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Mr. (Purple) Frog Hits the Big Time
If there were 800 drivers entered at the 2005 Runoffs (the last one at Mid-Ohio), then there were at least that many stories associated with them. This is just one of them:
Mike Eakin and I have known each other longer than we haven’t. We first met in 1968 at Florida State University where he introduced me to the concept of a VW Beetle as a high performance vehicle. We were best men at each other’s first weddings and we attended our first Runoffs at Road Atlanta in November 1971. Together we autocrossed a much modified Karmann Ghia in the early 70’s, then he went his way with open-wheeled cars while I continued down the tin-top path. We lost contact during the middle years, but I was one of the first people he called when he decided to get into Club Racing in 1998 and we’ve crewed for each other ever since. Even though he continues to live in Tallahassee, FL, he joined Atlanta Region in 2003.
During five years of knocking around in Solo I and SARRC, Mike became “the voice” of the FC community. When F2000.com launched he signed up as “Purple Frog” and through all it’s iterations (now known as www.ApexSpeed.com) has become the leading poster on the web site by a three-to-one margin. He is almost always the first to answer questions from new racers yet has built a rapport with the established veterans with his witty prose and insightful comments. Even though successful on the track, he never lost sight of the challenges faced by beginning racers.
At any rate, after Mike won the 2003 CFC Championship he set his sights on finally competing at the Runoffs - a dream he’d had since we first leaned against that chain link fence back in 1971. He knew he didn’t have the budget to run at the front (the self-proclaimed “King Of Cheap” often uses tires culled from others’ castoffs), so his goals were to (1) earn an invitation, (2) take the green flag and (3) finish on the lead lap.
Mike ran selected Nationals (he skipped the highly-subscribed Winter Nationals) to finish sixth in SEDIV points, thus satisfying goal #1. During Wednesday morning’s qualifying session, however, Mike got caught up in a massive accident just over the hill after (the sun-blinded) Turn 11. The purple and green Tatuus of Purple Frog Racing was totaled and the driver was on his way to the hospital to have the tips of the fingers on his right hand sewed back on.
Word got out on the internet and offers of loaner cars came flooding in. Not wanting to have to repair/replace two cars in case of another wreck, however, Mike politely declined the offers and opted to head to Niagra Falls Wednesday evening. Led by Atlanta Region members Marshall Aiken and Sean O’Connell, the members of ApexSpeed.com were not to be denied, however, and an “insurance fund” was quickly organized and pledges of over $20,000 were collected to cover the Van Dieman offered by the Carters (creators of ApexSpeed.com). Mike was blown away by the support and headed back to the track.
There are too many names to mention, but while we prepped the car on Friday there was a constant stream of well wishers coming by the paddock spot. It was an amazing display of what Club Racing is all about.
Having changed cars after qualifying ended (the first time he drove the car was during Saturday morning's warm-up), the #48 car had to start in 31st place at the back of the grid. After taking the green flag (goal #2) Mike moved up a couple of places and was getting comfortable with the car. Unfortunately the engine started smoking slightly and the clutch began going away from an internal oil leak, so Mike was unable to improve any further. He soldiered on however (word is the Stewards, knowing the story, refused to let him be meat-balled for the smoke) and took the checkered flag one lap down to the leaders. The crowd rose to its feet on his cool-off lap and cheered as much for him as they did for the winners.
At the awards banquet Saturday night the members of ApexSpeed.com were awarded SCCA’s Sportsmanship Award and Mike was asked to accept it on their behalf. Reportedly there was not a dry eye in the house when he finished his eloquent (and lengthy) thank you speech to all involved in making his dream a reality. The icing on the cake was having the whole episode mentioned by Dave Despain in his closing segment on Wind Tunnel that Sunday evening.