The last race of the day at the Valvoline Runoffs was a fast and wild race with a first time winner and more pace car laps than any other race in the first two days of the Sports Car Club of America's 2002 National Championships. The D Sports...
The last race of the day at the Valvoline Runoffs was a fast and wild race with a first time winner and more pace car laps than any other race in the first two days of the Sports Car Club of America's 2002 National Championships. The D Sports Racer class has experienced a rebirth (see Sports Racers are Back) and a large 30-car field took the green flag to get things rolling.
Polesitter Michael Ruepert took the first lead with Al Beasley Jr. and Mark Jaremko just behind. Ruepert set a new Mid-Ohio record in qualifying in his Lola AMW and was determined to use that speed to walk away with the race. Beasley in a Beasley T5 and Jaremko, driving a Stohr 03D, kept it close though.
Marc Hoover and Jay Lovett got around Jason Miller on the start and the three of them set out on a great fight for the third position. On the second lap, Lovett passed Hoover under braking for the esses, but Hoover took the fourth position back on the next turn. One lap later, they did the same thing, except Miller followed Hoover past Lovett in Madness this time. Miller had trouble later that lap, though, running wide as he drove down into Thunder Valley and bouncing high into the air when he rode over the curbing.
Under braking for the esses on lap 4, Jaremko passed Beasley for second place, and then took the lead from Reupert on his next trip down Mid-Ohio's back straight. Jaremko's slippery Stohr had a visibly obvious straight-line advantage over Reupert's better handling Lola.
On lap 5, Hoover pulled off course without power, and a lap later, Bruce Sunseri's Cheetah broke the rear suspension, which left it sitting trackside in Madness. The first caution flag period of the race was called to pick up the broken cars.
The restarts at the Runoffs are given on the back straight, but the pace car has to pull off in the pit lane a half lap earlier. For this restart, on lap 10, Jaremko was unfamiliar with this procedure, and took off as soon as the pace car pulled off. He realized his mistake and slowed before he got around to the starter's stand so he wouldn't be penalized. Ruepert had to slam on his brakes to keep from passing Jaremko before the green waved, and was rear-ended hard by Beasley, who was following closely and wasn't expecting Ruepert to brake.
Reupert was able to streak by Jaremko into the lead, but Beasley's right front tire had come apart after his collision with Reupert and he rear-ended Jaremko in the first turn of the esses when he couldn't get slowed. Jaremko spun from the contact and was all the way back to eleventh place before he could get going. Beasley tried to get around to the pits but slid off into a gravel trap.
Another pace car period was called within two laps to recover Beasley's car and a few others from the course. On the next restart, both Miller and Lovett got around leader Reupert although Reupert was able to get back around Lovett before they got through the esses. Ruepert resumed the lead at the start of the next lap, passing Miller on the pit straight. Jaremko had made amazing progress since his spin, setting the race's fastest time and coming up behind Lovett's similar Stohr before the first lap was completed after the second restart.
Jaremko quickly disposed of Lovett, and then passed Miller for second on the back straight, using his straight-line advantage to draft past Miller's Wynnfurst. Jaremko was now right behind Reupert. Not wanting to make a mistake, Jaremko followed Reupert for three laps before making the pass with two to go. Reupert made one last charge on the last lap, but came up a few car lengths short at the checkered flag.
Damon Anderson, who had driven a steady race from the eighth starting spot, finished a distant third. Miller's car had slowed, perhaps from damage caused during his earlier rough ride, and he faded to fifth in the last two laps. Beasley's father, Al Beasley Sr., also passed Miller on the last lap to finish 4th. Lovett had spun in the Keyhole after the last restart and recovered to finish sixth by passing seven cars for position in the last five laps.