RACE: Moving the runoffs? [part 1]

[This article is the author's opinion, and should neither be considered as official news information, not as MNI's opinion on the subject.] This article originally appeared in the December 1995 issue of _MotoRacing_ and is uploaded by the ...

[This article is the author's opinion, and should neither be considered as official news information, not as MNI's opinion on the subject.]

This article originally appeared in the December 1995 issue of _MotoRacing_ and is uploaded by the author. You can subscribe to _MotoRacing_ by calling John Kelly at 800.58.KELLY.

STAND Moving the Runoffs

copyright 1995 John Dillon

The Sports Car Club of America sanctions a lot of amateur racing across the nation, crowning a myriad of regional champions in a myriad of classes. Politically, regions are grouped together into divisions. For example, the Southern Pacific Division consists of the Cal Club, Las Vegas, San Diego, Hawaii, Arizona, and Arizona Border regions--and all but the last put on racing events. These events may be "regionals," resulting ultimately in a regional championship, or "nationals," resulting in a national championship for each division. (Some divisions also have divisional and specialty series such as SPOC, the Southern Pacific Oval Championship.)

With all these "national" champions in each class, how do you identify "the" national champion for the entire country? Well, what the SCCA does is host an annual "Inter Divisional Championship" called The Valvoline Runoffs (r), the culmination of a year's racing season for many national drivers. The top few winners in each division are invited to participate, giving these drivers an opportunity to compare themselves and their equipment with the best from around the country.

In the earliest years, these championships alternated venues between Riverside Raceway in southern California, and Daytona Speedway in Florida. Then, for almost a quarter of a century, Road Atlanta hosted the championships as the Runoffs grew from a grass roots event to the premiere race of the SCCA's amateur season.

In 1994, the SCCA set an important precedent and moved the Runoffs to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course near Lexington, Ohio, an idyllic spot in the heart of eastern America. Mid-Ohio is kind of like a beautiful park that someone had the good sense to build a race track on. The staff of Mid-Ohio, the SCCA, and the local community all worked together to make the 1994 Runoffs a highly successful event. People still talk about it even as the '95 Runoffs approach.

The contract with Mid-Ohio runs for 3 years, so both this year's Runoffs and the '96 event will be hosted there. However, who knows where the Runoffs will go in 1997, if indeed it goes anywhere? I'm sure the Mid-Ohio staff will be bidding to continue hosting the event another three years, perhaps working towards ultimately hosting it for another quarter century.

******* However, is it healthy for the SCCA to keep it's premiere amateur event at one venue forever? *******

Over the last two years I've interviewed over a hundred drivers regarding the location and duration of the Runoffs. I've heard a variety of proposals, but the vast majority share a common vision, which I'll share in my next column.

First, however, we need to discuss what characteristics are necessary for a track to host an event like the Runoffs.

Due to the large number of classes and the number of invitations issued to drivers in each division, there is a huge number of people found during the Runoffs week. This year Mid-Ohio saw something like 700 drivers, 650 workers and officials, and probably 2000 crew and family members, nor does this list include the swarm of reporters, photographers, vendors, and commercial support people like tire busters and manufacturer reps.

With this kind of crowd invading a community for a week or more, it's clear that a strong infrastructure must exist, both at the track and in the nearby towns.

For example, 700 cars requires a huge paddock area to park not only the race cars, but support rigs, rental cars, campers, scooters, and quads. Trailers need to be accomodated too. (What Atlanta and Mid-Ohio did was to stash the things in "trailer jail" off in a field somewhere.) I can think of no other event where so many race-related vehicles need to be accomodated for so long, and we haven't yet mentioned spectator access.

It's one thing to worry about parking cars. It's much more of a worry to house all the people. Looking at the numbers cited earlier, it's reasonable to assume that you need at least 1500 motel rooms and campsites for a couple hundred more. You still need to allow some space for worker and spectator campers too.

And we're not done with the physical plant yet--support services must be considered. The track must have enough toilets, showers, snack bars, pet accomodations, telephones, etc. for the expected crowds. Security must be adequate--remember the Formula 1 sabotage incident a year or two back? Medical teams for on-track incidents as well as spectator first aid stations are a must.

And what about the track itself? It must be long enough to support 40 to 60 car fields within the SCCA's limit of 25 cars per mile. The pavement quality needs to be good, smooth, and stable. Plenty of runoff room (pardon the pun) is needed, along with safe corner worker stations and plenty of room in the pit lane, grid and pregrid areas.

Ideally the track would have multiple configurations, with one configuration reserved exclusively for the Runoffs to minimize the home track advantage. The configuration must offer a challenge for the drivers. To win should require something more than just horsepower or nimbleness, but instead should have some semblance of balance of each. A little elevation change would be nice too. Naturally, it would be great if the track were scenic as well as functional, something that Road America and Mid-Ohio both offer.

Lastly, geography remains an important factor. Many of the left coast drivers felt severely disadvantaged with the tow to Road Atlanta, a 3000 mile trek that precluded them from getting any track time during the normal racing season. (Interestingly, many California racers travel even further to get to Mid-Ohio.) Two competing arguments present themselves regarding location of the Runoffs: 1) the Runoffs should be centered nearest the largest concentration of National competitors, or 2) the concentration of entrants is due to the location of the Runoffs--if you shift the location, the center of competitors will shift with it. If memory serves, 1994 data tended to bear out the latter point.

The track needs to be easily accessible for a wide variety of tow rigs. Twisty, hilly, tight and awkward roads make it more difficult for competitors to get to the facilities and commute to their hotels and motels. This problem is exacerbated by the length of time they're there, typically a week or more.

Aside from the factors relating to towing distance, geography adds the wrinkle of weather. While Road America could meet all the requirements listed earlier, it might well be snowed in by the time the Runoffs roll around in October.

When we discuss the facilities, one mustn't forget the cost to the club. Track rental rates vary widely across the country, and a multitude of arrangements exist regarding gate receipts, auxiliary services rental (like the scoring building at Phoenix, or the public address system at Thunderhill), paddock rental, and vendor and sponsor booths. These considerations--and others--all factor into the equation before a venue can be selected.

So far, I've avoided answering the question of "Should the runoffs be moved?" Instead, I've introduced data that need to be considered. Clearly, selecting a site for the SCCA's biggest race of the year is a complex decision, with many factors to be weighed. But of all the things itemized in the preceding paragraphs, I've deliberately avoided what might be the most important--what do the racers want?

Most competitors would like to see the event move or rotate around the country every three years. Next month I'll provide details as to why they feel this way, along with some other options they've suggested. I'll even put forward a thought regarding how Cal Club's new Buttonwillow Road Circuit could enter into the calculations a few years down the road. The plane is bouncing now (I'm en route to the '95 Runoffs now) and I've hit 1300 words, so it's time to call this month's column a wrap. Stay tuned....

John Dillon presently makes his stand in Yorba Linda, California.

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Series SCCA
Drivers John Kelly