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Road Atlanta National, March 30-31, 2002

Because the northern regions have not yet started their seasons, the late March National at Road Atlanta National has traditionally drawn top out-of-division drivers looking to get a jump on their fellow competitors. Even though it fell on Easter weekend, this year was no exception. Michael Lewis brought his TransAm Jaguar to get some seat time prior the Pro season opener at Long Beach. Tom Patton brought his "GT-1.5" Sunbeam Tiger to renew his annual battle with Bill Reid’s always quick Toyota in GT-2, but the biggest stir was caused by the arrival of the famous salad dressing maker and former National Champion, P.L. Newman. Add in the usual SEDIV stalwarts like John Finger, Phil Simms & David Rankin and you have a pretty decent test of the changes we made to the B.K. Racing Corvette over the winter. The only bummer of the weekend is that we didn’t get a single dry session the entire weekend.

In the Group 5 big bore group (GT-1, GT-2, GT-3, AS, T-1 & T-2), we had gone out for the first qualifying session on slicks but the rain started just as we left the grid. The B.K. Racing pit crew had never even practiced a four-tire stop in the shop, much less done one "under the gun", but the biggest delay was me finding our pit stall because the windshield was fogging up! In less than a minute after stopping I was back on the track along with my "defogger" (a short-handled broom with paper towels taped to the end), so I tried to get in some laps without sliding off the track and/or hitting anyone. At the end of the 15 minute session my best lap of 2:00.313 was good for 8th overall of 30 cars and fourth of the 11 GT-1 cars in attendance. All four T-1 cars were ahead of me on the grid (one of the benefits of a factory defroster) while Newman demonstrated he still had it by qualifying third. Phil Simms in his ex-Tom Coleman Corvette was on the pole with a 1:49.904, but he had come to the grid with a wet set-up and ran his fast time on his very first lap. Not wanting to take a chance of tearing up his ride with Long Beach coming up, Lewis didn’t turn a lap all day Saturday. Final GT-1 qualifying: 

CP

OA

Car #

Name

Car

Best Lap

1

1

24

Phil Simms

Corvette

1.49.904

2

3

77

Paul Newman

Camaro

1.57.180

3

4

88

Larry Huang

Panoz GTS

1.57.289

4

8

57

Butch Kummer

Corvette

2.00.313

5

9

83

Brad Ward

Panoz GTS

2.01.408

6

10

14

John Finger

Mustang

2.01.775

7

11

41

Scott Loftfield

Panoz GTS

2.02.641

8

22

30

Richard Grant

Camaro

2.21.601

9

23

04

David Rankin

Camaro

2.23.520

10

30

22

Joe Freda

Camaro

2.56.398

11

-

12

Michael Lewis

Jaguar

NT 

The weather forecast for Sunday was overcast (but dry) in the morning with showers starting around 3:00 in the afternoon. The sun actually shone at times during the early races but the clouds were gathering in the west and everyone was trying to determine what kind of race we were facing. Short story is that we again arrived at the grid on slicks, but made the decision before the five minute warning to back out and switch to rains. The severe rain hit moments later and the stewards (correctly) made the decision to call it a "rain race" and give all teams an extra 15 minutes to prepare their cars. All the top cars took that time to change to rains whle Lewis chose to remove his car from the back of the grid and save it for a (non)rainy day.

At the green (still raining) I was tentative going into One behind the four T-1 cars battling for position while John Finger dove inside all of us to demote me to fifth in class. I cleared the T-1 cars by the time we got to Six, then passed the fourth place Panoz of Larry Huang on the back straight. The next few laps were uneventful other than verifying that my newly designed and installed defroster system really was working and that the visibility problems of Saturday were much improved. About halfway into lap five, however, we ran into a torrential rainstorm going from Five to Six and noticed cars sliding off both sides of the road. I backed things down a notch to make sure I stayed on the pavement as we finished lap five, then passed the #77 car (Newman) in the esses on lap six. My familiarity with Road Atlanta served me well as I stayed on the track in blinding conditions, passed some more cars on the back straight, then noticed the "Black Flag All" sign was out at Turn Nine. They were calling all of cars into the pits to clear the track and wait until the heavy showers subsided. As we rolled down pit road Mike Eakin was informing me over the radio that I was first overall! I knew I had passed Newman, but apparently Simms had gone off the track and I found out later that Finger had pulled off on lap 3.

Rather than starting us as we finished lap six, they reverted back to the order in which we crossed the line finishing lap five. Simms had gotten pulled back to pits and his crew was anxiously waiting to repair damage from where he'd brushed the wall, so the order was Newman, five lapped cars, then me and the rest of the field. Although I was second overall, I had some traffic to work through before I could see if I had anything for the #77 car. After the restart it again took me half a lap to work my way through (did I mention I was being tentative in the rain?) and by then Newman was long gone. We got another chance when they had a full-course caution two laps later to remove Joe Freda's Camaro from a precarious spot in Turn Five, and this time I was right on Newman's bumper for the re-start. I hung fairly close until we got to Turn Seven, then all I saw was water vapor. So did we have anything for the #77 car? Not this weekend.

 For the rest of the race I simply tried to stay on the pavement and not make any mistakes. Simms blew past me about three laps from the end, then passed Newman for what he thought was the win right before the checkered flag. However, since he had not taken the pace lap (which counts as a race lap) after the race was stopped, he was actually just unlapping himself. We ended up second in GT-1 and second overall, officially 34.549 seconds behind Newman. In impound I introduced myself and told him he drove a helluva race for an Old Fart (well, maybe I phrased it differently). I can also absolutely refute any reports you might see saying he ran the entire race with his left turn indicator on – it just ain’t so!

The final results: 

CP

OA

Name

Car

# Laps

Best Lap

1

1

Paul Newman

Camaro

17

1.43.195

2

2

Butch Kummer

Corvette

17

1.49.459

3

6

Brad Ward

Panoz GTS

17

1.55.989

4

8

Phil Simms

Corvette

17

1.38.900

5

14

Scott Loftfield

Panoz GTS

16

2.00.854

6

15

David Rankin

Camaro

16

1.58.428

7

24

Larry Huang

Panoz GTS

11

1.56.032

-

DNF

Joe Freda

Camaro

4

2.09.188

-

DNF

Richard Grant

Camaro

3

2.11.316

-

DNF

John Finger

Mustang

2

1.50.327

-

DNS

Michael Lewis

Jaguar

   

Our next race is June 8 & 9, again at Road Atlanta. See y'all at the track...