Sports car champion and renowned NASCAR road course “ringer” Boris Said had his day against some of that sport’s greatest stars Saturday when he came home the overall winner in the American Racing Legends Charity Pro-Am Presented By RACER Magazine at VIRginia International Raceway. The 50-minute race featured eight NASCAR champions, including two from Cup competition. Bill Elliott ended up second overall, while Bobby Labonte ran near the front until transmission failure in the Dave Handy 1965 Cobra ended his day after 11 laps. Former Xfinity and Truck Series champion Greg Biffle was fourth overall to take the B Production class win in Scott Hackenson’s 1967 Mustang.
Said’s co-driver was NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief Ray Evernham. The Evernham Family Foundation’s non-profit charity, IGNITE, which helps highly functioning young adults on the autism spectrum, was the race’s beneficiary. Evernham had been on the podium at other SVRA pro-ams at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but this was the first time he had mounted the top step. He also served as event grand marshal and asked his son, Raymond John, to give the call for drivers to start their engines.
“This is a charity event for a great cause, and we’re all here to have fun and do the right thing,” Said declared. “It’s special to come back here and just see some of the great people I came to know over 33 years of racing. It means a lot to me. The last time I saw Biffle I was ready to punch him, but all is good now.”
While Biffle had the small-bore BP class under control, Said and Evernham were in an all-out brawl with Elliott and his fast co-driver Dennis Olthoff as well as the Legendary Motor Car entry of Peter Klutt and Al Unser Jr. The amateurs started the race with the admonition that they had to surrender their cars to the pros by Lap 8 or suffer disqualification. They mastered a flawless start through the typically crowded Turn 1 — much to the relief of SVRA president Tony Parella, who wanted every pro to have time at the wheel.
Unfortunately, not all of them did. One top threat was eliminated during the first go-around on the 13.27-mile, 18-turn course when Curt Vogt’s 1966 Shelby Mustang slowed to a stop. That scuttled the hopes of co-driver Max Papis, who has enjoyed a great deal of success in the Indy Legends Pro-Ams. At the front, Olthoff was power-sliding his red 1970 Mustang and smoking the tires through turns with Klutt hot on his tail. Pole winner Evernham shadowed them, keeping his gleaming blue 1965 Corvette within reach of the leaders.
As the race progressed, the mandatory five-minute pit stop shuffled the standings, putting amateur John Atwell and his 1971 Camaro at the top of the running order. Atwell had not pitted to turn the wheel over to NASCAR Truck Series champion Jack Sprague and as he looked to do so, SVRA officials threw a full course yellow and closed the pits. The caution was necessary to retrieve the 1969 Corvette of NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Ron Hornaday after he lost power and involuntarily parked at a point track officials deemed a hazard. Sticking to the rule book, SVRA disqualified Atwell and Sprague for not surrendering the car on time. Sprague did eventually get in the BP machine to continue on, but his laps were not counted.
The running order sorted itself out and the fast cars of the early laps returned to the front, but this time in the hands of racing legends. Unser Jr.’s stint proved brief when a power steering line worked its way loose to spray fluid out the back of Klutt’s 1969 Corvette. Unser made two pit stops to effect repairs, but he retired after completing 11 laps.
Said muscled his pole-winning 1965 Corvette to the lead with Elliott doggedly hanging on. Todd Bodine climbed into the third spot overall just ahead of the first BP car of Biffle. Jeb Burton, who set fast time in the Friday pro practice session had moved steadily through the field after co-driver Debbie Cloud handed over the car. Ron Fellows, another of the NASCAR road course ringers, moved into third in the BP class and ended up holding that spot to the finish to earn car owner Dave Roberts’ first SVRA pro-am podium after five years of trying with his 1969 Camaro.
Said was in full command during the last few minutes of the race, pulling away to complete 19 laps. Along with runner-up Elliott and third-place Bodine, all three of the top big-bore A Production podium finishers completed 19 laps. Biffle and Hackenson finished the 50 minutes with 18 laps to win the BP class. Second-place co-drivers Burton and Cloud, with Fellows and Roberts following, also squeezed 18 circuits of the course in the allotted 50-minutes.
For Biffle’s co-driver Scott Hackenson, it was an emotional victory. It was his first race back in a year after taking a hiatus to be with family and tend to personal matters after the loss of his father in 2017. Obviously choking back tears, he declared from the podium that he was dedicating the win to his dad. Hackenson has been on an SVRA pro-am podium before with open-wheel standout Mark Dismore at Indy.
“When Scott told me he had his ’67 Mustang for me, I had to wonder what I was getting myself into,” Biffle said. “I own a ’65 Mustang and I couldn’t imagine taking that thing up to 160 mph like these guys do. But these cars are really well prepared. They put down plenty of power and provide a great driving challenge controlling it.”
Jeb Burton thought he had a chance to crash the Biffle-Hackenson party. He spent much of his stint carving his way through the field to get within sight of the leading canary-yellow Mustang.
“I could see I was closing on Greg,” reported Burton. “But I just ran out of time.”
If there can be any doubts that SVRA pro-am races aren’t serious competition, Biffle, in response to Burton, quickly asserted he had things under control.
“It’s called managing your race,” Biffle said. “I knew where I was on the track and how much I had to use up my tires. I was just wishing I had something for Boris and the other big-bore guys. It would have been serious fun to run with them.”
One point both Biffle and Burton agreed on is that SVRA racing is a lot of fun and that the cars are well-prepared, stout racing machines. Like all their competitors they were enthusiastic to be invited back next year for a second pro-am at VIR that both Parella and track president Connie Nyholm agree is already planned.