SCCA Runoffs® Wrap Up
Thanks For The Memories
Lexington, Ohio, September 26, 2005 —
Appreciation. I remember when they announced the Runoffs were going to move from Road Atlanta to Mid-Ohio after 24 years at the southern facility. I knew the folks down south were not going to be happy, and they would bad mouth the move as much as possible. I did feel for them.
At the same time, selfishly, I was ecstatic by that announcement. I was now going to be able to easily attend the Runoffs. I was also reasonable. I knew the time would come, no matter how long that may be, that Mid-Ohio would eventually meet the same fate as Road Atlanta, and the Runoffs would one day move to another facility. Thus, I did my best to enjoy them while they were a slightly more than five hour drive from my house. I attended 10 of the 12 Mid-Ohio Runoffs and thoroughly enjoyed every one of them.
No question my greatest memory of the Runoffs was in 1996 when I qualified and competed in SCCA's national championship in the last year of the Renault powered Spec Racer class. It was a daunting experience, and I didn't qualify as well as I would have liked near the back of the field. I did survive the crazy first lap which saw crashes at the start in the kink, cars sailing off the track entering the esses, just missing a car facing traffic (as a matter of fact, it was Joe Colasacco, this year's champion) at the top of Madness, and then narrowly avoiding another crash just in front of me in turn 1. After all that, merely finishing the race was a blessing, and I did move up ten spots.
One of the criticisms of moving the Runoffs to Mid-Ohio was the weather at that time of year in the Midwest. Ironically, the first year in Ohio saw beautiful, sunny, warm conditions while at the same time in Atlanta, they were beset with cold, rainy, windy, miserable weather. In fact, the local Chamber of Commerce couldn't help provide a little dig and put up a board at their hospitality tent listing the weather conditions of Mid-Ohio compared to Road Atlanta.
However, weather did sometimes become downright lousy at Mid-Ohio despite SCCA slowly moving the Runoffs to an earlier date. It was bad weather that provided the best memory from a spectator standpoint and perhaps one of the greatest drives seen anywhere at any level of racing. The year was 1999 and Warren Stilwell had won every Spec Racer Ford race held at Mid-Ohio. Rain and snow ... yes, snow ... greeted the start of the race. Stilwell had trouble with the conditions and spun not once, not twice, but three times. Now so far behind, it appeared the streak of six in a row was over.
Then, Stilwell performed his magic. With nothing to lose, he threw caution to the wind. Flying around the track, still damp and super slick from the earlier rain, Stilwell flung the car sideways through every turn. He sliced through the field and cut into the leaders gap at a pace that was visibly faster than anyone else could drive in those conditions. Knowing that he had already spun three times made the situation even more tense for the fans.
In the waning laps when it became apparent he could pull of the miracle, everyone was on their feet screaming. At one point, Stilwell was gaining on lapped traffic, and the crowd shouted at the driver to get out of the way. I firmly believe that the fans actually thought the lapped driver could hear them -- that's how intense they became. Stilwell caught the leader going down the back straight on the last lap, then ran side-by-side with him through the esses and beyond into Thunder Valley before finally claiming the lead. I never heard a louder cheer in all 12 years than I did on that cool down lap.
Of course, there were so many other great races throughout the dozen years. The G Production race this year alone was one for the ages. Every class could nominate at least one of their races over the years for consideration as the best ever. Sure there were some stinkers -- we all would like to forget the final year of Shelby Can-Am in 1996 where something like only four cars showed up, and they had to merge that race with Sports 2000 to avoid an embarrassment -- but they were the rare exceptions.
Awards. SCCA's most prestigious reward is the President's Cup given to the driver who best demonstrates ability, competitiveness, and success at the Runoffs. This year's recipient was H Production Champion Kent Prather of Wakarusa, Kansas. The Mark Donohue Award is given to the driver who shows outstanding performance, sportsmanship, and competitiveness in SCCA Club Racing. That went to Kristian Skavnes of Sparta, N.J. who finished second in Touring 2, coming from sixth starting spot in a superb drive.
Sunday's Changes. First let's go back to the first race on Saturday, Formula 500, which was still provisional when we left the track with hints it could be that way for awhile. They finally did come to a conclusion and though one driver was disqualified, it was a bit anti-climactic. The sixth place finisher, Jeremy Swank, met that fate. For Sunday, there was one disqualification -- fourth place finisher, Dan Waleke, in Showroom Stock C. Other than that, there were a few drivers penalized positions, the most significant being third place finisher in F Production, Mason Workman. That elevated John Saurino to the final podium spot.
Hello, Dorothy. It's easy to be bitter and complain about the move to Heartland Park in Topeka, Kansas. Arguments I heard over the weekend was despite being closer to the west coast contingent, it's further from the east coast drivers which will result in a net loss of entries. Others complain about how the track is flat and featureless, not the type of challenge to decide national championships. Some even mentioned how ugly the place will appear on TV. However, it's still the Runoffs, and when you have a format where the top drivers from all over the country spend all year to qualify for one shot at a national championship, you are guaranteed some of the best racing anywhere on the planet.
Sure, the Runoffs may one day come back to Mid-Ohio especially if it doesn't work out in Topeka. But, for now they are in Kansas for the next three years, and for those of you who live nearby to take advantage of the location, do what I swore to do 12 years ago -- appreciate and enjoy them while you have them, and don't worry about when they ultimately move again.
Copyright © 2005 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.