The Valvoline professionals may have taken the top two spots, but the SCCA members gave the field of the Valvoline ProAm 50 all they could handle on Saturday at the virtual Watkins Glen International.
Logan Clampitt ran a mistake-free race, and the iRacing professional who spends time in NASCAR’s virtual league slipped away for a 4.4-second victory after leading all 17 laps in the 20-minute race.
The field of the inaugural Valvoline ProAm 50 was set by a mixture of professionals racing as Team Valvoline – including Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman, Burton Kligerman eSports drivers Parker Kligerman, Ashton Crowder, Logan Clampitt and Tom O’Gorman, and NASCAR championship-winning crew chief Ray Evernham – and 19 superstars from the Hoosier Racing Tire SCCA eSports Super Tour. Each driver drove an identically set-up Cadillac CTS.V, all with a Valvoline-inspired paint scheme.
The front three rows of the race were a mixture of professionals and amateurs, with SCCA’s Paul Darling on pole next to Clampitt, Caleb Patrie inside Crowder on row two, and Ken Houseal starting inside Tom O’Gorman – who doubles as a Team Valvoline driver in addition to his SCCA roles.
But the field narrowed down entering the bus stop for the first time and teammates O’Gorman and Crowder came together, spinning Crowder hard into the famed blue guard rails that line the track.
Three laps in, Clampitt, Patrie, Darling and O’Gorman had created a gap on the field. When Patrie and Darling began to mix it up for second, O’Gorman found his way into the spot. By then, however, the duel had both allowed Clampitt to open up a lead and stretched the battle for second place to nine cars.
Just past the halfway point, Darling and Patrie made contact and spun, elevating Byron in his famous No. 24 on the side of the Caddy CTS.V to third place, well back of Clampitt and O’Gorman. Houseal had moved around Byron for third before the NASCAR Cup driver spun and fell out of the podium battle.
The podium stayed the same to the finish, with Clampitt, O’Gorman and Houseal on the podium, with SCCA’s DJ Alessandrini and Andrew Pallotta completing the top five.
“I have a little bit of road course experience, but not a lot,” Clampitt said. “When we go to Watkins Glen or the Roval in the (NASCAR) Coke Series, I usually do pretty well. Coming here at this track, especially, it’s my favorite road course by far. I was super happy when we came here, and I got the win. That’s pretty cool.”
O’Gorman, who owns multiple SCCA autocross National Championships, professional racing championships, and professional racing wins, is an SCCA regular who was, this weekend, running for the pro team.
“I’m really excited about the performance up to second,” O’Gorman said. “I’m a little embarrassed because I broke the golden rule and wrecked my teammate on the first lap, so I’m really sorry to Ashton Crowder. That was my collateral damage. But other than that, I had a lot of fun racing with a couple of the SCCA guys. I get to race those guys pretty regularly, but to have the Valvoline colors on the car this time I felt like I had to get in front of them! It was a lot of fun.”
Kligerman, the NASCAR racer and NBC Sports analyst who doubles as a BKE team co-owner, was the hard charger of the race, moving from 21st on the grid to seventh.
“Logan and Ashton are just incredible at all of this stuff,” Kligerman said. “They might be eNASCAR oval guys, but I put them against the best of the world on road courses. They showed some of that speed. I was kind of bringing up the rear for Burton Kligerman eSports, I’ve been in the Nürburgring 24 so I didn’t have a lot of practice and I’m a little tired. But 21st to seventh I’m pretty proud of. That was fun. Thanks to Valvoline and SCCA for putting this on, it was a really cool event.”
Byron recovered from his spin to finish 11th. Crowder finished one lap down in 27th after fixing his damage, just in front of pros Johnson, Elliott and Evernham.
The Valvoline ProAm 50 was not the first SCCA experience for Johnson, who earned his SCCA competition license at Summit Point Motorsports as an 18-year-old moving from dirt to pavement.
“Getting started a month ago [in iRacing], I was a bit overwhelmed, and I had to put this in the right category for me and just make it fun,” Johnson said. “I enjoyed a burger and had a great time qualifying, rolled into the race, just went out there and had fun with it! It was a fun afternoon.
“I think we’re very fortunate to have a sport that has a platform to put some entertainment out there for our fans. I’m proud of everybody for being so creative and giving me these opportunities and for the fans for tuning in.”