The Optimizer: SCCA GT-3 Runoffs champ is in a class of his own

Images by Richard S. James

The Optimizer: SCCA GT-3 Runoffs champ is in a class of his own

SCCA / SportsCar Magazine

The Optimizer: SCCA GT-3 Runoffs champ is in a class of his own

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In the 56-year history of the SCCA National Championship Runoffs, only eight drivers have entered the championship event more than once and gone undefeated. Scott Lagasse, Lewis Kerr, Earl T. Jones, Paul Jett, and John Greenwood are all two-for-two; Dave Vegher and Skip Barber set their records at three-for-three. Collin Jackson, meanwhile, is the sole person in the SCCA’s history to go five-for-five. Want to know his secret? I did, so I asked. And, you know, I think he told me.

“Do everything within your power to understand the variables, and optimize,” Collin explains to me. “If you don’t do your homework and your maintenance, you’re really there as a spectator for the guys who do.”

That said, Collin also lets loose another little secret, one that has been hiding in plain sight for anyone willing to do the research.

“People are making a rather big deal of [my Runoffs record], but I didn’t go to the Runoffs as a rookie,” he reveals. In fact, by the time Collin entered his first Runoffs in 2003, he was actually a nine-time racing champion. But his racing story starts long before that.

“I’ve been into racing my whole life,” Collin tells me of his early days. “My aunt and step-uncle raced cars when I was a kid and I was absolutely mesmerized by it. At 8 or 9 years old, there was nothing better than racing cars. My uncle had a sports racing car that I loved. I learned enough by being obsessive about it and going to as many races as I could.”

As Collin turned 14, a family friend by the name of Ron Householder was attempting to campaign a Formula Atlantic car on the West Coast, and Collin quickly signed up for the ride. “It was a 1973 Brabham BT40,” Collin says fondly of the car, “and I thought this was even cooler than the sports racer since it had wings.”

So, in 1975, Collin started working with this Formula Atlantic team. “Ron went about teaching me what we needed to accomplish during a race weekend in order to be successful. I quickly was able to do those things, and I wanted more. By the time I was 16, I was pretty much telling him what to do. We were very successful together.”

His family was fairly poor, Collin explains to me, so Householder assisted in putting him through college, where he became a mechanical engineer. When Householder passed away, he willed the Brabham to Collin.

“We were very close,” Collin says of the friendship that altered his life in so many ways.

Solidly in the workforce, Collin stepped into the driver’s seat, this time racing a Datsun 510. “Regionally I was quite successful,” he says. “And then an SCCA semi-pro series came along called NASPORT. I really liked that formula, so I started running NASPORT exclusively from 1987 through 2003 and I won nine NASPORT championships.”

But contrary to what you might think, I don’t believe Collin was attracted to the series due to his ability to win; conversely, it was how hard it was to do so.

“The level of competition in that series was absolutely spectacular,” he points out. “Mike Lewis won several GT-3 Runoffs titles while he was running NASPORT, and Ken Murillo won the Runoffs when he was running NASPORT. The people I was racing in NASPORT were top-flight drivers, and that competition makes you better.”

When NASPORT began to dwindle, Collin shifted focus to club racing and SCCA’s GT-3 class where his NASPORT racecar fit, and that’s when he made his “rookie” debut at the Runoffs.

“I went to the Runoffs in GT-3 in 2003 as a nobody,” he laughs. “Nobody had heard of me because I guess people weren’t paying close attention to NASPORT. We were very successful; in 2003, I won and my teammate Dave Humphrey was second. In 2006, I went back to the Runoffs in Topeka and I finished first and Dave finished third. In 2014, I went to Laguna Seca and finished first and Dave finished fourth. Then at Indy, in 2017, I went by myself and I won that one, too.”

Then in 2018, he returned to the SCCA Runoffs once more, at what is essentially his home track of Sonoma Raceway. There, he won again, although not easily.

Now add to this impressive feat the fact that he’s accomplished his success with a small, tight-knit crew. “My team is my wife, Glenda; a longstanding friend of mine who is 85 years old now and is really my car chief, retired Air Force mechanic Jack Back; and Andy Pearson, who owns Specialty Engineering in Delta, B.C., Canada.” With Andy busy with work, the Jackson paddock space is populated simply by Collin, Glenda, and Jack.

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