Notes From The Archives – Garage Sale Find
September 14th, 2017 by James Chartres
Garage Sale Find
Words by Gary Horstkorta
Garage Sale Find, now what does that have to do with racing with the SCCA San Francisco Region? This story began when I received an email from someone I did not know, asking if I would be interested in some old SF Region magazines and if so the person said they would be happy to donate them to our archive. They went on to say a garage sale was planned to dispose of a deceased friends estate which included other car related items. I made arrangements to meet at their home a few days later but not really knowing what I would find.
Arriving at the home I was greeted by the home owner who explained her good friend had been very close to the deceased and all the items for the garage sale had been stored by them for several years. Proceeding to the garage all the items (and there was quite a bit) were already sorted onto tables. She showed me the SF Region items which consisted of several old issues of The Wheel, a few race programs and issues of SportsCar. As I looked around at the other items, I found several books of interest; an original, still sealed in the box, plastic model of an Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA and additional magazines.
Then I spotted a couple of old trophies among the other items and my host said there were two more she would retrieve. While the four trophies were not from SFR races, they were of interest because the were from historical eastern race venues – Brynfan Tyddyn, Giants Despair and two from Thompson Raceway. I bought the trophies, books and the model then gathered up the donated SFR material and departed the garage sale.
Before heading home, I drove a short distance to meet the deceased’s best friend who had stored all the his belongings and still had several boxes of items to dispose of. He asked if I was interested in any of the old racing photos and gave me a nice stack of black and white images from what looked like the 1950’s. These would provide several important clues to my research later on and some of the images are part of this article.
A few days after returning home, I took a good look at the trophies and inscribed on one of the Thompson trophies was the name Phil Forno. Curious, I did a little research on the Internet and found three racers with the last name of Forno, all of whom raced SCCA events in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. More research revealed that Vic Forno raced at Brynfan Tyddyn, Giants Despair, Thompson, Watkins Glen and several other eastern race tracks. Checking race results for the first three venues showed the three of races matched the three trophies.
The fourth trophy inscribed with Phil Forno’s name also showed the venue, date and nishing position. Pulling up race results from old copies of SportsCar, I found the exact race with Forno’s finishing position plus the car he raced, a Porsche RS. I began checking other race results for Forno around the same period and found quite a few from 1956 into the early 1960’s. Along the way I discovered Phil Forno had been a mechanic/test driver for the famous Alfred Momo which lead to his becoming a team driver for the even more famous Briggs Cunningham. Forno’s teammates include four of the best drivers of their day – Cunningham, John Fitch, Ed Crawford and Walt Hansgen. Wow, I had a trophy for a Cunningham team driver, what are the odds of that happening?
This brought up a several questions – were Vic and Phil Forno related? How did the trophies get to the west coast? What happened to them after they nished racing? It took me a couple of weeks to nd answers to these questions with information I found on the Internet, in a few books and emailing other enthusiasts who might have some information. I am still not nished with the research but I now have a good understanding of the Forno’s background.
Vic Forno was from Endicott, New York and Phil Forno was his son. Vic was involved with a local foreign car dealer and began racing a Jaguar XK-120 in mid-1954 and continued through 1956. Then for some reason he moved to the west coast where he raced sporadically at tracks including Phoenix, Palm Springs, Oakland Airport, Laguna Seca and Cotati. His last race was in mid-1963. He lived in San Jose and San Joaquin Valley where his primary hobby was racing slot and radio control model cars until he passed away several years ago.
It appears Phil Forno followed in his father’s footsteps and became involved in the auto industry initially as a mechanic. After graduating from high school and since his father was involved with a dealership that sold Jaguars, he was enrolled in the Jaguar Training School at the factory in the England. Upon nishing his training and working at the dealer level for a period, he was able to land a job with Alfred Momo, a very famous engineer and mechanical whiz who had his own foreign car repair facility in New York. Proving his skill as a mechanic, Forno was soon promoted to preparing and testing Porsche and Jaguar race cars.
Prior to joining Momo’s shop and shortly after turning twenty-one years old Forno ran his rst race at Brynfan Tyddyn in his father’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta. His next race was at Thompson Raceway in a Lotus 11/Maserati. With his excellent mechanical skills and racing experience and with Momo becoming a member of Briggs Cunningham’s team to look after all his race cars, Forno joined the team as well. In mid-1957 he was given a chance to drive one of Cunningham’s Jaguar D-types at Thompson where he finished fourth overall.
Proving he was a competitive driver, Forno would continue with the Cunningham team in his dual roll as mechanic/driver until 1963, racing in twenty-one races. He had his greatest success in a Porsche 550RS which included a number of podium nishes and a couple of overall wins. He also raced the D-type, a Cooper F Jr., Lister-Jaguar, OSCA, Lotus-Elite and raced a the Sebring 12 Hours and was a reserve driver for Cunningham’s team at Le Mans on a couple of occasions. After his racing days, Forno became a car dealer eventually becoming president of a dealership which he ran for many years. He passed away in late 1999.
So the mystery of the four trophies has been solved with quite a few surprises encountered along the way. I’ve corresponded with several interesting people and websites that provided pieces to the puzzle and look forward to adding more details to the story. It’s been a fun journey and there is truth in the saying, “The thrill is in the chase”.