40s, rally cars like the Lancia O37 and famed rides from Trans-Am, IMSA and Formula 1.
McLaren is bringing a number of its historic F1 cars, including the one Aryton Senna’s drove to the 1990 world championship, as well as modern versions. On the more whimsical end of the spectrum, the popular Minis vs Mustangs race returns.
There are 10 classes that will take to the track. As fitting a lifestyles event, however, some of the world’s boutique hypercar manufacturers will be on hand to strut their most recent models, such as the Hennessey Venom F5 Coupe, the asphalt-melting 1,233-horsepower Czinger 21 V Max and the innovative Zenvo TSR-S with its multi-axis rear wing that can direct downforce where it’s needed—perhaps not the most necessary feature on Highway 1, but useful if you like cornering at high speed.
Vintage cars invited to the event must be original. Modifications are not allowed in order to showcase authenticity.
“I think there’s an opportunity to create a stage for these important cars,” O’Neill explains. “It becomes a platform for education.”
He also designed the event to overcome an obstacle, common particularly to the collectible race car world. In the old days, a used race car was of little value, other than perhaps stripping it of useful parts. Many rusted or were scrapped.
As a result, collectors tend to keep their rare machines stored away, safe from the elements. But O’Neill sees things differently.
“Cars belong to the public,” he explains. “My goal is to bring them out of hiding.”
Thus far O’Neill and his team have been successful. Last year more than 300 cars lined up at Laguna Seca, viewed in display areas and on the track by some 13,000 people. And he hopes to grow the event.
Velocity Invitational began in 2019 as Sonoma Speed Festival. After a pandemic break in 2020, it returned under the new designation and shifted from Sears Point to Laguna Seca.
In the future, O’Neill anticipates rotating the event between the historic road courses.
Velocity Invitational takes place Oct. 14-16 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, 1021 Highway 68, Salinas. Daily tickets are $65-$800 (there are luxury experiences available), weekend packages are $145-$1,450. velocityinvitational.com