'LEONIDAS' WINS The King is dead, long live the King! Okay, so it's a tad over-dramatic. Besides, I know not what "king" would've recently passed, anyway. Certainly not the "King of Pain." Still, just when car owner/driver John Pew was in...
The King is dead, long live the King!
Okay, so it's a tad over-dramatic. Besides, I know not what "king" would've recently passed, anyway. Certainly not the "King of Pain."
Still, just when car owner/driver John Pew was in the midst of deciding whether to pursue another season of Daytona Prototype racing, his Michael Shank Racing-prepared No. 6 Ford-Riley Daytona Prototype would win Sunday's sunrichgourmet.com 1000k at Miller Motorsports Park.
Once described as looking chiseled, intensely-eyed and possessive of the calm but steadfast demeanor of Sparta's legendary King Leonidas (or, at least, as was portrayed by Scotsman Gerard Butlerin the movie "300"), Pew was joined by two-year driving partner Ian James and new MMP co-driver Raphael Matos.
Perhaps with some envy at the Rolex Sportscar Series' New Jersey Motorsports Park race just two weeks earlier, Pew watched longtime friend and competitor Mark Patterson climb highest atop that race's DP podium and, along with co-driver Oswaldo Negri Jr., take home the largest of the three one-of-a-kind blue Thunderbolt trophies handed out.
The season's beginning at the Rolex 24 At Daytona had hinted of the No. 6 team's potential when A.J. Allmendinger qualified the No. 6 Ford-Riley on the outside pole (with MSR No. 60 sister car and driver Oswaldo Negri Jr. claiming the inside pole) but later drove home the point when Allmendinger (66 laps), Burt Frisselle (33) and James (20) would together compile the race's second-greatest number of laps (119) over the 3.56-mile course - second only to the total scored by race winners Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Juan Pablo Montoya in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates' No. 01 TELMEX Lexus-Riley.
Leading 14 different times through the grueling twice-around-the-clock race, such near-dominance suggests the No. 6 team would've been a part of the post-race podium celebrations, but those grand expectations - so often easily dashed in the world's most difficult 24-hour race (and such truly is not just "media-kit" hype) - would suddenly evaporate with the overnight dew when the car's right-rear suspension broke just about the same time as Sunday's dawn.
Gutting out a 14th-place overall finish after repairs, the second-year team nonetheless left Daytona knowing its potential.
As any team all too well knows (Bob Stallings' No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance gang comes quickly to mind) the racing "gods" seem to find some sort of perverse (if not "inverse") amusement by cruelly twisting their dullest knives in the guts of racers - a point driven home to Pew and James in the series' second race at Homestead-Miami Speedway where the two finished well off the pace in 36th overall (16th in DP and the first of four times the two would finish outside of the 2008 seasons' 14 top-10 DP-finish tallies).
Other than a tantalizing fourth-place finish in late-April at VIRginia International Raceway, the two would mostly finish inside the top-10, though unspectacularly so, until the two drivers somehow overcame Alabama's oppressive, nearly suffocating July humidity to finish third and stand on Barber Motorsports Park's podium.
Then, it was a return to the same-oh, same-oh.
Part of the reason, as Pew himself would likely tell you, is his propensity to all too often tilt with and lose to his personal racing demon: concentration.
It is concentration's lapse - occurring at a split-moment in time - that usually thwarts and often entirely unravels whatever good may have come before it.
Insofar as Pew was concerned, focus is his greatest adversary and though he believes himself the only creature on this green Earth to so suffer those lapses, every racer everywhere endures the same demon, truth be known.
Except, perhaps, Raphael Matos, who on Saturday at Miller Motorsports Park pulled away from the field - setting the race's fastest lap only six laps prior to the race's nearly 7-hour conclusion - and during which he sat before a dashboard bearing no information whatsoever.
Washed and shorted away with a mid-race rain deluge which sent cars skidding at nearly every point on the 4.2-mile track, Matos would drive the race's final 2.5-hours purely by the seat of his pants, bringing the No. 6 Ford-Riley home with nearly a 30-second margin of victory.
The winner of open-wheel's 2007 Atlantic and 2008 Indy Lights championships also wears a Rolex Daytona watch as a result of his co-driving contributions to a 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona GT class win (with Sylvain Tremblay, Nick Ham and David Haskell in SpeedSource's No. 70 Castrol Mazda RX-8).
Feeling the racing-god's "knife" firmly implanted in him, Matos currently is without a ride anywhere for 2009. And one can only wonder how such can be.
So too, apparently, is John Pew without a ride. The difference for Pew - who is positioned slightly better in a determination of his own fate - is that his decision would be self-inflicted. Pew - no one else - would decide if he would race.
Surely, Pew's only question now would be to wonder if he at MMP finally slew his inner demon.
A lot of people on one hand would derive great pleasure in knowing he has.
An equal number of people, however, hope Pew will feel as though he must ascertain if he truly has forever dispatched that demon.
Only "next year" will truly tell.
DC Williams, exclusively for Motorsport.com