RACE: Valvoline Runoffs:  First year national racer wins AS

Things got crazy from the start of the American Sedan race at the 2002 SCCA Valvoline Runoffs®. Csaba Bujdoso took the lead into the first turn of the race from third place, going inside of both front row starters under braking. Even more amazing was the start of Andy McDermid, who was right on Bujdoso's bumper from 5th. On the second turn of the esses, polesitter Matthew Roberts spun to the inside and stalled, continuing at the back of the field.

The start.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Before the lap was over, other front-runners would fall by the wayside. Just before Thunder Valley, Richard Ciochon spun into the gravel and was stuck. Ciochon had started from second on the grid. When the field got to the other end of Thunder Valley, a real mess broke out. The two leading cars were fine and were having a good battle, but behind them a three-car collision among Ken Biddinger, Monte Cowles and Thomas Toth blocked the race line and dramatically slowed the cars following behind. Cowles continued, just out of the top ten, but Biddinger took his damaged car to the pits and Toth's car was left in the gravel trap.

The pace car came out to capture the field so a wrecker could be sent for Ciochon's car, which closed up the big gap between the first two cars and the rest of the field. On the restart, Bujdoso was able to get a little gap ahead of McDermid and third place Brian LaCroix who were similarly able to pull away from the next pack. Bob Hahn, Thomas Oates, David Venhaus and Jerry Post made up that group and they had a close freight train going for a few laps. Oates and Venhaus, in particular, were passing back and forth for fifth place in the early laps. Both would fade from the front later in the race.

On lap 6, LaCroix was able to get past McDermid for second place when they went up the hill from turn 1, then McDermid lost third position and more when he spun to the inside of the Keyhole turn. McDermid was able to re-enter the race, but the engine in his Mustang expired on lap later.

Andy McDermid.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

By lap 11, LaCroix was coming under pressure from Hahn for second, which allowed Bujdoso to establish a better lead. Behind them, Jerry Post and Kyle Watkins were trying to settle 4th position after they got by the fading Camaro of Oates and the mishandling Mustang of Venhaus.

Roberts, the polesitter, had his Mustang flying and was running the fastest laps of the race during this middle section, but was stuck back in the pack. He tried to pass John Blizzard in the Keyhole turn, but hit the side of Blizzard's Camaro. Blizzard spun across the front of Roberts' car and Roberts stalled it trying to push Blizzard out of his way. Both cars were damaged and went to the pits.

After repairs, Blizzard returned to the track directly in front of the leaders. He made it difficult for Bujdoso to get by, which allowed LaCroix to make up some ground on the leader. Blizzard did the same to LaCroix though, giving Bujdoso a healthy lead.

The first four positions were then settled, Bujdoso leading LaCroix, Hahn and Watkins, with sufficient gaps between them. The battle for 5th heated up though, Carey Grant and Ken McVicker, trading the position (and a little paint) until lap 15, when McVicker spun to the inside at the end of the backstraight, stalled his car and was unable to restart it.

Brian LaCroix and Bob Hahn.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

There was little drama from then until the checkered flag waved for Bujdoso's win, except that Bujdoso's car kept getting noisier with each lap as an exhaust header problem began to slow his car. Bujdoso had enough of a lead that he held on for a National Championship victory in his first season of SCCA National Racing.