>You might have come across the name Jeff O’Neill recently. He’s been popping up in the news as he’s been spearheading Velocity Invitational, one of the largest vintage racing events planned for 2021. Sports Car Digest photojournalist, Dennis Gray, had the pleasure to sit down with Jeff to discuss this exciting event.

For years the three of us, Bill Wagenblatt, Vic Varela, and I, shared accommodations during the Historics in Monterey. 

While sipping a good red as we looked out over the Pacific, we would start to reminisce about the past years of the Historics at Laguna Seca. 

What had happened to the manufacturers that once sponsored the Historics? Ford celebrating Shelby? Lauda piloting an F1 Ferrari while wearing a red baseball cap? Fangio in a Mercedes and, of course, Sir Stirling Moss in a Jaguar? Cars that we saw only at the Historics. 

For the past years, it seemed the Historics were no more than a big club event. There were some nice cars for sure, but cars we had seen at other tracks or another event earlier in the year. The paddock seemed like a CSRG or HMSA event, only more so.

Then early in 2019, I started to hear rumors about the Sonoma Speed Festival and Jeff O’Neill. O’Neill’s event was going to bring the Magic back to historic racing, and his 2019 Sonoma Speed Festival was held to rave reviews. 

2019 Sonoma Speed Festival Highlights

There were “new event” problems for sure, but we all felt O’Neill was on to something. Now two years later after a Covid 19 delay, O’Neill has moved his circus 152 miles south to Monterey’s WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway for the newly named Velocity Invitational at Laguna Seca on Nov 11-14, 2021. 

Sports Car Digest had the pleasure of sitting down with Jeff to discover more about the man and the inspiration behind the event.

Jeff O’Neil in the paddock. This guy and his team are going to change Historic Racing in the US.

Our Conversation with Jeff O’Neill:

Sports Car Digest (SCD): Let’s start with your college days.

Jeff: Well, let’s see. I’ve been drinking and smoking cigars all the way through college since turning 21, of course. I still drink and smoke cigars.

I got into the wine business around 1985, started with some private equity guys, built a small book wine business, and then developed it into a successful company that we took public in 1998. 

In 2004 we decided to take the company back to being privately held and ultimately sold the business to a large wine company. 

That’s when I started O’Neill Vintners and Distillers, which, since 2004, we’ve built a pretty sizable wine company. We are one of the fastest-growing wineries in California, selling about 1.8 million 9 liter cases of wine to consumers. We are also a top supplier for premium wine at scale for several wine companies in California.  

We currently have a little over 300 employees and continue to invest in both operational capabilities and the right talent to keep growing our business. So that’s the snapshot story. 

What lead you into vintage racing?

As a kid, I always loved race cars. My dad always talked about cars. Although he was into cars, he never really owned any, and I always loved racing. So, I followed the racing and historical cars. At a certain point, I said, “You’ve gotta either fish or cut bait and either get into it or not.” And so I had a target list of 5 cars that I said, “I’ve got to own one of them.”

The first car I bought 14 years ago was a 1957 Maserati 250F Formula One car. Everybody thought I was an idiot for starting with a Formula One car from 1957, but believe it or not, it’s actually an easy car to drive, and I still own it.

It stays in Europe because there are not too many of them left here in the United States. So I still race that occasionally. But that’s how I got in.

What about the other four of the five cars?

Ford GT40, C-Type Jag, D-Type Jag, and DB4 Zagato. 

 I wish I bought them 20 years ago when they were giving them away.

Why are you establishing your own speed event? It’s got to be more headaches than the wine business. 

That is true. Maybe half. No, I think all businesses have headaches. But that’s what business is, solving headaches.

I had been to these historic events, and you know we were seeing over the years the great cars disappear off the grids. And It’s largely because you know guys with collections like bringing their cars out. They like showing

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By: Dennis Gray
Title: Meet The Founder of Velocity Invitational: Jeff O’Neill
Sourced From: sportscardigest.com/velocity-invitational-jeff-oneill/
Published Date: Thu, 27 May 2021 12:27:58 +0000

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