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Ep. 44: Dan DelBianco of the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix

Interview by Jonathan Kersting

In this episode, Dan talks about The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix as a keystone summer event for the Pittsburgh region for more than three decades. Despite it being cancelled for 2020 due to COVID-19, local car clubs still managed to safely meet up over the summer for drives and raise money for autism. The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix will be back in 2021.

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One of the best things about summer in Pittsburgh is the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. It's been going on for over three decades. And it always happens. But this year of course, because of COVID-19 it did not happen. It was like, it was not like having summer in Pittsburgh. It is such an iconic feature. what goes on in Pittsburgh is having the vintage Grand Prix. I think it's the only Grand Prix of its type in the country of i'm not mistaken. We have cars from all over the world just going full bore at it, along with all types of car shows and displays and events, and all raises money for frickin awesome cause to help folks with autism and today we're going to find out more about what happened and what's gonna happen and to learn about more about this awesome iconic event we're talking to Dan DelBianco from the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. Dan, thanks for hanging out with me today. It's always great to see what you're up to.

Thank you for that wonderful introduction. That's kind of what the Grand Prix is all about. Is enthusiastic fans like yourself definitely very small, nearly a virtual organization all brought together by car enthusiasts and a great many of those being volunteers of ours but it's it's really it's it's a couple of hundred thousand people just like yourself that make the whole event special.

It is fun and I always tell people go like well what's, what's the Pittsburgh vintage Grand Prix doing on our Comcast summer fits a 50 Pittsburgh tech stories and it's like, I will tell you why. Because tech is so dependent upon Pittsburgh being a great place to live, work, play, and dab this event, I think is something that creates a quality of life that you don't find anyplace else. Button Pittsburgh. Plus, there's so many folks in the tech industry that are nerdy like me, and they love their cars and they love going to the Grand Prix. I know some guys that raced their cars in the Grand Prix. I know a guy that flipped his car over in the grass Exactly. Right, exactly. You know who I'm talking about. So for us, it's like every year, the past couple years, we've done a tech live radio show to kind of promote some technology and stuff like that, that goes into the automotive industry and stuff to promote the event. And so this year, I was like, we're not doing the event. Let's just talk about what's going on. So you're doing some cool things to still keep our people together. And I know you're planning for a big comeback for next year.

So maybe it's not high tech, maybe it's just low tech. But you know, to follow up on the whole technology thing, we really are a virtual organization. We don't have a physical location, I've got an office that I operate from, but you know, it's really the website that drives everything worse. All the registrations are done online. recruiting for events and for people to register is all done through social media and online. So, you know, it gives us that little bit of tech but yeah, it's it was really difficult for us not to have the event this year and ironically, I remember back in March being on a zoom call, okay. started, I made the comment to somebody I said, Thank God our events in July because by then no problem. I was thinking the same thing because like, literally I remember think about some of the key things I'm doing in the summer like, Huh, what's gonna be canceled? I'm like, Oh, The grand prix will be fine.

I said that out loud. And somebody recorded it somewhere. And but it this point, we're very excited about 2021. And we've taken really everything that was planned here for this year and shifted it over. Okay, we're always identified by the year so this was the 38 year, right? We're just taking the poster, the 38 and just kind of shifting it all to that 72 and a lot about it, we thought long and hard and, and we thought, well, we really are kind of taking a year off without the races and generally that's, you know, we've got 10 days of events, but it's all about The shenley weekend so everybody knows that's it. Everybody knows. But that's I think it's cool for us to talk about like there is more than just the races because there's the car shows there's the fundraisers and the benefits and all the things that really lead up to the big clinical days of events.

Yeah, we ended up having only one of those 10 day events. It was a tour  out into Westmoreland County and down to Jamison farm, the Lamb farm. Yeah. And so I finally got to participate in it because it's on Thursday of race weekend. I'm usually out at Schenley Park with the sponsors and people putting up tents, putting up hay bales and things like that right in the middle of all that, so I got a chance to jump into an old mg and do the countryside tour. It was Wow, on. That's it. It's 10 days of events. We race up at Pitt race complex. The first weekend we have a black tie Then we move in through the week with our traditional shows that really even stand as events on their own the Walnut Street car show. I would agree that it's basically like an event on its own, it helps going to shadyside and seeing all the nice cars lined up.

And that's really what's led to the growth of our event and really why we've been able to donate nearly $6 million to charity How is every one of those events has exploded in popularity, so something like the wellness show now raises 10 to $15,000 for the charities. Fantastic. what it used to be a cost for us to get permits and hold the event. Okay. Everything that we do throughout the week like that raises money for the for the charities, that's amazing. That's why I just love the event so much because it hits on all my sweet spots, man, my love of cars, my love of people helping other people like it just comes together and I always say it's only in Pittsburgh, I see army very unique. I don't think there's any other victory quite like this in the country anymore is there?

There's no vintage race in this country on city streets. That's correct those I mean, we've got a couple of IndyCar events and some other things, but in terms of a vintage event, right, no, that is not watching an old jag go full throttle, you know, down circuit road. Simple is that.

That's really what sports car racing was when it started in the 40s. And 50s really weren't purpose built tracks. And that's how Watkins Glen got their start. Through the city of Watkins Glen are up at Elkhart lake in Wisconsin. And then both of those cities built racetracks.

Very cool.

Now I have of course, a question for you because I was concerned. I know part of the the racecourse fell off the cliff side into Schenley Park, and that was one of the best parts of the course it was like the Circuit Road coming down. And is that is that still part of the race and you put barricades up or is that race been rerouted? Because of that Though, what we had to do last year and that that of course, that wall collapsed from a truck overturning four days before the Grand Prix. I remember you telling me the story of how it works for the Grand Prix you're like freaking out, of course, the course couldn't again.

So the city the city was great. They went in and paved what was left of the road, right? We brought jersey barriers in to protect it. And and so it turned what was a very wide two lane road. We brought it down into one lane. The interesting part was you would have thought that it would have slowed down the times on the races and it didn't In fact, some of the times got better because the road says smoother now before we spoke to them before, but also no one was trying to pass no one was slowing down to be passed. When you got into that serpentina you just let it loose, you didn't are committed at that point. You only had one way to go. It's hard to watch your meters when you're going through an S turn so they just blew right through it. And so they haven't done anything since then. So the plan was to bring the jersey barriers in and do it again. Okay, by the time we get to 2021, maybe the road will be completed in the wall, we'd be back in as long as you keep running it down, because that's one of the best places to watch the race. Because you can see some people rubbing paint, trade and paint. They're a little bit sometimes it's pretty tight. Oh, yeah. It's great to watch it from up at the top. Absolutely. Really, really cool stuff. So obviously, this year, you guys still continued as a community to still put some like kind of ad hoc events together with people kind of clubs kind of meeting up and doing some link like drive. It's actually a good socially distance thing do is to go out and go for some of these drives. Tell us about that, Dan?

Yeah, so we call it we launched a program called shifting gears and basically down shifting but one of the most responsible things you could do this summer was to stay in your own car and drive, right. So we we had that countryside. tour that kind of kicked things off. And what it led from there as most of the car clubs here in Pittsburgh from the Porsche club, the Mercedes club, BMW viata club, on and on and on, are hosting driving events with their members. And they're even socially responsible with the at the starting point. They'll email directions to everybody and they'll meet somewhere. And then the old days you'd get out of your car and have coffee and doughnuts and rice balls now it's like, no, let's stay in our cars at this point, and then they'll drive for hours and up through going through wonderful, beautiful country roads, and up at a location where they can stop and have a bite to eat, but you know, be socially responsible about it. Right, get back in your car again.

I love that. That sounds like so much fun.

It really is. And our website lists the dozens of events that are out there that have either happened or are still happening, right so there's still more for the summer in the fall. Took some work over the summer. And we we tend to add them as we go along. That's great. But one of the special stories was Ed rice from the Porsche club would go out and drive the track at schenley Park in his Porsche 924 for a couple of days before the event before we started to close the roads, and I got in the mood for it now. Here he, he decided to reach out to everyone in the Porsche club and said, I'm going to go out there on Saturday. I'm sorry, Sunday, there would have been the race day July 26. Right to the park on schenley Drive, and then I'm going to get out and take a couple of laps. I'd love it. If you could join me. Bring a check with you because while the event has been canceled, the charities have not and they need our funds at 50 people showed up and they raised 4050 $400. That's awesome.

See, it was wonderful. That's Pittsburgh, man. That's Pittsburgh. All the way through even our car dorks can go and raise money when no just because they want to do it and they know it's for an awesome cause that's that's fantastic. Cheers to the Porsche club for doing that. That is for sure.

So we've supported car pay via Dwight Knowlton who's done a couple of posters for us. This year's poster and he has carp AVM is the road so we've adopted his theme of sees the road for getting out of the road and doing these driving tour events right?

What God very well, I love it man, I think is just so freakin cool. So Dan, tell me like, what is the keeps you at this because I know this is a tough job for you to be doing this. I know the logistics and the craziness and you throw in a pandemic. You can't have you back what keeps you fired up and wanting to put this event on year after year. Usually it's the race week itself. Okay, while I'm in the middle of it, it's it's pretty crazy for me I often compare it to To like someone's wedding, okay, yeah, that makes sense. Okay, wedding gets here. And you spend the whole day, trying to make sure that everything happens, right? And you rarely get a chance to sit back and relax. But as soon as it's over just like your wedding you go. That was great. That was exactly it wasn't too bad. I'll do it again.

This is like getting married 10 days in a row. Exactly. Oh, my goodness.

So I was, you know, to answer your question, I was kind of very concerned as, what am I going to do? I need to feed off of that energy of the event kind of the, the identity of our event really, my identity is is is that whole race week thing. And so when we geared it back, we've now turned it into not 10 days of Mayhem, but a summer full of smaller events. Right, right. Oh, it's extended that excitement. levels not as high but it's extended it a little bit. So encouraging to see the dollars come in, whether it's 10 $20, and some people have sent a couple hundred. So I mentioned what the Porsche club did, and Greg Farrell for his Walnut Street car show raised over $5,000, as well. So we're at this point at $25,000. Man, very quiet. Individuals who said, you know, sorry, I can't make it. Here's a check. In the most touching of all is that we had collected a fair amount of registrations. A lot of our people are enthusiastic when they sign up early. So we had 70 $80,000 of fees that we had collected from people. And so when it came time to refund them, we said, you know, we can refund them, we can move them to next year, or you can donate it to the charities, right? And the response was overwhelming to donate.

That's what I want to hear, man. So cool. So now, the idea of Hey, let's extend So the Grand Prix is more than just cars. It really is to help autistic and intellectual developmentally disabled individuals right here in the city.

Exactly. And it makes Pittsburgh so unique and a great place to be. So I got one last question for you, Dan. Simple as that if you had any car in the world, what would you have in your garage right now?

I probably would have a Ferrari. Yeah, I'm Italian. And that's okay.

There's a whole lot of cars right behind that, like a GT 40 and others, but it's that red Ferrari that I always think about. Nothing wrong with that and nothing wrong with that. Dan, thanks for all the awesome work that you've been doing over the years to put this event on and the countless volunteers that show up for some of the best people in the world that allows to happen and make it this event that everyone like me looks forward to in the summer. I cannot wait to be there for next summer tended to be twice as good. Simple as that.

I appreciate your support and enthusiasm and having us on the show here, and then I'd like to then reach out to the other members in the tech council to, to, to come join us in 2021. There's a lot of tech companies involved in automobiles. There's a lot of fun things we can do together. We're gonna plan something cool. That's all I'm saying.

Sounds like a plan. Very, very cool. Dan, you're the best. You are making Pittsburgh proud. That is for sure. Thanks for being part of our 50 summer stories here with Comcast.

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