The final day of the 2002 SCCA Valvoline Runoffs® started off with a class that is a favorite of the Mid-Ohio crowd. This class for the smallest and slowest of the GT cars, features unusual and even "cute" cars that the fans love to root for. Several "old" Mini Coopers, and several models of Alfa Romeos compete with more current cars from Nissan, Mazda and Toyota.
The favorite to win the race though was seven-time National Champion Joe Huffaker, winner of the last two GT5 championships with his beautiful black Mini. Make that eight-time champion.
Huffaker was fastest in every session this week and led the race from the start, pulling away by an amazing three seconds in the first lap. Jim Rauck, who put his Nissan 200SX into second place from the outside of the front row, was having trouble getting up to speed on cold tires. Doug Peterson, driving an engineering marvel of a Mini (converted to rear wheel drive) that he has used to win two of his five Championships, was stuck behind Rauck and had to watch Huffaker drive away.
After a couple of laps, Rauck's tires came in, and he pulled away from Peterson and started chasing Huffaker. For most of the middle portion of the race, Rauck could use his horsepower advantage to catch up to Huffaker's rear bumper at the end of the backstretch, but Huffaker would build his lead back on the tight and twisty sections of Mid-Ohio.
Rauck's charge faltered late in the race when his car got stuck in third gear. He could run his regular speeds on the tight parts of the course, but he gave up a lot on the straights and began to fall back into the pack.
Behind the top three, a great race broke out for fourth position. Jay Illiohan had a good start from seventh on the grid to put his pretty Alfetta into fourth, while Dan Robson (in a Mazda MX-3) and Jack Beck, driving an older Alfa GTV, made a tight pack for 4th through 6th. Just a little behind them was Jimmy Burke's Nissan and Bill Gilcrease's Mini.
Burke was on the move early, passing Beck on lap 2, Robson on lap 4 and Illiohan on lap 5. Beck moved next. He got by Robson on the seventh lap and he began pressuring Illiohan for the 5th spot. A lap later, Gilcrease got by Robson as well and set off after the two Alfas.
On lap 11, Burke spun on the approach to the Keyhole due to an oil slick another car had left behind, losing a number of positions. Then, Gilcrease passed Beck under braking for the esses, and Beck repaid him by knocking the little Mini sideways as they went over the hump of Madness. Beck pushed Gilcrease's car sideways down the hill until they both spun off the track. Beck and Gilcrease were in 5th and 6th places when they returned to the track, and Burke was back to 8th.
A couple of laps later, Rauck was losing place after place due to his transmission troubles. Robson and Illiohan were battling for fourth place and Robson took the position just before they caught up to Rauck's faltering car. Robson misjudged how slow Rauck was going and locked the brakes to keep from piling into him. This happened in the middle of the Carousel turn, so Robson went spinning off into the grass. Illiohan went past Rauck's stricken car on the pit straight.
Huffaker cruised to an easy win, and Peterson followed to an uncontested second place finish. Illiohan crossed the line in third, but was penalized 60 seconds for jumping the start. Beck was then moved up to third, ahead of Gilcrease, Robson and Burke.