A different kind of 500

Image by Crystal Snow

A different kind of 500

SCCA / SportsCar Magazine

A different kind of 500

By

John Annis ordered a new SRF motor and received landmark engine number 500

The year was 1989 and John Annis was fresh off his SCCA racing school, and with his competition license firmly in hand, he was ready to race – but he didn’t know in which class. “I had just gotten my license at the Skip Barber school,” says Annis, who wasn’t scared of jumping into racing head first. “I did an IMSA Firehawk race in a Porsche at Tampa, and I was scared to death,” he laughs.

Looking for something saner, but just as challenging, Annis discovered the Spec Renault. “I read about it somewhere,” he says. “I was at a race at a kart track that I happened to own, and the fellow I eventually bought the car from was there, and he had it in the trailer for some reason. I looked at it and I figured this would probably be great for me because it wasn’t open-wheel, and it was a spec class, which I really liked.”

Like a lot of people, Annis started out on his own, but like many, he quickly discovered you aren’t alone at an SCCA event. “The first few races I didn’t know anybody; I didn’t know any prep shops, so I kind of did it by myself,” he explains. “But the type of class Spec Racer is, is very interesting. I was struggling changing brake pads or something and the other guys came over and said, ‘Get out of the way, we’ll do it for you.’ It was really amazing because anything that I needed I had places to turn. I think the logic was they wanted to beat me on the track, not in the paddock. It’s a nice group of guys – that’s part of the cool thing with SCCA.”

While it’s typically not to hard to find someone willing to lend a hand at the track, Annis decided it was time to get some regular help. “After the first few races I hired a prep shop,” Annis admits. “I was with a guy for two or three races, and then he quit. One of the fellas out of that shop said he would do it, and that became Robinson Motorsports; he was my prep guy for a while. I used a few other shops and did some myself. When I finally decided I had enough of towing my own car, I hired PM Racing, which is Brian Schofield and his brother – I bought my first car from their father.”

Eventually it was time for Annis to convert his car from the Renault motor to the first Ford powerplant in the mid 1990s. “I think I was about a year late,” Annis recalls. “I had some other business issues going on, so it wasn’t a priority.”

Image by Mark Weber

Annis, however, wasn’t about to leave the Renault setup without a swan song. “I forget the year, but there was an endurance race at Moroso and I talked the guys down there into letting us have a Spec Renault class. It would give them more car count and it was a great way for us to use up these engines before we took them out because the next day they wouldn’t be legal. I think we had 12 cars. I think one wrecked, and one might have blown up, but the rest all finished.”

For Annis, there was a bit of a learning curve to the Gen2 Ford setup. “It took me a while,” Annis says. “I had been pretty good in the Renault. At the Runoffs in 1993 I finished fifth, which was pretty good. But since I was a little late getting there [with the Ford], I stumbled quite a bit. Then in 2000 I won the Southeast Division and won three races in a row, which was unusual back then. That was my big deal.”

At one point in time, it seemed as though Annis would not make the jump to the Gen3 SRF, instead considering parking the car. “My main goal had been to go to Indy for the 2017 Runoffs,” Annis admits. “Shortly after that race I would turn 72-years old and I had figured that maybe by the time we got through with Indy I might not be able to drive the damn thing anymore. I didn’t want to go to Indy being a rookie in the new car. Ultimately, I was happy where I did end up in that Gen2 race.”

True to his vision of how the year might end, Annis found himself taking a break after the 2017 Runoffs. “Some other sporting events had torn my knee up, so I had to have it replaced,” he says. “I really didn’t race from November until January 2018, and then again until Daytona in August of 2018. I wanted to see if I could still race after my knee replacement and all the time off.”

Back behind the wheel, however, Annis realized he couldn’t stop racing. “I just didn’t want to quit,” he says. “I didn’t want to lose my friends – I was going to miss them making fun of me. The Schofield fellas told me my car as a Gen2 wasn’t going to be worth much, and if I went ahead and upgraded it I would be able to get my money out of it. But I don’t really ever want to sell it.”

With the calendar set to turn to 2019 and the Gen2 phased out, Annis placed his order for the Gen3 package. Little did he know that when he placed his order he would end up with the milestone 500th Spec Racer Ford Gen3 engine.

Unlike back when he moved from the Renault motor to the first Ford powerplant, Annis took to the Gen3 package quickly – in fact, it turns out most drivers find the improved weight balance a major asset to the chassis. “The fellas told me what to expect,” Annis says. “The only funny part about it is you shift at different points.”

So now with his SRF Gen3 setup ready to rock, Annis is shifting his focus to racing, and doing so mainly on the tracks he enjoys most. For him, that meant competing at Sebring earlier this year during the U.S. Majors Tour, and later this year he intends a trip up north to Road America. “What I would like to do is go to the June Sprints,” he says. “I’ve been to that track a lot. About seven years ago I was really on my game and I finished second to Brian Schofield. That was a big moment for me.”

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