Road Warriors

Napa 750 car rally raises over $150,000 for St. Helena Hospital

Rick Kaufman unleashes the power of his 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 on a country road winding through the serene rolling hills through Guerneville. The engine hums as he takes the next turn. He downshifts and starts sharing the story of his love of cars and supporting his community. “I created the Napa Valley 750 to reciprocate with my fellow car guy/gal buddies across the land who consistently invite me to rallies across the country. For over 20 years, my fellow motorheads have been incredibly hospitable; I had no way to reciprocate. Every time I flew home from an out-of-town rally, I found myself elated from the trip and even more excited about returning home to Northern California and Napa Valley specifically. My family has been in Napa County for nearly 50 years, and the magic of Napa is something special all should see. That is to say, driving Colorado 62 from Montrose to Telluride is stunning, passing the amber colors of aspen raining down. Utah Route 128 down to Moab is epic. I think Enzo Ferrari designed the Columbo V12 to be heard echoing upon the cliffs. Montana 191 from Big Sky to Bozeman along the Gallatin River is what dreams are made of, like U.S. 193 in Arizona’s Monument Valley. However, the food and wine in those places aren’t the same as in Napa Valley. So, I figured if we could combine our amazing, scenic byways with the finest food and wine experiences in Wine Country, it’d be even better. It’d give me a chance to invite folks to come to see for themselves what “California Dreams” really means.”

HL: How did your love affair with cars start?

RK: In 1985, Aaron Hagar and I were stuffing Kleenex into the bow of his 1959 Alfa, attempting to keep the rain out as we drove home from boarding school. It worked enough to get us back to Mill Valley from Pebble Beach. Then, in 1995, Barry Singh asked me to go to the Virginia City Hill Climb—a whole new level of psychological and mechanical perseverance against the elements.

In his M5, we drove from UC Davis to Carson City, ate steak at Adele’s, and staggered across U.S. 395 to the Hardman House, a modest motel with plastic-wrapped soap bars almost as old as Barry. Breakfast at Heidi’s back across U.S. 395 was the first time I risked my life jaywalking for mediocre coffee and pancakes. We spent the day watching Ferrari after Ferrari, and the occasional Cobra or Mustang, snake up the hill from Silver City to Virginia City: 5.2 miles, 21 turns, and 1,200 feet of elevation. It was hot. It smelled of gasoline and oil. Egos were left at home. It would not be the last time we had a quick coffee and pancakes early before gasoline and slithering roads.

In 2003, the Gumball 3000. Sometimes it’s good to learn what not to do. Harry Matthews, thank God, started the Peak to Peak in 2004. What a must-do every year! Colorado has so many wonderful people and places to see. The roads are stunning and the scenery incredible. Ferraris, Fords, Porsches, Lotuses, Morgans, and more—driving there has been life-saving. The Winklers have made sure that tradition carries on. Aaron Hagar and I decided we needed such a thing here. The winery in Grand Junction was not exactly the fertile slopes of St. Helena. So, with these great people, cars, scenery, and experiences, it became clear that it was time to do a rally here in California and share the beauty of California’s wine country with fellow car enthusiasts.

HL: When was the first Napa Valley 750, The Wine Country Road Rally?

RK: 2020 was the first Napa Valley 750, The Wine Country Road Rally. Through the pandemic and chaos, the April event moved to August, with its heat, social distancing, empty roads, and emptier wineries. Critical highways were closed for resurfacing during the lockdown; it seemed maybe it was not meant to be. Perseverance, it turns out, is not just an essential homemaker’s or businessperson’s attribute, but also a rally’s essential ingredient. The 2020 Napa Valley 750 lost only a radiator, tire, and door handle. We managed to bring together those people, places, and machines and raised money for charities along the way. “May the adversity be low; may nobody break a clutch cable or suck a fan-belt. Let there be sun, not rain, and may the roads be smooth. May everyone be safe, have fun, and eat well. Welcome to California. Welcome to the Napa Valley 750: The Wine Country Road Rally.”

While the warm sun sets across the vineyards at Harvest Inn (the official sponsor of the Napa 750), guests gather for a delicious, multi-course dinner paired with festive Rombauer wines, and we take a moment to talk with Aaron Hagar—yes, Sammy Hagar’s son.

Rick Kaufman and I have been talking about doing a rally for as long as I can remember. We grew up together since we were young teenagers in the 1980s and have been sharing car experiences our entire life. I used to shuttle him back and forth in my 1958 Alfa Romeo from our Monterey school back to Marin before he could drive. I’m a few years older than Rick, so I was ahead in the game. His father used to have me drive his classic cars between homes before Rick could drive them. It’s wonderful that Rick has acquired almost all the vehicles in his father’s collection and continues to preserve, drive, and share the experiences with his children.

“With that, we eventually organized our passions and created the Napa Valley 750 to celebrate everything that has culminated through our relationships, desires, business, and every ounce of passion in life. I was more on the racetrack, and Rick has spent the last 30-plus years doing car rallies all over the country. So, he had the experience of organizing one. I’ve always been a creative collaborator, including the art for the rally and the auction which has substantially contributed to the funding we can give the St. Helena Memorial Hospital Foundation every year. It’s an honor to be able to make an impact and give back to those in need and do it locally. There is much to celebrate in wine country, and I don’t think we’ve missed any detail in showcasing its abundance of joy and beauty with the Napa Valley 750. We will strive to evolve it and keep the rally luxurious but visceral in its driving experience, something those classic cars are so very good at providing.”

About the Napa Valley 750: The Wine Country Road Rally

The Napa Valley 750: The Wine Country Road Rally is an annual charity tour for sports and race cars of distinction manufactured in 1972 or earlier. The event was founded in 2020 by Napa automotive enthusiast Rick Kaufman and his lifelong friend, Aaron Hagar. As the vineyards break bud and the spring growing season begins, approximately 25 vintage cars are driven in a relaxed, non-competitive event, wandering some 750 miles through Northern California’s wine country over four days. The rally is a pleasure drive; spectators are invited to see the cars and meet their owners. In addition, participants enjoy the region’s scenic roads by day and wine-maker dinners at some of the world’s finest wineries.

The tour attracts entrants from around the USA and always includes several 1950s and 1960s cars. In any given year, makes include Ferrari, Jaguar, Porsche, Shelby, Morgan, and Lancia. The Napa Valley 750 has generated well over $150,000 for the Saint Helena Hospital Foundation.

“The NAPA 750 was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the life-saving work of St. Helena Hospital and our world class cardiology team. We’re blessed to have the passionate and generous support of rally participants, Rick Kaufman, and the team at Harvest Inn.” – Dr. Herber.

Photos by Robert B Richards and Everett Lederer