Mazda announces GT3 Challenge
There’s a long list of racing classes that have dwindled and gone out of existence in SCCA’s 75-year history. For a while, it looked like GT-3 might join that list, as participation diminished. But then Mazda Motorsports and Max Papis Innovations stepped up to create the GT3 Challenge to entice GT3 racers to bring their cars to the Runoffs this year.
“GT3 was struggling last year,” admits 2019 GT3 champion Jeff Dernehl. “They (Mazda and MPI) got together and asked what they could do. This group is absolutely the best. They’re so kind to each other. You can feel it out on the race track. They’re tough; they’re not going to give you an inch, but you know you can trust them.”
The Challenge offers GT3 drivers enhanced contingencies, and designated four race weekends spread around around the country. The idea was that GT3 drivers could come to these events and then compete for the championship at the Runoffs. But the most unusual aspect of the program is that Mazda was willing to pay contingencies to any driver – not only those who drive Mazdas.
The idea is working. GT3 had nine cars race at last year’s Runoffs, and Dernehl credits the program for this year’s turnout.
“There’s no question about it,” Dernehl said. “We had a 17 cars this year, so it’s moving in the right direction. This class cannot go away. It’s too cool.”
How B-Spec got is biggest field ever
Frank Schwartz understands marketing and motivation.
“I have a business that works on business development for other companies,” Schwartz says. “We help companies that want to improve their sales. We help them find ways to do that. It’s all based on engagement. We came up with a plan called ‘30 in 19’ to get 30 cars here to Virginia for the Runoffs.”
Schwartz started a program that reached out to B-Spec drivers around the country to encourage them to qualify and register for the Runoffs.
“We have a Facebook page and we let people know what our racing plans are in advance,” Schwartz explains. “They can take a look and see that there are other people going to a race.”
Schwartz also made a special logo and stickers for all the B-Spec cars, and a commemorative poster with cartoon renderings of each driver in the group. But that wasn’t all — he made a media guide full of background information and a spotter’s guide so announcers and fans could easily follow the B-Spec race.
“The whole idea is that it personalizes the class,” Schwartz says. “And this can be replicated by any other class. We’ve already had another class take this as a template.”
It turns out that if you do the work, you can get real results: Schwartz is the Tire Rack Pole Award polesitter for the B-Spec race, which is set for at 8:15 a.m. ET on Sunday.
SCCA stewards bring nearly a millennium of racing experience
At this year’s Runoffs, there are a total of 57 SCCA race stewards who manage the on-track activities, adjudicate disputes, and ensure the safety and smooth operation of the event.
SCCA worker Wilma Dunias had an idea to tabulate how much racing experience these stewards brought to the event, and together with Judy Hurlbut, surveyed the stewards to ask how long they’d been involved in racing.
The total racing experience in the stewards corps at the 2019 Runoffs is 976 years. The greatest individual number is 47 years, held by James Foyle.
Mark Weber set to run his 60th Runoffs race, and 600th career race
Mark Weber is a fixture at the Runoffs. When he’s not out on the course taking professional photos of the racing action, he’s in his F Production Miata creating the action. This year’s race is a special event for Weber because it’s his 60th Runoffs race and simultaneously his 600th career race.
“I’ve been timing this for the last four years, and roughly timing it since my 500th race at Road America seven years ago,” Weber says. “Even a few years before that I was trying to time it out. I usually run in two classes each year. I’m just doing one this year for my 60th.”
Typically, Weber races in two classes at the Runoffs. That’s how he got to 60 races since 1982.
“It was in G Production in a Sprite at Road Atlanta,” he recalls. “I ran the Sprite there in two races each year for 12 years, and then at Mid-Ohio for 12 years. This is my ninth season with the Miata now. I haven’t missed a year since 1982.”
In all his 60 attempts, Weber has never yet made it to a Runoffs podium.
“I’ve been close,” he insists. “Fourth, fifth, or sixth, but I haven’t been too close lately.”
Weber’s red Mazda Miata, carrying the number 60.0, is qualified in 15th position for Sunday’s race.
Farewell from VIR — see you in Wisconsin
Sunday’s races will bring the 56th Runoffs at VIRginia International Raceway to a close. The next SCCA Runoffs will take place at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin on Oct. 5-11, 2020.
The Runoffs were previously held at Road America from 2009 to 2013. Road America’s spacious 4.048-mile course features 14 challenging turns and is a consistent driver favorite.
“Some of the most memorable races in SCCA history have occurred at Road America, a track that requires a blend of car performance, skill and courage,” SCCA’s Eric Prill said. “We look forward to returning in the fall of 2020 to beautiful Elkhart Lake.”