TOPEKA, Kan. (Oct. 11, 2008) - Chris Keller, of Green Brook, N.J., raced Tonis Kasemets, of Mundelein, Ill., out of the circuit’s final turn and down the front straight to nip Kasemets by the nose of his Formula Ford at the finish line to capture a 0.136-second victory at the 45th SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Heartland Park Topeka. Jeremy Treadway, of Putnam Station, N.Y., survived an early-race incident to finish third.
Kasemets jumped out to an early lead in his No. 37 Goodyear Vestal 09F while polesitter Keller, in the No. 15 Goodyear/Loynings Engine Service/FastForward Swift DB 6 battled with Tony Coello. Keller slipped past Coello on lap three, but by that point Kasesmets had opened up a lead of more than two seconds.
While Keller had begun to close the gap on Kasemets, Treadway was battling with No. 2 Michael Sauce and No. 44 Alex Schutte for fourth place. The three drivers made contact in Turn 14, and with Schutte stopped on track the race went to full-course caution.
That erased Kasemets’ gap on Keller, and when the race restarted on lap nine, Keller began looking for an opportunity to steal the lead. The 20-year-old pulled past Kasemets for the first time on lap 12, only to relinquish the lead just a few turns later. Close the entire time, Keller was only ahead of Kasemets at the stripe to get credit for a lap led on lap 14.
Kasemets had an answer for every move the Keller made, with Kasemets’ car seemingly four lanes wide trying to keep Keller in second place. Kasemets led heading out of Heartland Park’s 14th and final turn, the 252nd turn of the 18-lap race. With one last burst, Keller slipped past Kasemets in a drag race at the checkers.
As it turned out, Kasemets was having mechanical problems that caused the engine to sputter just slightly, and that helped to propel Keller past on the last straight.
“I was definitely happy to see the yellow flag,” Keller said. “If the race had gone green, we were reeling (Kasemets) in and it would have been a real close battle either way. Once that yellow came out, I could see his tires starting to go away and it helped our strategy with our tire compound choice (Keller chose a hard tire compound). It was a close race, wheel-to-wheel through most of the course. When I’d get ahead, he had a great draft to get by. Then I’d shove it in on a couple of other corners that he opened the door for. It was a close race. If he hadn’t have had that problem, who knows what would have happened.”
Keller’s excitement was countered by Kasemets’ post-race disappointment.
“It was very nice wheel-to-wheel racing,” Kasemets said. “It was very fun to race. At the end, something happened. We don’t really know if it was a float or we ran out of gas, so I had to make my car wider when I needed it in a few places, so I apologize about that. I tried to make it all the way to the end but the last bobble was too great to hold him up and he got the win.”
Treadway, who had recovered from the contact and spin in his No. 12 GoodYear/Farley Engine/Stonebridge Swift DB6, restarted the race in 10th but had climbed back into third just four laps later. Treadway was able to pull away again from fourth place, but couldn’t run down the leaders.
Sauce, of Arlington, Texas, who was also involved in the lap six incident, recovered to finish in fourth. Thomas Schwietz, Jr., of Winchester, Va., finished in fifth.
The Sunoco Hard Charger was awarded to No. 24 Tim Webb, of West Fork, Ark., who improved 11 positions to 13th at the finish.
The SCCA National Championship Runoffs® The Pinnacle of American Motorsports, will crown Sports Car Club of America's Club Racing National Champions for the 45th-consecutive year in 2008. The best amateur drivers from across North America will compete on Heartland Park Topeka's 2.5-mile road course in what is considered the "Olympics" of motorsports. This year's event began with four days of qualifying, Oct. 6-9, and is in the middle of three days of National Championship racing, Oct. 10-12. Live timing, lap notes, results and photos are all available at www.scca.com/runoffs.