AMATEUR HOUR: A day’s log of the SCCA Runoffs

The Sports Car Club of America is the largest operating racing sanctioning body in the United States. Making up 116 regions and over 67,500 registered racers, the whole schema surmounts to their big event: The Runoffs. Every season the Runoffs is hosted by a different track. This year, they added the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the rotation- Pulling an unprecedented 969 entries from around the country. The entire 1,025-acre facility was filled to the brim with Miatas, Spec Racing Fords, Formula cars, GTs, and others.

For a large majority, this is their first time at the famed raceway, and the significance was not lost. You must qualify in order to participate in this event, and for most, that road is steeped with tough competition. It is an honor simply to start the main race for each class. Over a week of qualifying and pre-races boil each class down to at most 72 cars.

The challenge in covering this event is the magnitude. This whole experience was huge. Not in the way that the Indianapolis 500 is, but in trying to wrangle the all of the details, I found my mind swimming. Instead of a race report or traditional driver feature, I set myself adrift through the pits to discover. In this, I met some very interesting people, came across some strange pit stall decorations, and learned a lot about the world of SCCA racing. Here is a log of my day in the ocean of SCCA.

10:35 am
Arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway greeted by a yellow shirt and the familiar drone of cars on track. One of the last-chance races was already underway.

10:45 am
Keep the party going.

11:16 am

After fighting the stream of cars, motor homes, and people, I located the crew that had adopted me from the week. We set off for high ground to watch their last driver compete in the next race.

11:45 am
Tucked into the breezy shade of the inside grandstands deep in turn 4, the 72 car Gen 3 Spec Racing Ford field is set for green. I have never seen so many cars on track at once.

12:35 pm
The race concluded with few issues. Our competitor fought valiantly, improving eighteen positions to finish 46th in the official results. In celebration upon us all reuniting in the pits, one of the crew members yells the mantra/battle cry for the week: “It’s F**KING INDY!”

1:00 pm
While perusing the many speedway souvenir shops in search for a gift to give his generous sponsors, my study for the week is a driver by the name of Connor Solis from the San Francisco region. Aspiring to professional levels of competition, Solis came to his first Runoffs with a destination in mind. “Indy, of course, is significant, but my goal this year was the Runoffs no matter where it went.” he said, “I want to race in IMSA or the Pirelli World Challenge someday.” He is not alone in this crowd; SCCA provides a greater platform and feeder system to the major leagues. Finishing 7th among the fifty entries in his class, Solis walked away from the Runoffs with new contacts and an impressive new point added to his racing resume.

1:32 pm
I found the unicorn pit.

1:45 pm
Drivers Amy Mills and Whitfield Gregg from the New York district explain to me why they participate in the SCCA. “It’s a hobby,” says Gregg. “Racing is just for bragging rights. The SCCA will just give you a trophy; a sponsor might award you tires or something for winning… Some people golf for fun- we do this.” Mills was the only female driver racing a Spec Miata. “I am most proud of being a woman out there in my class and being respected as just another driver,” she said. “Amateur doesn’t mean bad driver, there is some really great competition out there.”

2:30 pm
A home away from home for the week, many teams find ways to make their pits comfortable. In walking though the stalls close to the Pagoda I found this one that featured what appeared to be pictures of previous wins and inspirational quotes from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. “If you ain’t first, you’re last!”

3:05 pm
I love that rumbling noise of the cars as they glide under the tunnel that connects pit lane to Gasoline Alley.

4:15 pm
Time for a quick nap.

4:45 pm
Ran into Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles out enjoying the race weekend. “I am always out here,” he grinned as the Prototype race came down for the green.

5:10 pm
The view peeking through the sky bridge above the back straightaway over the 15-turn, 2.592-mile road course.

5:42 pm
Came across the most elaborate pit set up around. Complete with inflatable furniture, party lights, and a full-sized doughboy pool, this crew from Jupiter, Florida was camping in style. “The pool came in real handy when it was muggy earlier this week,” laughed driver John Kauffman, “as it started to cool down in the evenings, we are trying to find a way to heat it like a hot tub!” Their efforts were apparently unsuccessful.

6:01 pm
This Mustang, like most other cars and pits, were tucked in for the night. Ready for the long trek home to every corner of the United States, and awaiting next year’s Runoffs that will be held at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.

The Brickyard 400 in Pictures: A cultural phenomena

NASCAR and Indycar are two very different worlds. The fans, the cars and the whole spectacle of it all is like comparing apples and oranges. Working around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that difference is striking when comparing the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400.

Trying to integrate a younger crowd into the race weekend, there was a large two day concert festival called ‘400 Fest’. Main attractions included Major Lazer, the Chainsmokers and other electronic ‘dance’ type music.
The race itself was a feat of endurance. Withstanding a rain delay and 14 yellows, Kasey Kahne prevailed as the winner in the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet.

Walking through the hallowed grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there was something interesting to capture around every corner. This is: The Brickyard 400 in pictures.

Rhodes to Success

Rhodes-8

“Racing is a selfish sport,” Marco Andretti once quipped. In the last turn, on the last lap, Andretti had just robbed another competitor of a podium finish. He made no apologies…and no truer words were ever spoken.

Conversely, Brad Rhodes may well be the most unselfish racer I’ve ever met. He hosted foster children in his home for over a decade. Today he manages a house occupied by mentally and physically challenged adults. He finds the work rewarding…and oh yeah, did I mention that he is the 2014 Northwest Wingless Tour (NWWT) champion? The path Rhodes took to get to this point in his life was an interesting one…

He was born in North Carolina into a family of loggers. “Dad was my inspiration,” Rhodes says. “He wasn’t a racer but he was a driver.” In his early twenties, the senior Rhodes had nearly been killed in a logging accident. He walked with a profound limp but loved to drive fast. “He was a wild man on the road,” Brad insists. “That was his racing.” Early on, the family pulled up stakes and relocated to Eugene, Oregon where extended family had already settled. Rhodes learned how to drive piloting his father’s hot-rodded truck on their rural property. He even attended the races at Riverside Speedway in Cottage Grove a couple times as a boy. Though he enjoyed the spectacle, he wasn’t smitten…then. Instead it was dirt bikes that captured his fancy.

For about ten years (early nineties to 2003) Rhodes and a buddy hauled their Honda CR500’s back and forth from Eugene to the dunes. A decade of playing in the sand certainly taught him some seat-of-the-pants vehicle control. It was fun but it wasn’t racing.

Then financial hard times struck. Rhodes had trained to be a brick layer but he didn’t have the back for it. He’d switched to electrical about the time the bottom fell out. A contact back in Tennessee suggested that prospects for work might be better back there. Rhodes sold his Honda, his house, everything and moved his young family southeast. It turned out to be a huge mistake. His union training was frowned upon in a non-union market and Rhodes struggled to make ends meet. He supported his family for almost a year on $10 an hour!

A death in the Rhodes family brought him back to the northwest for the services. At that time, Brad took a hard look at what another sibling was doing which was being a foster care provider. Having been foster parents, it didn’t seem like that big of a stretch. Being the compassionate people that they are, it was a relatively easy decision for Brad and his wife to make. They returned to Oregon to pursue their new careers and the rest, as they say, is history.

Once Rhodes and his family were resettled and their financial needs were met, he began to think again in terms of recreation. He’d had a blast with his dirt bike but this time he thought he might like to try his hand at racing. On line he discovered a shop in Portland that rent race cars by the event. Rhodes was thinking a Modified or a Late Model (stock car) but it turned out that the rentals were for road racing vehicles only. Since he had no interest in racing on pavement, that might have been the end of the story but it turned out that the shop owned a Sprint Car as well. The owner of the business suggested that if Rhodes purchased his own Sprinter, they could assist him with that. One trip to Grays Harbor for a NWWT event and Rhodes was convinced.

He purchased an older car that had seen action in another non-wing club. Predictably, when Rhodes prepared to make his Sprint Car debut at Cottage Grove, the old sled refused to fire. His fortunes improved however as the season progressed. Mostly thanks to crew member Chris Petersen (a former champion himself) Rhodes learned how set up, drive, and maintain a Sprint Car. When the final checkered flag fell on 2011, Rhodes stood fifth in overall points. Better yet, he had garnered Rookie of the Year honors.

His stats continued to improve the following season and he finished one position better in points. In 2013 however, Rhodes over extended himself financially and was forced to drop off the tour. In 2014 he was back with a vengeance. By now he had a newer, more competitive chassis, a racing engine assembled by Jeff Rabourn and Petersen solidly in his corner. He had even procured some much needed sponsorship from Pro Tow and Beaverton Automotive. Rhodes commit to the entire series which took the racers to Sunset Speedway in Banks, OR and Coos Bay, as well as Grays Harbor and Cottage Grove. When the dust had settled he had no wins but two podium finishes. That coupled with a perfect attendance record enabled Rhodes to amass the points necessary to clinch the title.

Will he defend that title? “I didn’t set out to win this one,” he laughs. At mid-season he was prepared to let Petersen take over the car for one race but that event rained out. That one night’s point loss probably would have been a game changer. Either way, it doesn’t seem to matter much to the forty five year old. It’s more about the process…it’s more about the road.

BILLET PROOF HOT ROD ERUPTION DRAGS

Riverdale Raceway Billetproof 002

If you’ve never been to a Billet Proof event you have missed out on of “The Worlds Least Important Car Shows.” No kidding, that’s what they are billed as. And the Hot Rod Eruption Drags at Riverdale Raceway in Toutle Washington can best be described as what I’ve heard said many times. “It’s a Hoot!”

The drag strip is an outlaw strip, devoid of Jersey Barriers, walls, catch-fences or other gear to protect spectators from the speeding cars. Tech inspections are basic and safety requires a helmet in an open car. All the racing is heads-up on the 1/8th mile and though there is a return road, its dirt, so the cars that have raced wait at the end of the track and after a sufficient crowd forms, they all line up and parade lap back up the track to the starting line while the racers in the staging lanes wait. It’s gotta be what it was like in the beginning of drag racing.

It’s a run-what-ya-brung kind of format and I think there were some grudge matches going on out there, and if not this year, there will likely be some next year. At least one where I heard a fellow saying, “I got beat by a Volkswagen!” He was driving a Ford with a V-8. That has grudge match written all over it, don’t you think. This year was my first and the place was packed. Everything about the day is primitive at best but it was also a lot of fun. Real racecars were in attendance along with some very old school creations that frankly looked a little scary. But everything went well and I saw a lot of smiling faces. That should tell you that there was a lot of fun happening too.

The Billet Proof Hot Rod Eruption Drags appears to be an annual event so it you start now you could just about have your “Race Car” ready for next Augusts Drags at Toutle’s Riverdale Raceway.