Written by David S. Wallens
From the Feb. 2009 issue
Posted in Shop Work
Car enthusiasts are a hardy, focused bunch. Even when doom and gloom dominate the national news, they continue to raise the bar and outperform past achievements.
When some proclaim that the sky is falling and the apocalypse is just around the bend, gearheads often see it as the perfect time to unleash a groundbreaking product, set a record, or blow the competition into the weeds. It’s that half-full attitude that we annually celebrate with our Editors’ Choice Awards. After all, it’s the positive that inspires us to do even better.
Each winter we highlight the 20 people and products that made the preceding year such a memorable one. To celebrate our silver anniversary, just for kicks we decided to add five more standout achievements to our list.
Redline Time Attack
Time Trials for the Next Generation
Automotive time trial events have existed for decades. They enjoyed a stint of popularity in the U.S., but waning interest eventually encouraged the limelight to shine elsewhere. Time trials seemed to become the place where tired race cars were put out to pasture—cars that were too old or obsolete for wheel-to-wheel competition yet still had a few miles left in them. Faded paint and an overabundance of racer tape tended to define the scene.
Looks like the format just needed a new name and a fresh set of eyes to return to relevance. The Redline Time Attack bills itself as the only points-based nationwide time trial series, and their format is attracting some of today’s meanest machines, from wide-body, fire-breathing Subarus to force-fed Miatas. A few hundred drivers earned points during their 2008 season, and the easy-to-understand, nine-class format is a nice change from the way things were done way back when.
NASA Champ, Reality TV Star
Mike Skeen only received his regional road racing license in 2004, but he left a mark on our scene during 2008. On what can be called the local front, he scored 20 wins out of 32 starts in NASA Spec E30 competition while capping off the season with the national championship.
He also competed in a more visible venue, as millions saw him on “Setup,” a motorsports reality show broadcast on the Speed network. He had the highest average finish on the show.
Meet the Miata Master
Even though Eric Foss’s road racing career started back in the mid-’90s, he didn’t win a championship until this year—and he did so in dominating style: not once, but twice.
In the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Series, he claimed four poles and two wins en route to the series championship. His worst finish of the season was fourth place. Foss also ran Spec Miata races with the SCCA. He had four wins in four starts and wrapped up the year with a pole and win at the Runoffs.
Thanks to Mazda’s generosity, look for this Team MER driver at SCCA World Challenge events in 2009.
Making Better Autocrossers One Cone at a Time
On the surface, autocross looks so darn simple: Just drive cleanly through the cones quicker than anyone else. Unfortunately, everyone else is trying to do the same thing.
For 15 years, the Evolution Driving School has taught the finer art of autocross—the mind game as much as the physical one. Their graduates and teachers do well at The Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championships; according to Mike “Junior” Johnson, Evolution’s V.P., School graduates regularly make up more than half of the trophy winners at the championships.
The Next Big Thing in Spec Racing?
The 911 might get most of the attention from mainstream motorsports enthusiasts, but Porsche’s front-engine, four-banger cars also make great racers. They’re quick, robust and blessed with a great chassis. The 944 Cup & Super Cup series feature Porsche’s 924S, 944, 944S2, 968 and 944 Turbo, and the class has been on a roll. Nearly 30 cars made it to the NASA Championships.
Best Racing Sim Ever?
From Atari’s “Night Driver” to Playstation’s “Gran Turismo” series, most of us have logged some seat time in front of a screen. This year, iRacing blew away mere video games with their online motorsports simulation program. Detailed physics and intense competition at accurately modeled tracks attracted many “real” racers to this form of competition. (In fact, during a recent iRacing session, one of us faced off against Editors’ Choice pick Eric Foss.)
Debut Site Shines Bright
Holding a relatively new national championship event at a brand-new site can be a daunting process, but we’d have to call the SCCA’s inaugural RallyCross National Championship at Tennessee’s Nashville Superspeedway a success. The surface, location and camaraderie all helped to make the club’s second-ever RallyCross National Championships a memorable weekend.
Here’s another thing to consider: We have been told that RallyCross is one of the SCCA’s fastest-growing programs, so we see this new venue as the first step for a future legacy.
The Racer’s Group
From a Home Garage to Le Mans
Go back almost 20 years, and Kevin Buckler was an autocrosser with the dream to go big. Buckler eventually gravitated to track events and Porsche Club of America club races, and by the early ’90s he was building race cars for customers in his home garage.
Buckler entered his first pro race in 1995—and won it. Since then, Buckler’s The Racer’s Group has become a dominant team that can boast wins at Daytona and Sebring. In 2008, they fielded as many as seven cars in the Grand-Am Rolex series plus additional entries in the Koni Challenge and IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge. While they didn’t win a championship this year, they were always a major player thanks to their deep driver roster.
Touring Car Trifecta
Talk about domination. RealTime Racing’s team drivers swept the top three spots in the SCCA Speed World Challenge Touring Car points race this past year. Team boss Peter Cunningham grabbed the title, while Pierre Kleinubing and Kuno Wittmer rounded out the top three. A nine-point spread separated the trio in the final standings.
Remembering a Class Act
Cool Hand Luke did a lot of great things in his life. He served his country in wartime, made a slew of memorable films, and donated millions of dollars to charity. Newman was also a heck of a racer, capturing four SCCA Club Racing titles plus class wins at Le Mans and Daytona. Sadly, Newman passed away Sept. 26, 2008, at 83.
And that’s when the stories of encounters started filling up motorsports message boards, ours included. They ranged from bumping into him in the press room and watching his tube-frame Corvette lap Lime Rock Park to simply seeing him hanging out in Daytona’s garages. For a guy who could have surrounded himself in a castle fashioned from solid gold bricks, he decided to spend his weekends with people like us—and for that he will be missed.
Mustang Shelby GT
Shelby Builds Another Weekend Warrior
Back in the ’60s, Shelby-modified Mustangs dominated the amateur motorsports scene. Fast-forward to today, and that’s happening again thanks to the Ford Shelby GT.
This isn’t the fire-breathing, supercharged GT500 model that’s been on the cover of all the buff books. Instead, we’re talking about a Mustang that’s aimed right at our world. For the 2008 model year, approximately 2300 Mustang GTs visited Shelby Automobiles to receive a cold-air kit, free-flow exhaust system with X-pipe, Ford Racing Handling Pack, Hurst shifter, 3.55:1 final drive, ECU recalibration and some cosmetic enhancements.
The end result is a Mustang that’s just a little edgier than stock—and fast, too, as it quickly became the dominant car in SCCA F Stock autocross competition. Sam Strano took the big win this fall in a Shelby, and most of his competition was similarly equipped.
Homegrown Fuel Alternative
Fuel prices threw everyone a curve ball this year. After creeping up in recent years, they spiked to new heights during the summer of 2008. Consumption went down while mass transit use went up. Those who like to roll their own found a new way to stick it to The Man: veggie-powered vehicles. Greasecar’s straight vegetable oil conversions quickly became a hot topic, and used diesel-powered Volkswagens and Benzes were suddenly hot commodities.
Georgian Bay Motorsports
A Dominant Koni Challenge Season
Today’s hot compacts get to slug it out in the Grand-Am Koni Challenge, with many teams favoring the Honda Civic Si, BMW 330i and Mazda RX-8. Georgian Bay Motorsports showed that the Chevy Cobalt SS is also a worthy competitor as they recorded four wins on their way to the Street Tuner class title. The team’s efforts also helped Jamie Holtom to the drivers title and Chevrolet to the manufacturers title.
Automotive Madness Springs From His Fertile Mind
Whether an entrant, spectator, concours judge or even magazine staff member, there’s a question everyone seems to ask upon arriving at our $200X Challenge events: Did you see what Andy Nelson built?
His recipe seems simple at first—a big engine stuffed inside a small car—but it’s the details that keep the wows coming, from his handmade 180-degree exhaust headers to his incredible flea market finds. His regular 10-second passes are also the stuff of legend, as he notes that getting the horsepower to the ground—a detail many forget—is paramount. One more nugget of impressive info: His day job has nothing to do with the automotive field.
An Impressive Rookie Run
At the end of each year, Mazdaspeed Motorsports Development helps a few drivers move to the next step on the competition ladder. As the 2007 SCCA Pro Racing Sirius Satellite Radio Mazda MX-5 Cup Champion, Jason Saini was given a full-season ride with Tri-Point Motorsports in the SCCA Speed World Challenge series for 2008. He didn’t disappoint, as this two-time Solo national champion finished fifth in World Challenge points to take rookie of the year honors.
Scoring Ferrari’s First SCCA Title
You’d think that Ferrari has a ton of SCCA national titles to its credit, but that’s not the case. In fact, LevelFive Motorsports driver Ed Zabinski gave Ferrari its first SCCA national title this past October, as he took the Touring 1 win at the Runoffs in a Ferrari 360 Modena.
Go On, Be an Exhibitionist
Why shouldn’t the rest of the world enjoy your motorsports escapades? GoPro’s wireless on-board cameras make easy in-car videos a reality, and lately they have simply saturated our market with their sub-$200 setups. The cameras are small, waterproof and easy to use.
Pacific Northwest’s Latest Treasure
Who says that only the national racing series produce big thrills? Check out the Pacific Northwest’s Pro 3, a series for the 1987-’91 BMW 325i that’s hosted by the International Conference of Sports Car Clubs.
Forty-five drivers earned points during 2008, with Jeff Van Lierop taking the championship at the final event. He beat Andrew Newell by just three points, 248 to 245. The series also helps the community, as it raised more than $7000 this past year for the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and the BMW CCA Foundation.
Falken Ziex ZE-912
Value Meets Performance
Whether you’re talking about home stereo equipment or four nights in Manhattan, everyone loves a good value. When it comes to sporty street tires, the Falken Ziex ZE-512 was the value leader for several years. It provided good grip and long life without costing a fortune. The new Ziex ZE-912 maintains that family tradition, claiming the top spot in our summer’s sub-$50 tire shootout.
Japan’s Ultimate Supercar Finally Comes Here
We have been fortunate that most of Japan’s supercars have come stateside in one form or another, from the Toyota Supra to the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. Up until recently, there has been one glaring omission: the Nissan Skyline GT-R. Finally, after years of waiting, Nissan brought their twin-turbo, all-wheel-drive terror to our shores this past July. While its $75,000 price isn’t for everyone, the GT-R’s very impressive thrust and 7:29 Nürburgring lap time quickly made it one of the most talked about cars of 2008.
Putting Rally Before the Masses
For most of recorded history, performance rally just hasn’t gotten mainstream attention here in the States. We like to call it the automotive equivalent of soccer: Where rally drivers like Carlos Sainz and Sébastien Loeb are celebrated as national heroes overseas, here the sport barely registers a blip, even among the automotive press.
The X Games have been working to change that. This annual extreme sport competition hosted by cable network powerhouse ESPN put its own spin on rally racing a few years ago. While some of the hardcore fans have cried foul, nothing before has put the sport in front of such a large American audience.
The addition of Rally Car Racing to the X Games lineup has done three things. For one, it has given rallying the attention of a televised audience; its millions of viewers were raised on a steady diet of more traditional extreme sports like skateboarding, surfing and BMX. In theory, the exposure should help bolster entries on the local level.
Two, rally regulars like Andrew Comrie-Picard, Travis Hanson and Paul Choiniere have finally gotten the TV time that they deserve.
Finally, rallying has gotten a shot in the arm from a new wave of talent. A recent article on the EXPN Web site noted how performance rally is almost becoming a retirement community for extreme athletes looking for a safer adrenaline fix. Motocross talent turned rally star Travis Pastrana started the trend, and recent converts include BMX freestyle legend Dave Mirra, freestyle motocross’s Kenny Bartram, and pro skateboarder Bucky Lasek.
The Ultimate Driving Machine
We have been fans of the BMW M3 since the first ones rolled out of Germany 20-plus years ago. The cars have always displayed the perfect marriage of performance and practicality. The latest model raised the bar one more notch; it offers supercar performance without much compromise, as it’s still comfortable and composed at legal speeds.
Doin’ the Hustle
We love drivers who hustle—you know, the ones who go above and beyond the norm. Paul Brown was one of those guys during this summer’s NASA-sanctioned Hankook Ultimate Track Car Challenge, as he brought a pair of cars to the competition. After posting laps in the Tiger Racing Morgan Aero 8 GTR, he’d jog over to the team’s Porsche 911 GT3 Cup for another go during that same session. At the end of the day, he had both cars in the top five.
All Kinds o’ Automotive Fun
For those who take motorsports too seriously, we present HyperFest. It takes place each summer at West Virginia’s Summit Point Raceway and appropriately bills itself as pure automotive nirvana. While the schedule features a full slate of NASA races, it’s the other activities on the weekend’s card that make it such a must-do event: live music, drift competition, a rollover contest and, a crowd favorite, the Daredevil Throwdown. Several different events actually make up the Daredevil Throwdown, with this summer’s schedule featuring the Blind Driver Cart Races, Pit Man Challenge, Jalapeño Pepper Eating Contest, and Girls of HyperFest Hoola Hoop Throwdown.
Miller Cup Domination
The Ford Racing Mustang Challenge for the Miller Cup was new for 2008, and it quickly produced a dominant driver. Andrew Caddell won the opening round at Road Atlanta’s Classic Motorsports Mitty and never looked back, posting three wins in eight starts to take the series title by nearly 80 points. His worst finish was a fourth. With the title comes a little bonus: Caddell will drive a Grand-Am Koni Challenge Mustang during the Daytona season opener.
the yellow drifting m3 is Dado from dtmpower.net
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