RACE: Valvoline Runoffs grids set, races begin Friday

Pace. It's all about pace. Pace of the cars, pace of the event, and most of all, the pace of the week. There are over 600 racing teams on the grounds at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the 39th Valvoline Runoffs®, and for every one of them...

Pace. It's all about pace. Pace of the cars, pace of the event, and most of all, the pace of the week. There are over 600 racing teams on the grounds at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the 39th Valvoline Runoffs®, and for every one of them the Runoffs signals a change from the normal pace of a racing event.

To qualify for a chance to race for the Sports Car Club of America's National Championship in one of 24 classes, each driver must rack up points through competing at SCCA National Club Races. Those races are weekend events, with three or four on track sessions over a two or three day event. When they come to the Runoffs, they are faced with a different world. For most, time is stretched - a single 20-minute session each day for the first four days of the week, then a single race on one of the three weekend days. For others, by design or happenstance, time is compressed - a mad dash to get their cars ready for the next chance to take it to the competition.

For some, the extra time can be maddening. They tinker and fuss with their cars, making changes they wouldn't otherwise consider. Some think up creative ways to grill their lunch, decorate their paddock area, or entertain their guests and neighbors. Some teams leave the track and race karts in nearby Lexington, Ohio, drive an hour to Columbus for shopping or wander the beautiful countryside that surrounds Mid-Ohio. Some make it vacation time and snooze in their lawn chairs and motor homes.

Some teams won't allow the pace to be dictated to them. They will enter multiple classes, change engines every day, or otherwise plan to spend the week working on their car or cars.

Once the qualifying is over on Thursday, everything changes. The spectators pour into the grounds, their motor homes parading into place, some in spots they return to year after year, like nesting birds. For the racing teams, the pace - hectic or relaxed - makes a big shift. Their focus turns to the day of their race. The racers scheduled for Friday, the first race day, do the final preparations for their competitions. Those scheduled for the Saturday and Sunday races have another long chunk of time to burn. Some turn into spectators, watching the exiting National Championship battles of other racers. Some go back to their regular lives, if only for a short while. One driver, Showroom Stock C racer Ralph Porter, returned to his Kokomo, Indiana home today for the birth of a grandchild, vowing to come back ready to race by Saturday morning.

Tomorrow, Friday, the first eight races of the 2002 Valvoline Runoffs® will get the green flag to chase the championship. The Sports 2000 cars lead off at 10:15 am (EDT) with 2-time and defending class champion, John Fergus leading the field from the pole position. Fergus is the overwhelming favorite, holding nearly a full one-second advantage over the other qualifiers.

Second out is the Showroom Stock B class - 38 nearly stock cars chasing one trophy. David Roush, defending SSC champion and one of those racing for trophies in multiple classes, has the pole position in SSB, but right beside him is multiple-time national champion, David Daughtery, and just behind is regular front-runner Eric Morehouse. All three drivers (and 23 other SSB qualifiers) are driving Mazda Miatas. None of them can feel too secure, as the cars are so equal, that nearly anyone in the top half of the field has a shot to win.

F Production cars get the green flag just before noon on Friday, with former national champions filling the front row, 3-time G Production winner Steve Sargis on the pole and Harold Flescher will be on the outside of the row, aiming to repeat his FP win in 1995. FP is the home of heavily modified small traditional sports cars, where Austin Healey Sprites like Flescher's or identical MG Midgets like those that fill the second and third rows have won the last eleven titles. Sargis expects his Triumph Spitfire to interrupt that streak.

After lunch, the action resumes with the GT4 cars in the spotlight. GT cars resemble regular passenger cars, but are barely recognizable with their outer body panels removed. These are purpose-built race cars, with full tube chassis and high horsepower engines hidden under familiar shells. In GT4 are Nissan Sentras (like pole-sitter Scott Culbertson's), 200SX's (like the one qualified second by Wilson Wright.), Honda CRX's (like the one Jamie Houseman put in the third row), and other small imported sedans. Both Houseman and Wright, with these cars, have won this championship before, Houseman just last year.

Touring 2 is next up. Touring classes, like Showroom Stock, are filled with nearly stock cars, only in this case, the cars are bigger and faster. American muscle cars: Chevy Camaros, Pontiac Firebirds, and Ford Mustangs compete against various BMW models, Porsche Boxters and the occasional Japanese sporty car for the bragging rights in this large class. 2000 Champion, Thomas Oates starts from the pole in a Camaro with BMW M-coupe pilot T C Kline next to him on the front row. David Roush (remember him?) makes his second try (of the day) for a gold medal from the second row in another Camaro.

The first open-wheel race of the weekend will be the sixth race of the day. Formula Vee is the entry-level for formula racers, and the races are always thrilling. The Vees draft and pass, draft and pass, keeping the fans guessing to see who will be in front of the long packs the next time the field comes around. Both front row qualifiers have a pair of championship wins in the class, so expect them to stay near the front all day. Polesitter Brad Stout won his two Vee titles last year and in 1998. Second fastest, Stevan Davis won in 1992 and way back in 1987! This will be a fun race.

American Sedan will follow the Vees. This is the American muscle class. The Ford Mustangs, Chevy Camaros, and Pontiac Firebirds have to use the stock body shell and basic engine, but these cars are allowed more leeway for modification than the same models are in the T2 class that raced earlier. This is a fun class, echoing the kind of racing enjoyed by SCCA's Trans-Am series at its inception thirty-five years ago. As seems only right, a Mustang and a Camaro share the front row. Matthew Roberts' Ford holding a second qualifying edge over Richard Ciochon's Chevrolet. There is one of each in the second row too!

The Valvoline Runoffs®' first day wraps up with a 19-lap race for H Production cars. Similar to the FP cars that ran earlier in the day, the HPs have smaller engines in usually older cars, but are mostly Sprites and Midgets again, some of them with the earlier "Bugeye" styling. There are a few Volkswagen Sciroccos entered, but Don Barrack is the fastest of them, and qualified seventh he has a tough task ahead to topple the fast class regulars ahead of him in the British roadsters. Leading that pack will be the winner of the last two HP Runoffs races, Ron Bartell.

Whew, that's one long day of racing. The spectators will need to maintain a good pace to keep up with all the action. If that isn't enough, there are two more days of action like this, eight races a day, with as many as forty drivers going for a single championship prize in each race. Stay connected to motorsport.com for full reports on each exciting race, including photo coverage, and previews of the Saturday and Sunday events.

Fields are set for the Valvoline Runoffs®

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series SCCA
Drivers David Roush , Brad Stout , Jamie Houseman , Scott Culbertson , Eric Morehouse , David Daughtery , Ralph Porter , Thomas Oates , Steve Sargis , Wilson Wright , Ron Bartell