Watkins Glen: The Racers Group preview

Gleason and Valentine Prove That Seconds, Not Years, Count in Racing JOHNSTOWN, Pa., June 14 - They might be able to get the senior citizens' discount when they stop for a bite after the races, but 99 other GT drivers in the Grand American...

Gleason and Valentine Prove That Seconds, Not Years, Count in Racing

JOHNSTOWN, Pa., June 14 - They might be able to get the senior citizens' discount when they stop for a bite after the races, but 99 other GT drivers in the Grand American Rolex Series are having plenty of trouble keeping up with Chris Gleason and R.J. Valentine.

Gleason, of Johnstown, Pa., is 61. Valentine, of Hingham, Mass., turned 60 last Thursday, June 10. Both readily admit that they're businessmen first and race car drivers second.

But along with their teammate, 31-year-old Ian James of Kissimmee, Fla., and a driver from another team, 37-year-old Mike Fitzgerald of Fountain Hills, Ariz., they're tied for third place in the national GT class's driver point standings in the Grand American Road Racing Association heading into Sunday's Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, N.Y.

The race, the fifth in a 12-race schedule, will be televised live on the SPEED Channel on Sunday from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. Eastern time. Live Zippo timing and scoring can be found at www.grandamerican.com during the six-hour race, which begins at 11 a.m. Eastern time.

The only drivers ahead of Gleason and Valentine in the current GT point standings are professional BMW race car drivers Boris Said of Carlsbad, Calif. and Bill Auberlen of Rolling Hills Estates, Calif. Said leads with 119 points. Auberlen is second with 116. The four drivers tied for third have 109 points.

Both Said, who is 41, and Auberlen, who is 35, are considered to be veteran drivers and this is professional road racing, not amateur events. That's not too shabby for Gleason and Valentine, two guys who race just for the fun of it.

"It keeps us young," Gleason says simply.

Along with James, they drive The Racer's Group Porsche GT3 RS #66. It's one of three bright blue Porsches that The Racer's Group entered in this weekend's race at Watkins Glen. The Gleason Group, Gleason's family's companies, which are primarily in the property and casualty insurance business; F1 Boston, Valentine's state-of-the-art go-kart facility; and team sponsors Monster Cable and Adobe Road Winery advertise on the car.

Stretching back to last November's season finale at Florida's Daytona International Speedway, Gleason has been on the podium (finished in the top three positions in class) in three of the last five races. Driving with team owner Kevin Buckler of Sonoma, Calif. and Pierre Ehret of Santa Rosa, Calif., he finished third in class and tenth overall that day.

He was also on the podium in this particular six-hour race at the Glen in June 2002, finishing third in the GT class and tenth overall in a BMW M3 with co-drivers Nick Longhi of Valley Cottage, N.Y. and Emil Assentato of Locust Valley, N.Y. "Getting on the podium at Watkins Glen has been a life-long dream of mine," Gleason said that day.

Momentum means a great deal in racing, and Gleason happily notes that he and his current teammates finished third in class in the race-before- last, held in April at Phoenix International Raceway, and second in the last race, another six-hour event in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, last month.

"We got third at Phoenix and second here, so now we're casting our eyes with longing at the top step of the podium," he said.

One thing all of the younger drivers in the 47-car field will admit is that where this team is concerned, it very well could happen Sunday at the Glen. James is well known at racetracks both in England and in the states, and their rivals have learned not to underestimate Gleason and Valentine either.

The schedule shows the GT cars practicing from 9:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. and 2:10 until 2:50 p.m. on Friday. One more hour of practice is slated for 10 a.m. Saturday. GT qualifying is slated for 1 p.m. that afternoon. The pre-race activities begin at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, with the green flag dropping at 11 a.m. and the checkered at 5 p.m.

-trg-

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Series Grand-Am
Drivers Boris Said , Bill Auberlen , Nick Longhi , Kevin Buckler , Ian James , Pierre Ehret , Chris Gleason , R.J. Valentine