RACE: Valvoline Runoffs Saturday morning report

Crisp sunny skies opened day two of the 2003 Valvoline Runoffs, making a beautiful setting for the second set of eight races to determine the SCCA Club Racing National Championships. After day one started and ended with gloomy overcast skies, the...

Crisp sunny skies opened day two of the 2003 Valvoline Runoffs, making a beautiful setting for the second set of eight races to determine the SCCA Club Racing National Championships. After day one started and ended with gloomy overcast skies, the mood of the thousands of participants on the grounds of scenic Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was much brighter than on Friday.

The day opened with a race for the most traditional of SCCA race classes, H Production. HP is home to the "Bugeye", the friendly MG and Austin-Healey sports cars from the late 1950s. Of course, many of the Sprites and Midgets racing in HP are the later-model (1960s) cars without the pop-eyed nose. And there is the occasional Triumph Spitfire in the mix. Rules changes in recent years have added some newer (1970s) sedans to the class too.

Three-time HP National Champion Robert Weber had his Sprite on the pole, and led from the start from the newer-style MG Midget of Ron Bartell, the winner of the last three championships in the class. Behind these two favorites, Dan Collishaw, Tom Feller, and Adam Malley were fighting to claim the third place in line.

On lap 2, it was Malley on the move. He moved his first-generation Honda Civic past Collishaw for 3rd place in turn 1 on the second lap; then took second place from Bartel in the Keyhole. At the end of the back straight, Collishaw lost fourth place to Feller. Collishaw's car was obviously running poorly and he pulled into the pits at the end of the lap.

Then it was Bartel's turn to fall out of the race when he coasted to a smoky stop on the very next lap. Also on lap four, Malley took the lead away from Weber. Weber lost another place on the following lap when Feller went to second place in his Spitfire.

They would finish the race in that order, although Feller made things exciting on the last lap. Feller passed Malley in the Keyhole, but Malley horsepowered back into the lead on the back straight. Feller made another attempt at the lead in the Esses, but Malley held on for the win.

For race two of the day (race 10 of 24 of the Championship weekend), the Showroom Stock B class took the track. This is the "Miata class" - only eight of the 41 starters were driving something other than Mazda's little neo-sports car. But two of the "non-Miatas" were up near the front. Toby Grahovec got the pole in an Acura Integra and Neil Sapp started 7th in a Honda Prelude.

Grahovec grabbed the early lead, followed closely by the Miatas of David Daughtery, Harry Manning, Randy Saucier and John Phillips. Daughtery and Saucier had won 8 of the last 10 SSB championships between them, so the pressure was formidable.

By lap 4, Saucier had gotten around Manning and Daughtery into second place, and the four front-runners had pulled out on the second pack of Phillips, Ken Simonson and Ric Gilhart.

On the sixth lap, Saucier passed Grahovec in the Keyhole, but Grahovec retook the point on the back stretch. When Saucier tried again in the esses, Daughtery had to swerve to avoid the two leaders, hit the curb and spun, falling out of the lead group. Grahovec also faltered later in the lap, losing momentum on the back side of the course and dropping out of the top ten. He got back up to speed, but was punted out of the race at the start of the next lap. He was knocked off the pavement on the approach to turn 1 by Richard Crites, bounced off the concrete wall and slid into the gravel trap.

Saucier then had clear sailing to win his third National Championship. Phillips passed Manning for second place with a few laps remaining in the race, but Manning took the place back two laps later. Simonson and Gilhart filled the rest of the top five.

The last race of the morning was for Formula 500. The small cars powered by 2-stroke engines often put on some great races, and today was no exception. Polesitter Doug Marsh got the lead on the start, but he slid off into the turn 1 gravel on the second lap, handing the lead to Calvin Stewart.

Stewart has had a lot of hard luck at the Runoffs over the years. His first attempt at the National Championship was way back when the class was called Formula 440 and the Runoffs was a Road Atlanta staple. He qualified second and was left dejected when the car failed to start on the grid. Fast forward to the 2002 Championship race. Stewart had the lead when he slowed for a yellow flag at the end of Mid-Ohio's back straight, and Aaron Ellis vaulted into the lead over Stewart's rear tire. Ellis won the race, but Stewart's car fell out of the race with the damage.

This looked like Stewart's year. After Marsh dropped out, Stewart took advantage of a battle for second among Brian Novak, Jason Morales and Jonathan Dick to pull out to a healthy lead. Unfortunately Stewart's bad luck struck again and his car coasted to a stop at the back of the course with only six laps remaining in the race.

Morales' car had quit a few laps earlier, leaving Novak and Dick to battle for the lead. They exchanged positions several times, until Novak got bottled up behind lapped traffic and Dick got a lead he kept to the end. The two drivers were far enough ahead that Novak spun twice on the final lap without losing second place.

Rusty Cook led Robert Giesen and Steve Jondal across the line for third after a race-long tussle among the three drivers.

Five more races will follow after lunch. Stay tuned!

Valvoline Runoffs Saturday afternoon report

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Series SCCA
Drivers Calvin Stewart , Jason Morales , Randy Saucier , Aaron Ellis , Steve Jondal , Rusty Cook , Tom Feller , Ron Bartell , Toby Grahovec