Who is faster? Whether on foot, horse, chariot, motorcycle or car—man has had the need to fulfill his innermost desires to be the fastest, the best, the Champion. In road racing, many years before World War II, the manufacturers of the automobile proved it in places like Brooklands, Nürburgring, and the like.
But after World War II, as the U.S. boys came home victorious from Europe, they brought with them odd automobiles: Sportscars. These nimble machines were designed to be quick, rather than fast. They were light—unlike the heavy, poor handling vehicles being produced by Detroit. They had smaller engines, but provided its owner a thrill in spirited driving. They were Alfa Romeos, MGs, Porsches, Austins, Bugattis….
Naturally, while these alien cars looked beautiful, it was performance that made them so different—and clubs sprung up around the country to sanction races for these men (and some women) and their unique autos. One of the clubs formed in 1944, and became a national sanctioning body in 1948 which still exists today, was the Sportscar Club of America (SCCA).
Broken up into 9 divisions, each with several regions, the SCCA remains the powerhouse of amateur club-based road racing in the United States, with several professional series mixed in through the years including the fabled Can-Am and Trans-Am series. The Runoffs have several classes of cars—27 in 2014—and the event fills an entire week in order to get the diversity of machinery practiced, qualified, and raced. Everything from small and mid-bore open wheel formula cars, to touring cars, to big-bore GT-1 monsters and prototypes shows up to compete.
For many the Runoffs is an annual pilgrimage, with racers, families and friends converging on the host track en force. 2014’s car count was greater than 700. This year marked the first time that the premium SCCA national championship event visited the West Coast since 1968. It has a much more grassroots and family feel as one explores the paddock - rather than their professional counterparts’ secretive and exclusive nature, these guys help each other, share tools and resources, and are friends in the paddock. Naturally that kinship ends as they line up on the grid and the red mist cascades over their eyes as the helmet visor drops.
Since 1964, the SCCA has sought to crown national champions by pitting the regional and divisional champions from around the country against one another. Originally called the American Road Race of Champions, the event crisscrossed the continent on alternate years between Riverside International Raceway and Daytona International Raceway ultimately finding a home for more than 20 years at Road Atlanta. Being dubbed the Runoffs in 1987, the event had a long stay at Mid Ohio before moving to Heartland Park in Topeka then to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
For 2014-2016, the SCCA decided to take the national championship back to its roots of crisscrossing the country. The 2104 classic was held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and will then go to Daytona and Mid Ohio in the coming subsequent years.
The list of participants and national champions at the Runoffs read like a who’s-who of racing greats including Mark Donahue, Jerry Titus, Chuck Parsons, Scooter Patrick, Bob Sharp, Scott Sharp, Dick Gulstrand, Ed Leslie, Don Yenko, Bob Tulius, John Morton, Bobby Rahal and Roger Penske. The cars that have been raced through the years have not been purely sports cars either. Just about every marque and car type has found a class in the SCCA and are clearly represented each year from Ferraris and Porsches to Mini Coopers and AMC Pacers.
The undisputed king of the SCCA National Champions is a stock broker from Brainerd Minnesota named Jerry Hansen who holds 27. While Hansen forayed somewhat successfully into pro racing, including the Can-Am, Formula 5000 and Trans-Am series, as well as track management as the owner of Brainerd International Raceway, he was best known as the foremost amateur racer in America from the mid-1960’s to the 1980’s.
The 2014 SCCA Runoffs did not disappoint the faithful. A huge car count with racing machines dating as far back as the inception of the championship itself to serious teams with professional level equipment. Dating back to the 1970’s the Japanese marques such as Mazda, Nissan, Toyota and Honda are also well represented. Mazda, who enjoys the moniker of the “most raced on any given Sunday,” held a dinner for all it’s teams and drivers on the Wednesday night of the event—with at least 500 people crowding into the Red Bull Center to enjoy the gratitude of Mazda Motorsports Chief John Doonan, who’s division supplies parts to all the Miatas, Formula Mazdas, RX7s and prototype cars.
Spec Miata—in its own run group saw 43 starters—and possibly provides the most entertaining racing for the spectator as the "political correctness" of gentlemanly racing is thrown out the window in what becomes a "bump and rub" fest with competitors bumping off one anothers side panels to brake and sneak through corners with. Now at age 25 and considered “vintage”, Miatas have still not quite found a home in the quieter, low key world of vintage racing - in general other classes are scared of these guys.
Win or lose this is serious racing, but done in the name of sport. Few prima donnas can be found here—but real racers abound. Men and women who seek the rush of adrenaline, to improve lap times, to beat that guy who got them last year… Overall, the SCCA Runoffs delivers several slices of road racing in America—held closely by heartfelt amateurs who race not for money (they generally spend far more than they could ever recoup) but for a trophy and the glory of being THE BEST.
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