TOPEKA, Kan. (Oct. 12, 2008) – Lee Niffenegger, of Delaware, Ohio, claimed his first National Championship in style, winning the Showroom Stock B title as well as the SCCA Chicago Region Triple Crown®. Chad Gilsinger, of Marysville, Ohio, and Kenneth Flory, of Commerce Township, Mich., completed the SSB podium at the 45th SCCA National Championship Runoffs, at Heartland Park Topeka.
Shortly after the green flag appeared from the starter’s stand, the dust began to fly as Robert Schader’s No. 12 Hoosier/Miatacage.com/RedLine Mazda MX-5, Jeff Jensen’s No. 40 Pikes Peak Acura/Hoosier Acura RSX Type-S and Alan Yankielun’s No. 16 Hoosier/Carbotech/Dawes got together approaching Corner Alpha. Finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The No. 99 Whitehead Chev/GMPerf/Kumho Chevrolet Camaro of Stan Czacki and No. 32 Hoosier Tire/Dreyer&Reinbold Mini Cooper S of Ralph Porter were also dragged into the incident. Jensen was the only car able to continue, which in turn brought out the full-course yellow to clean up what remained. None of the drivers were injured.
When green flag racing resumed on lap six, polesitter Niffenegger led Gilsinger and the No. 25 Hoosier/Phoeniz/Carbotech Pontiac Solstice of Michael Scornavacchi into Turn One. Niffenegger began to pull out a lead of nearly two seconds as Gilsinger and Scornavacchi battled for second. When Scornavacchi passed Gilsinger on lap nine, he immediately set his sights on Niffenegger’s No. 42 Honda/BFG/Cobalt/Traqmate Honda Civic Si.
Once Scornavacchi caught Niffenegger on lap 11, the next four laps were a constant back-and-forth battle, the two often crossing the start-finish line side-by-side. On lap 15, Scornavacchi used a bit too much of the road, hitting the curb at Turn 10 which resulted in a flat tire and the end of his race. With only three laps remaining Niffenegger sailed to the checkered flag, winning by 8.129 seconds.
“[Scornavacchi] was running me down pretty quick,” Niffenegger said. “I wasn’t going to make it too easy on him. It was just playing to the strengths of the car and driving a defensive line. I didn’t block, but I did drive down to the inside and guarantee that Mike had to go around the outside going into four. We were both sliding wide, and didn’t touch at all, but he went off and blew a tire and that was that. It was a pretty good feeling. I don’t think I could have held him off. His car was very fast.”
Behind Niffenegger, a similar battle was playing out for the runner-up spot between Gilsinger and defending Champion Flory, who had initially dropped back to fifth on the start, but had worked his way back to third on lap 14. Mirroring the battle that had just played out ahead of them, Gilsinger’s No. 07 BFG/Traqmate/Honda Civic Si and Flory’s No. 8 Pratt & Miller/Hoosier Pontiac Solstice spent the closing laps of the race glued to each others’ bumpers. Though the pressure from Flory was tremendous, Gilsinger held strong to take second place.
Richard Cullen, of Marshfield, Mass., and Chase Lin, of Lewis Center, Ohio, completed the top five.
Ken Payson, of Worcester, Ma., earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for advancing seven positions during the race in the No. 95 Mazda/Hoosier/RedLine Mazda MX-5.
The SSB National Championship race will air on SPEED Wednesday, Jan. 21, at noon (EST).