Randy Pobst where he most wants to be. (photo courtesy Melissa Smith/World-Challenge.com)
The SCCA National Championship Runoffs is the summit of Club racing, but the event has helped to launch the careers of plenty of top professional racers over the course of its first half-century. While all look back to their Runoffs involvement with pleasure and pride, few actually get the chance to go back to their roots behind the wheel; but that's what's in store for Randy Pobst this year. At least, he hopes so.
A 10-time champion with more than 70 professional race wins, Pobst currently plies his trade in the Pirelli World Challenge with the K-PAX Volvo GT squad (RIGHT), but he continues to give back to the grassroots via driver coaching and he provided commentary for the live online TV coverage of last year's Runoffs. He'll be returning to that microphone for this year's 50th anniversary National Championships at Road America, Sept. 16-22, but he also plans to be racing there for the first time since 1995, taking advantage of a special waiver offered this year by the SCCA Board of Directors that permits past Runoffs National Champs to compete in the Runoffs without qualifying.
Pobst easily fits the bill, having claimed National Championships in 1992 (with an SSC Mazda Miata) and in '95 (in SSA with a BMW M3). However, his plans to compete in an Improved Touring class 1992 Acura Integra have hit a snag.
“Yesterday, I was told that my ride had fallen through – the car is not going to be ready in time to make it to the Runoffs,” Pobst laments. “So now I am thrashing around, trying to find another car to drive – but it's tough because I'm told they won't let me change classes!”
If he does get to run, Pobst will have an enviable Runoffs record to live up to.
“I've done six Runoffs, and I qualified and finished first or second every time but once,” he relates. “I did get thrown out of one of those wins (a technical DQ after taking the 1993 SSC title on the road) but I always enjoyed SCCA Club racing. I actually started there after I did pro racing, just for the fun of it, because the contingencies were strong enough that I could afford to pay for it that way.”
His Runoffs “comeback” didn't figure to be as a top contender, as Pobst readily admits: “I wasn't going there to win. I'm there anyway for the TV coverage, and I want to race but I don't really want to win, because I want to leave that to the guys who've been at it all year – not that I could anyway! I'm just out there to have fun.
“But of course, you know how that goes once the green flag drops!”
The hands-on nature of the competition at the Runoffs is one of the prime attractions for Pobst.
“Most of the cars I've run there, I ran myself,” he notes. “My Honda Civic and Mazda Miata – I was the crew chief, the truck driver, everything. I enjoy that part of it, because I'm a hands-on kind of car guy. In pro racing I'm the spoiled-rotten driver – I just walk up and the crew guys kind of make jokes about, ‘Keep Randy away from the tools!' But they don't know that I know how to build an engine, how to put a bearing on a trailer, and how to prepare the brakes for a race. I've been there.
“A lot of that, I did during my autocross days. I was in the SCCA Club autocrosses six or seven years before I ever road-raced – it took me that long to save up enough money. I'm a big fan of autocross. It's a great way to learn how to drive fast without wrecking your car. And you can't hide behind your car – you need to know how to drive if you're gonna win at autocross!”
His progression through the ranks is a testament to the power of the SCCA to groom talent and propel it forward, and Pobst continues to find the camaraderie a key attraction at Club races.
“I meet a lot of friends that I was racing 20 years ago – the same people,” he notes, “I just really love the enthusiasm, especially from the guys in the production classes. Talking with them about how to set up the cars, compression ratios, alignment, handling issues… I really enjoy talking to the Club racers, especially the guys building their own cars.”
Pobst feels the SCCA's mix of Pro and Club racing provides a welcoming blend. “It is an extended family – especially the corner workers who usually end up working both kinds of (Club and pro) races,” he says. “I don't go back and forth much, because I'm so busy I don't have many opportunities, but when I can I enjoy running an SCCA Club race. I've been in the sport so long that I normally know a lot of people and get to see a lot of friends.”
That's what it's all about. That and winning, of course. And whatever he says about his chances, if he does get in the field, don't bet against Randy Pobst.
• For detailed coverage of the 50th SCCA National Runoffs, go to scca.com/runoffs.