(Daytona Beach, Fla.) December 2, 2001 - The 2001 Formula Dodge National Championship presented by RACER came down to a last-race, last-lap determiner at the checkered flag as Barber-CART Karting Scholarship winner A. J. Allmendinger won the...
(Daytona Beach, Fla.) December 2, 2001 - The 2001 Formula Dodge National Championship presented by RACER came down to a last-race, last-lap determiner at the checkered flag as Barber-CART Karting Scholarship winner A. J. Allmendinger won the battle, but Julio Campos won the war. Allmendinger came from 14th to earn a hotly-contested win over fellow Barber-CART Karting Scholarship winners Ben Moore and Tommy Contino. The win marked the second consecutive down-to-the-wire finish at Daytona International Speedway. Campos, who led into the final turn, fell back to finish sixth but well within the top-8 result he needed to edge out Allmendinger for the crown.
The champion seals the deal on a fully-funded season in the 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series, valued at $195,000. Allmendinger, the 2002 runner-up, and Dan Di Leo, third overall in series points, are off to contest the Barber-CART Big Scholarship Runoff, a second paid ride in next year's Pro Series, of which seven of the top-8 in championship points are invited.
Like the previous day's race, Round 13 featured multiple lead changes, drafting and pushing, back-to-front, front-to-back action that is the hallmark of Daytona. Four drivers, including Campos, shared the lead over the 12 lap contest. Scott Presti, who finished fourth for the second consecutive day, led all in that category with five trips at the point. Positions 1-8 ran grouped over much of the 3.56-mile circuit, at times channeling their way over the infield the way a snake navigates rocks. Packs of three and six were common entering the bus stop, only to bust up on the exit and the approach to the front stretch.
Campos led late and looked like he already had the key to the winner's circle. But a train of drivers were bearing down on him, setting him up for a late pass as he approached the checkered flag. Di Leo, who executed a brilliant draft move to win Round 12, was in Campos' tow, looking for a repeat of events. Presti, Moore, Contino and Allmendinger were also in the mix, looking for opening and opportunity. But it was Allmendinger who got the best shot out of Nascar turn-4, finding the proper line to capture the win over Moore by a thin .006 sec. Moore, who started ninth, led three laps and seemed more than comfortable running up front. Similarly, Contino drove an inspired race, advancing from eighth to take third in the series finale. The podium result marks the second time in three races that Contino has finished on the steps, having taking the victory at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca in November.
The top-3 in series points, Campos, Allmendinger and Di Leo, represent the only multiple winners in the Championship. Campos' tear of four straight in Rounds 5-8 helped him pull out an advantage while Allmendinger and Di Leo finished the season with two wins apiece.
Campos was relieved and elated to win the championship.
"I'm very happy to win [the championship] and to be part of the Barber-CART Scholarship system," said the Brazilian karting champion. "What a great weekend of racing. I'm really looking forward to my new ride. You know, I tested the Dodge-powered Reynard 98E last week at Sebring. I love it. It's amazing. I think, with that kind of comfort level, I can do a great job next year. "
The series runner-up describes how near-last almost became near-glory.
"The race was amazing," said Allmendinger." I was slow to move up but I started working with Burt Frisselle, who helped me draft well. I have to give him a lot of credit. I hung on to him and we were able to catch the pack. On the last lap, I got into fifth and we went into the bus stop. I saw Julio get hung out to dry high and we just kept motoring. I didn't think I could get by everyone. Luckily for me, I pulled a strong draft and got to the line first."
Allmendinger went on to reflect about his first year in race cars.
"The season has been unbelievable. I couldn't ask for more: my result in the National Championship, taking part in three Pro Series races, the recognition I've received and the publicity have been great. But it's time to look forward. Hopefully I can go into the Big Scholarship and do what I've done all year and win that. This whole program that Skip Barber has put together is really amazing. I'm pleased to be a product of the National Championship. I know this series is going to keep growing and growing."
Canadian Dan Di Leo drew on consistency, 10 top-5 results, to earn third in the National Championship. He also raced a one-off in the Barber Dodge Pro Series, his professional debut at the Molson Indy in Toronto.
"The season's gone great. The Skip Barber organization, from the mechanics to the guys at the top have been great. They gave me a chance to showcase my talents. Unfortunately, I came up a bit short but my sights are set on the Big Scholarship next week. Hopefully I can get the Pro Series ride then. But this is definitely the path I want to take to open-wheel racing. I want to be in the Pro Series next year."