>From John P.M. Dillon
Labor Day National Buttonwillow Raceway Park
copyright 1996 John P. M. Dillon
Buttonwillow, California, Labor Day weekend. An event of staccato phrases. New asphalt, improved track patches. Intense competition. Last National of the season. Hot, hot, hot. Expected results, and unexpected. Aggressive warning black flags to cut down on driver errors. Mixed success. Decimated lap records. Bottom line..Racing excitement under the San Joaquin valley sun.
The Cal Club board secured sponsorship and purchased several awnings to provide relief for the workers between sessions. The Turn 11 awning gave up its life in the line of duty as a gust of wind blew it across the track, but the shade it provided to that point was well worth the expense.
Stan Townes, FF winner and new lap record holder, admitted to having a good start. "Paul [Wittrock] hung in there for a while, then he dropped a wheel in Turn 10 and spun it." He praised the new track material; "it held together really good." He also felt fortunate in traffic. "The traffic stayed out of the way. The Vees, 440's, and back Fords always pointed and were very nice to me."
Mark Edwards finished at the top of the FV heap. Edwards told us that he and Brian McCarthy discussed FV strategy before the race. "If you baubled once you could still win, but if you made two, you couldn't. When a Ford got under him [McCarthy, leading at the time], he dropped his left front wheel." The resulting spin ripped an oil plug out of McCarthy's car and left him parked in the Turn 2 dirt. Brian Harding recounted "I was racing with Marc Danziger for 3rd and 4th. He spun at the halfway point, but chipped away at me afterwards. Then I spun in 10 one lap from the end, giving him what turned out to be second place." (In the Monday Regional race, Harding won, then stopped and gave his checkered flag to the Turn 10 worker from the day before.)
Bob Whyte vanquished Eric Christensen for F440 honors, well ahead of Kurt Jechel, long-absent from the F440 ranks. Jechel appeared to have handling problems; he slipped off course at the button hook (Turn 15), again at Turn 1, before parking his car for good in Turn 10. However, he set a new lap record prior to his 12th-lap retirement.
New Hampshire immigre Michael Scully introduced the S2000-classed SR-71, a car he built with Steven Johnson, to the left coast. Scully notched a new track record and finished several positions ahead of second-in-class Karl Luft. Luft in turn barely held off Jeff Littrell by less than a half second. This was Scully's first race ever in the division. "The ability to go flat through the high speed corners" was his secret. He didn't like the 2.68 mile track at first, but admitted "once you learn which way it goes it's a hell of a lot of fun." He claimed to have put the car in "cruise mode" just past the halfway mark.
Overall winner Dan Vosloo set a new FA record, as did SCA winner Sherif Fathy sponsored by Deaf Motorsports. Fathy plans to run the pro-SCA race at the new Vegas oval track in mid September. Mark Peller, the FC winner, tried to beat the Atlantics, "but we could only keep up halfway." A broken diffuser slowed him down at midpoint, thanks to the "Peller Race Engineering demon." He added "It was a real thrash the last couple days, so it's gratifying to win, even if it wasn't first overall." Other class winners in the group were Bill Lomenick (DSR) and Justin Ferguson (CSR). At the end, a full quarter of the field had to be retrieved from the course by Cal Club's emergency crew.
Northwest Region driver Mike Rockett made his southerly tow worthwhile, driving his GT1 Camaro to win the GT/Production race, finishing over 30 seconds ahead of James Vaughn's Pontiac Trans-Am. A pair of lap record- setting cars followed next: John Stott (GT2 Mazda) and Dan Snow (FP Fiat X1/9). Snow won despite an early spin on Space Mountain (Turn 11). Three more drivers set records as well on their way to respective class victories: Bruce Powers (GT5 Renault), Arizona's Bob Coffin (GT3 Mazda RX3), and Roger Karlson (EP Elva). A first-lap first-turn incident between Dale White and and Mike Stoney left Stoney knocked out for the remainder of the session, while White could only complete a couple of laps before damage did him in as well.
If you've been around the division for any amount of time in Spec Racer, you know Lee Fleming. The hot-shoe has set plenty of track records and notched plenty of victories in Renault-powered machines over the years. Now he's racing in a new Ford-powered car on his way to Mid-Ohio. Fleming showcased his talent again by handily conquering the Spec Racer field. His closest competitor, Arizona's Cameron Earnshaw, languished seven seconds behind at the checker, having to contend with T.J. Acker for much of the race. Barney Moen, a Renault holdout, won in class while adding a track record to his trophy case. With the demise of the class at year's end, chances are good that Moen will hold the record for all time. Dan Spaethe, who frequently crews for Fleming, proved his past SR experience needs to be rust-proofed just a wee bit. He spun twice and slipped off course several times, mustering a 7th-in-class finish. It turned out his oil cap was missing, dribbling 40-weight onto the tires and causing him to slip in his own goo. One other incident deserves mention: at the start of the race, a crew member refused to follow directions of the pit marshals and nearly had his drivers fined. At $100 per car, it looked like pockets would be lightened by $400, but in the end the operating steward allowed the drivers to take care of the problem themselves.
Nasport brought their show to town, which Canadian Collin Jackson enjoyed from the top. His Nissan 240sx proved fastest at the end, though Mike Lewis defined the track record en route to a second place finish. Lewis led the first three laps before leaving the surface in Turn 15, then charged hard near the end to briefly regain the lead on the penultimate lap. He couldn't make it stick, however, as the results show. Both Jackson and Lewis had adhesion problems on the last lap in Turn 15, but Jackson edged back onto the course sooner for the win. John Olsen won the GT-4 category.
An aborted start forced the field to cool their jets for a lap, but at the end Robert Nagle, another record-setting driver, put his Mustang in victory circle over four other AS cars including the Camaro of Steve Anderson. Prior to the start, Anderson predicted that "Nagle should be tough," and so he was; Anderson crossed the stripe less than a third of a second behind Nagle. Anderson added "Hopefully we'll keep it cool and not melt down so we can take it to Mid-Ohio." We don't know about the car, but the action was _hot_. The two swapped the lead at least four times, while Steve Kelso, Brent Olsen, and Kirk Robe all tried to horn in on the fun. At the finish, only Robe was still running, thus securing him a spot on the podium; he proved to be the last car on the lead lap as well.
With the exception of SSC, every other class winner in the group set a new track record: John Snow in GP, David Ahlheim in SSB, and Tim Brecht in SSA. Paul Bonaccorsi had to content himself with merely earning the SSC victory over Bill Hagerty. In an excellent Miata battle, Eric Morehouse crossed the line ahead of Ahlheim in SSB, but was later disqualified for rough driving in Turn 4. Contact calls filled the pages of the log, interspersed with several pages of "handling related" calls; cars spun or left the track all around the course, perhaps due to the heat of the tires, cars, and drivers. Or maybe just because it was the last National of the season.
Jack Durbin firstname.lastname@example.org Motorsport News International email@example.com (Moderators for "rec.autos.sport.info") Homepage http://www.freenet.tlh.fl.us/users/indy500/index.html