Calvin Stewart, of Novi, Mich., won the SCCA Formula 500 National Championship as part of the Runoffs Presented by Garmin VIRB, in a study of two drivers having the advantage at different parts of the Daytona International Speedway circuit. Matthew Strand, of Covington, Ga., took home a hard-fought second place, while James Weida, of West Lafayette, Ind., completed the podium.
Stewart, at the controls of his No. 07 Novarace LLC/Sabbathtruth.com NovaKar Blade F600/Suzuki, and Strand were locked in a super-heated battle for the lead. Though officially Stewart led every lap at the stripe, the race included lead changes at least once on every lap as the two swapped positions. Stewart had the clear advantage over Strand on the long straight and high banks at the 3.56-mile, 12-turn road/oval circuit.
Once Tire Rack pole sitter Clint McMahan, in the No. 34 Simcraft/F6R Scorpion FDS, dropped out of the race from the lead on lap one with a mechanical issue, the race was on for Stewart and Strand. Stewart could stretch his lead heading through Daytona’s tri-oval, but each time the leaders entered the Turn-One brake zone Strand would dive in deep to take the lead from Stewart.
While in the infield, Strand, at the wheel of the No. 36 Satellite Racing/Simcraft FDS 003/Suzuki would pull out what was sometimes a 20-carlength advantage from Turn One to Turn Six. However, the moment Strand would pull through Turn Six and onto the banking in NASCAR Turn Two, Stewart would begin the process of chasing Strand down. By the time the leaders reached the bus stop chicane, Stewart was right on the tail of Strand.
“Matt [Strand] put it down,” Stewart said. “He was really throwing it around. We are still in development of this car. Jay Novak spend a year and a half doing computer fluid dynamics testing to make sure we had the most aerodynamic car we could, in the class. We knew we wanted to build a car for this racetrack, so we wanted to build the most slippery car we could. Congratulations to Jay Novak, because we did it.
“We made a bunch of setup changes this morning because we are still working on the balance of this car. I knew Strand was quick on the infield, so I just wanted to stay conservative there. I would pull up, or down, just to make sure he had plenty of room. I would just follow him through the infield because I knew I had it on the top end, so it didn’t make sense to me to hurt the tires.”
With Stewart’s advantage in mind, Strand pushed it as hard as he could through the bus stop chicane, on the white flag lap, to keep at much of his advantage intact. However, Strand pushed it a little too far and took a trip through the grass. When he got back on the pavement, Strand was still in the lead, but Stewart was able to drive by him on the banking. Strand ended his maiden Runoffs start in second. Stewart’s win marked his first National Championship in five attempts.
“I always love racing with Calvin [Stewart],” Strand said. “I’ve been racing with him for two years now in the Formula 600 Challenge and I know I can trust him. We push each other right to the edge, but have the respect for each other. I tried, and was pushing as hard as I could. It was everything I could do to hold him back.
“I just had to throw it into the infield and hope that I got enough of a gap to keep the lead, but couldn’t quite get it done. I had the advantage on the infield because of our sponsor SimCraft. Throughout the week I was running laps on their simulator to find the best line. When I was able to make up time under braking, and on the infield, it was because of what I learned there. My car always excels in tight, twisty corners. So, I knew I had to nail everything on the infield.
“On the final lap, I looked back and knew where Calvin [Stewart] was. We got to the bus stop and I knew I was going to have to get through the bus stop to have a chance at winning. I just held my foot down and tried to make it through.”
Weida, in the No. 22 Weida Apartment/Formula X-1 Scorpion W1/Rotax, crossed the finish line well behind the lead battle. Weida started the race in fourth and finished third, the highest finishing two-stroke 500cc motor.
“I was sitting back watching these guys dice it out the entire race,” Weida said. “I didn’t have much of a challenge for position, so it was pretty much like testing without being able to come down pit lane for changes. That was all I had for them, so congrats to Calvin [Stewart]. I know he’s been working at this for many years now.
“Also, Matt [Strand] had a great race. That was unbelievable. I was just cruising, trying to make up time on the infield.”
David Lapham, in the No. 6 Hoosier Tire/QRE Racing QRE Invader QC, and Jeremy Morales, in the Earls Indy/Hoosier Tire/Rapid Rivet Scorpion S1/Rotax, completed the top five in that order.
Russell Strate, in the No. 9 Rocketech/Hoosier/QRE/SWS Rocketech R-2/Rotax, was the Sunoco Hard Charger gaining five positions from his 12th place on the starting grid.
The 52nd SCCA National Championship Runoffs®, The Pinnacle of American Motorsports, will crown Sports Car Club of America’s Club Racing National Champions at Daytona International Speedway, Friday, September 25 through Sunday, September 27.
The live broadcast of all 27 National Championship races is available live at SCCA.com, along with live timing and notes. Each race will be on demand at a later date.
Provisional results for Friday’s SCCA Formula 500 National Championship at the 52nd SCCA National Championship Runoffs presented by Garmin VIRB at Daytona International Speedway, with finish position, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car and laps complete.