National Club Racing spotlight points west to Buttonwillow
Round Four of the 2011 BFGoodrich Tires SCCA Super Tour heads to Southern California this weekend for its lone trip west of the Rockies, creating the area's highest profile SCCA Club Racing SafeRacer National Racing Series event in years.
With the National Championship Runoffs being held no further west than Kansas in the last 40-plus seasons, racing in the national spotlight has been a costly and time-consuming proposition for most west coast racers. This weekend is different, though, as the spotlight comes to racers of the Southern Pacific Division.
Cal Club Region hosts a healthy field of racers at Buttonwillow Raceway for a Double National this Saturday and Sunday, the second half of which is designated as both the BFGoodrich Tires Sopac Super Tour and a qualifying event for the coveted SCCA Super Sweep award.
The BFGoodrich Tires Super Tour provides some of the Runoffs atmosphere to six events across the country in 2011, including timely National electronic and print media coverage, special ceremonies celebrating the winners and additional event enhancements for racers, workers and fans alike.
While many of the names competing may not be immediately recognizable to the general membership because they race exclusively on the west coast, they represent some of the best talent the Club has to offer. The entry list also boasts a core group of National front-running drivers that have not only made their mark along the coast, but at the National Championship Runoffs as well.
Michael Lewis, of Poway, Calif., leads that list with five National Championships to his credit and is arguably the most successful SCCA Club Racing driver from the Southern Pacific Division. Lewis captured the 2010 title, as well as the prestigious Super Sweep award in the GT-1 class, and will be driving the same No. 12 Goodyear/Cyclo/Red Line Oil Jaguar XRK that carried him to that Championship this weekend.
Lewis' chief competition in GT-1 is SCCA legend Andy Porterfield. The Newport Beach, Calif., driver is a two-time National Champion and has been recognized for his long-term contributions to the organization both locally and Nationally with some of the Club's top awards. Still competitive as he approaches his 80th birthday, Porterfield will compete in his No. 5 Goodyear/Raybestos/Porterfield Brakes Chevrolet Camaro.
GT-3 features two drivers that continue to strive for their first National Championships, with a combined six runner-up Runoffs finishes between them. Mike Henderson, of El Cajon, Calif., appeared to be on his way to the 2010 title before he had contact with a lapped car, forcing him to the pits for repairs to his Mazda RX-7. His drive back to finish in second place for the second-straight year was nothing short of spectacular. Wolfgang Maike, of Santa Barbara, Calif., has been a top SCCA driver since the mid-1970s and has been a bridesmaid four times at the National Championships, most recently in 2008. He will battle Henderson and four others for GT-3 supremacy in his No. 15 Toyota/Goodyear/Red Line Oil Toyota Paseo.
Brian Linn, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., is widely considered as one of the best drivers in SCCA's production category to never win the Runoffs, having finished second four times. He will be tough to beat in F Production this weekend, driving his No. 11 CW Horton GC/Hoosier Tire/Red Line Oil Mazda Miata.
By day, Lee Niffenegger oversees the Club Racing activities of Honda Performance Development, the racing arm of American Honda. On the weekend, though, he straps on a helmet like many of the racers he helps during the week and competes in his No. 42 HPD/BFGoodrich Tires/Cobalt Friction Honda Civic Si in Showroom Stock B. The 2008 SSB National Champion, Niffenegger backed that run up with a pair of runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2010.
One driver opting to travel to the BFGoodrich Tires Super Tour event this weekend is J.R. Osborne, of Greenwood Village, Colo. In 2008, Osborne became the first driver to ever win both the C Sports Racing and D Sports Racing National Championships in the same year, in the same car. Osborne will be racing in the Formula 1000 class this weekend, driving the No. 83 Stohr/Hoosier/C3 Construction Stohr F1000.
While many of the familiar names to those outside of Southern California are established, long-running competitors in SCCA Club Racing and other forms of motorsports, the future of motorsports might also be represented this weekend as well. Tyler Vance, of Lareda Ranch, Calif., is in his second full season of competition, driving the No. 85 TMG/Rush Motorsport/Sparco Mazda Miata in Spec Miata. Vance was the first driver to apply for a Novice racing license from SCCA in 2010 when the Club expanded regulations to allow 15-year old drivers. Now 16, Vance is representative of the youth movement within the sport.
Both Saturday and Sunday will feature qualifying sessions and five feature races, set to crown 28 class winners. Following Saturday night's participant party, sponsored by BFGoodrich Tires, the Super Tour festivities will take place on Sunday, with class winners also qualifying for the first leg of the Super Sweep award, which recognizes drivers winning a key SafeRacer National Racing Series event, their Divisional point standings, the National point standings and the National Championship Runoffs, all in the same class.