50th Anniversary of the Runoffs for Jim Downing
The very first SCCA Runoffs happened at the late lamented Riverside raceway in 1964, and this week the 50th annual Runoffs are taking place at Road America. Just one driver in the paddock raced in both events: Jim Downing. Downing is a legend in his own right as one of the developers of the HANS device, but few know that he remains an active racer.
Downing's Runoffs history began with the pole position of the first race of the event – Formula Vee. The young racer finished 10th that day. 50 years later, he's 9th on grid for the C Sports Racer contest.
Asked about his observations, Downing says not all that much has changed: “We're just a bunch of people who want to go racing. I suppose it's gotten more complicated – if you don't show up with three computers, you might as well stay home. A lot of effort goes into being here.”
Downing has two podium finishes in 11 Runoffs entries – a pair of thirds, with the most recent in 2011.
Spec Miata Track Records Shattered
The first 15 cars on the grid in Spec Miata this year are all under the existing Road America track record for the class. That's an amazing statistic on its own, but what's more impressive is that all those 15 drivers set their fast times in a single session. Tuesday's first qualifier offered ideal conditions for speed – clear and cool.
“The weather was perfect, and there's been a little development in the cars,” says second place qualifier Craig Berry.
Since Tuesday, Road America has been hit with a series of thunderstorms that have dampened qualifying times, and the weather forecast for Friday's race remains uncertain.
“If it rains, all bets are off and anyone could win,” says 15th-place qualifier Todd Lamb.
Lamb is a past NASA national champion in SM, and the list of past SCCA SM champions in the top 15 includes Andrew Von Charbonneau, Steve Gorriaran, Elivan Goulart, as well as last year's champion and current polesitter Jim Drago.
“If it's dry we're going to try to get a little bit of a gap and get pressure off us. If it's wet it's just go go go,” Drago says.
Pre-Race Crashes Change Competitive Landscape
It's said there are two types of race drivers – those who have crashed and those who will. All drivers accept the possibility of a crash, but certainly no one plans to stuff their race car in a wall.
At this year's SCCA National Championship Runoffs, the competitive landscape changed drastically before the event even got underway. Several major contenders crashed in weekend practice before the event formally began on Monday.
Three-time EP champion Jon Brakke crashed his Miata over the weekend, sending him home. Also out is last year's STL champion Ray Huffmaster after a weekend shunt. Scott Rettich is a pro racer, two-time Formula Enterprises champion, and frequent contender in Spec Racer Ford. He suffered an unavoidable front-end hit with a spinning car in Sunday practice, taking him out of the SRF battle. Also in Formula Enterprises, contender Marshall Mauney left his Runoffs hopes in the tire wall on Sunday.
“I missed an apex by inches, and just couldn't save it,” Mauney says.
With several top contenders already on the trailer, many of these races have been left wide open for the remaining competitors.
Follow all the Runoffs action live via online Timing & Scoring here: http://www.sccahost.com/sccalive/
• For detailed coverage of the 50th SCCA National Runoffs, go to scca.com/runoffs. The races can also be seen live Sept. 20-22, on www.SpeedcastTV.com.