Round 8, Star Mazda Series North American Championship
Round 13, Star Mazda Series West Division Championship
De Vellis Wins Race; Bradley Recovers From First-Lap Scare To Win Title
SUNDAY, OCT. 14, 2001/MAZDA RACEWAY LAGUNA SECA -- Despite a first-lap excursion through the Turn Four gravel trap that nearly sunk his championship hopes, Scott Bradley somehow managed to skirt disaster by powering his way onto the track and drive his way back into position to win the 2001 Star Mazda Series North American championship. But, in the end, it was hard to imagine things not working out, especially considering raceday was also Bradley's 25th birthday. When the checker flew and the points calculated, Marc De Vellis' impressive win wasn't enough to snatch the Star Mazda title from World Speed Motorsports' Bradley, who eventually finished 10th on the track and seventh in points. ""I knew coming into the weekend this would either be my best or worst birthday of all time depending on how we did in the race," said San Jose local Bradley. "Little did I know the highs and lows would be so dramatic." Bradley, who attended a golf putting competition on Thursday and beat FedEx Championship drivers Kenny Brack and Bryan Herta to earn $250 for the American Red Cross, struggled with a down-on-power motor during qualifying with the best time he could muster being eighth fast on the grid. A post-qualifying technical infraction involving the carburetor in Chad Block's car, however, moved the Valley Motor Center Driver from the pole to last on the grid and shifted everyone else, including Bradley, up one position. "I spent the first few laps of qualifying bringing everything up to temp, but when I put my foot down to go for the pole, the engine said 'no'," Bradley explained. "Fortunately, the World Speed team gave me an excellent handling car and I could still drive it hard to get that top-10 time." Block, meanwhile, was understandably frustrated, but optimistic about making a charge from the back of the 43-car field. "This is two poles in a row we've given away," Block said, referring to the cut tire incident on the first lap at Road Atlanta a week earlier. "The car is awesome, so I'm still planning on finishing well." The change up front put Team Bucknum Racing's Scott Jenkins on pole with Road Atanta winner De Vellis outside pole. Rounding out the top-five qualifiers was Valley Motor Center's Oliver Rowen, World Speed's David Stover and Lightspeed's Matt Beardsley. Of note, however, were impressive qualifying efforts by Equinox Motorsports' J.R. Osborne (ninth), Jennings Motorsports' Tim Jennings (11th) and DARE's Mike Anderson (12th). When the green came out to start the 24-lap race, Jenkins led the pack through Turn One, but things started to back up as the field tried to navigate Turn Four. When the dust cleared from drivers taking evasive off-course excursions, Scott Kusy was stuck in the gravel trap on driver's left with Scott Bradley just ahead making his above-mentioned great escape. Bradley had apparently gotten tagged from behind by Kusy (who later apologized profusely for the contact) and sent into the gravel. "While I was skidding through the gravel trap I knew I couldn't hit the brakes or I'd get dug in," said Bradley, who fell back to 31st. "I knew had to let the car coast and just hope it didn't hit the tire wall. Luckily, I got moving almost immediately, but I saw Chad go flying by and I thought it was over. I knew how far back he had started, so it was a crushing blow that lasted about 100 yards. Then, I put my head down and decided to give it a 110 percent to get that championship back." Immediately, the track went full-course yellow to not only retrieve Kusy, but Racers' Edge driver Luis Schiavo and Team Bucknum's Ginni Swanton, who were also off course and needed assistance. The race then resumed on lap eight with Jenkins leading De Vellis. The best battle, however, was for third with SierraSierra's Moses Smith, Beardsley, Stover, Rowen and World Speed's Tom Woods all battling for the position. Meanwhile, Block was up to ninth and Bradley had moved into 18th when the second full-course yellow was called for a scary-looking incident involving Dan Tomlin III, who had apparently made contact with another car, sending the Lone Star Ranch driver airborne in Turn Nine. Luckily, he landed wheels down, but on top of the tire barrier. Emergency crews arrived quickly to assist Tomlin, who was not injured, but the car was severely damaged. With the track clear again for racing, the green came out to start lap 18, which is when the lead pack lost Rowen, who headed to the pits with a sour motor. Now the race was for the lead with De Vellis closing in on Jenkins as the pair came down the hill from Turn Nine. "I really pushed for car to take the lead," said De Vellis. "I think Scott might have bobbled a little bit and I just took advantage of the situation. We really had a great race and I wasn't going to get by unless he made a mistake." Jenkins, however, stayed close to De Vellis, making several late-race challenges, but came up just 1.211sec short at the line. Behind the lead duo, Stover led World Speed teammate Woods to claim the final podium position. Smith rounded out the top five finishers. And, joining Bradley in one of the most impressive drives of the afternoon, there was Block in sixth. Bradley, meanwhile, finished 10th overall, making his successful run for the championship the closest (Bradley, 289 points; De Vellis, 287 points) since the inception of the Star Mazda "pro" series in 1999. "I think I was more nervous after the race as they kept recalculating the points and I couldn't get a definite answer from anyone," Bradley said. "It wasn't until I was called up at the awards banquet that I really believed I was the champion." The Speedvision telecast of the Oct. 14, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca event, featuring commentator Greg Creamer and pit reporter Calvin Fish, will be shown Monday, Nov. 19, at 8 p.m. and 12 a.m. (Nov. 6), Eastern time. In the Pacific time zone, the race will be shown during prime time at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Nov. 5. Please check your local listings to confirm the dates, airtimes and any repeat broadcasts.