TRANS AM: Ruman reflects on 2016 championship

TRANS AM: Ruman reflects on 2016 championship

SCCA / SportsCar Magazine

TRANS AM: Ruman reflects on 2016 championship


RACER caught up with Amy Ruman shortly after she sealed the deal on her second consecutive Trans Am championship by winning the final round of the 2016 season at Daytona this past Saturday. With that victory, she cracked into the top ten of Trans Am’s all-time winners at the top level with a career total of 16. She also became one of only five drivers to win consecutive championships in the series, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.

In 2015 Ruman made history by becoming the sport’s first female champion with a dominating performance of eight race wins. This year’s battle was decidedly more challenging as she entered the final race nine points down to her top rival Paul Fix and clearly the long shot in the title chase. Early mechanical failure for Fix opened the door for Ruman who brought her McNichols Company Corvette home a convincing winner.

In this interview Ruman reflects on her place in Trans Am history, the significance of being a woman champion in a male-dominated field and where she might go from here – including the potential of tackling the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours Sebring.

RACER: So, two in a row? Honestly, did you have any doubts going into the race? It looked like long odds.

Amy Ruman: I suppose you can say I had some doubts – but never in my team or myself. Paul Fix had the momentum. But it’s racing. If you still have the mathematics on your side, you can’t throw in the towel. We just kept persevering. You have to have positivity to win. I had a tough race at COTA the week before. My whole thing is keeping a positive attitude. That’s what racers do. Hey, I’m from Cleveland, look at our sports. Believe in your team; believe in yourself.

RACER: Obviously, it was a big deal to win your first championship last year. How does winning it a second consecutive time compare?

Ruman: Winning the first one was such a relief. It was a long time coming, our seventh season. Last year we were pretty dominant with eight wins. This year was a completely different path. It was a season of ups and downs. The main thing about this season, though, is that we backed it up. We’re still the team to beat. Nobody can say last year was a fluke – this team is for real.

RACER: Paul Fix has kept you honest the last two seasons (BELOW), and you guys have really been the drivers to beat. Obviously, he must be disappointed. Any thoughts for Paul at this moment?

Ruman: Paul Fix (LEFT) doesn’t need any moral support from me. He knows what it takes, and he is confident of his abilities. I’m sure he’s frustrated; I understand that. I have lived it. My hat is off to their team. They had a great second half. I feel for them. Unfortunately in racing as a lot of times in life, there is only one first place.

RACER: Since your team is a family operation and your father, Bob Ruman was a long-time Trans Am driver does this carry a special meaning for you?

Ruman: Obviously, Trans Am is what I grew up with. It is and always was a family operation. It’s always been our shared passion. I love the series. I love the cars. Look at all the great drivers over the past 50 years. Parnelli Jones, George Follmer, Peter Gregg, Dorsey Schroeder, Tommy Kendall – there are so many more. It’s hard to believe my name is on that list. It’s really just sinking in.

RACER: Do you think your father feels like he has won the championship himself?

Ruman: My Dad is very proud. Mom is too. It’s a team effort and at the core of it is our family. Without my Dad, I couldn’t have accomplished what I have. He’s the engineer, and also the driving force. I feel like we are such a unit that it would be really weird to drive for another team. Dad did fine on his own when he drove, and learned a lot through those years. He brings that to the table today. In his time he was up against some major factory efforts.

RACER: Where do you go from here? You seem like a perfect candidate for a GT or prototype ride at the Daytona 24 or 12 Hours of Sebring. Any thoughts?

Ruman: Let’s just say we have a few irons in that fire. We have looked at some opportunities, but it has to be the right fit. We’re not going to just do it to say we have. I don’t need to do that. I see myself entering in a GT class. GT is similar to what I am familiar with, and what I know would easily transfer to that situation. I really can’t say more at this point though. I’ll be happy to share if get things in place.

RACER: You now have 16 career wins at the top TA level. You’re in the top 10 all-time winners and coming up on the career total of one the sport’s legends, Willy T. Ribbs, who has 17. The all-time leader is Paul Gentilozzi with 31 victories. Would becoming the sport’s all-time race winner be a good career goal?

Ruman: I think becoming the all-time career race winner is within our reach. It certainly can be a great career goal. You need goals to propel you forward. I want to say, though, if you look at the list of all-time winners it is very humbling. They are great company. There are drivers like Tommy Kendall, Ron Fellows, Gregg Pickett, Peter Gregg and names I mentioned earlier. Honestly, I don’t compare myself with others. It’s an honor if someone mentions my name with theirs, but that’s for others like you guys at RACER to say. I just feel blessed. God’s grace is shown upon me. I am confident, but you have to respect what you been allowed to do.

RACER: It’s obvious you have a sense of history, especially Trans Am history. How special is it to take the TA championship in the 50th anniversary year of the sport?

Ruman: It is special to me. It’s part of history. It definitely makes it more exciting. I had a mark on history as the first female champion. This year I got to win it in the 50th anniversary. These milestones are marked through all walks of life for a reason – they underscore the significance of importance of human accomplishment.

RACER: Women competing in a top-level auto racing series are no longer unusual, but it still captures notice when a woman becomes the champion. How do you look at?

Ruman: Well, it’s a fact. I am a woman. This is still a male-dominated sport, but the beauty of our sport is that we all can race together. It’s not the WNBA. I had an interesting experience at COTA. A pair of kids, a brother and sister (RIGHT), came to me in the paddock with their mother. They had some flowers to bring me as a gift. Actually I think it was just as meaningful to me that the little boy said I was his favorite driver as his sister did. Maybe it says something about how a developing generation sees the world. As far as being a role model for young girls, I am happy to be that. I believe the best way to do that is just to try to be the best at what I do. That’s the best way to be a role model.

RACER: How is the car? Are you wearing it out? Do you see any upgrades in the future?

Ruman: This the fourth season on these cars. They take a beating every race weekend. Our team doesn’t have the luxury of pulling out a new car. Bigger teams like Tony Ave’s might be able to do more, but we work with what we have. We always look to develop our car. Dad is always doing things on engineering and studying data. The rules are changing a bit next year and I think we will stick with the Corvette so look for us to run with the C7 body style. Bottom line, our car is great.

RACER: Trans Am is going through some changes. The relationship with the SVRA (SportsCar Vintage Racing Association) is stronger and its CEO Tony Parella recently became part of the ownership. What do you think of that development?

Ruman: To be honest, I was a bit skeptical when the first collaboration started a couple of years ago. I have always been one to look ahead, not back, so I wondered how working with a vintage racing group was going to work. Over time, though, I think it has come together as a nice fit. I’ve met Tony Parella and watched what he has done with the SVRA and I think he’s a marketing genius. That’s exactly what Trans Am needs. He brings a lot to the table.

RACER: How are you celebrating?

Ruman: Well, Trans Am had a banquet Saturday night and then I flew home to Ohio and got back to being Amy Ruman doing my laundry. We’ll take the team out to celebrate. We’re a team remember? It’s a short season so we’ll stay busy. I’ll figure out how to squeeze in a vacation somewhere along the line.

More SCCA / SportsCar Magazine