The 2021 SCCA National Championship Runoffs are underway at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the event’s second visit to the Speedway’s road course after a wildly successful debut in 2017 that featured a record number of entries. While this year’s entry isn’t as big, there are still more than 850 entries across 26 different classes of cars. The number of drivers and cars is little smaller, as several drivers contest multiple classes – as many as three – and sometimes use the same car in different classes.
Two of the classes, Spec Racer Ford Gen 3 (84) and Spec Miata (91), are so large that qualifying is split into two, and the first 60 positions will be determined in those qualifying sessions, while the final 12 starters in each class will be determined by a Last Chance Qualifier Race after the regular qualifying sessions have ended on Thursday afternoon.
The drivers have seen two full days of qualifying sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. The final will be on Thursday before races begin on Friday. Because the temperatures are expected to be slightly cooler on Thursday and the drivers have had more time on track, most pole positions will likely result from the Thursday sessions.
Charity and tribute
Kyle Keenan is going for his second B-Spec National Championship in as many attempts. The first for the Vancouver, WA, driver came in 2014 at Laguna Seca. In that one, fellow B-Spec competitor David Daughtery helped him with some tires. This year, he helped him with a car.
“It was … I don’t want to say a last-minute thing, but it was about as last minute as we could be,” Keenan explains. “David reached out to me, literally the morning of our local Majors race, said, ‘Hey get qualified, I’ve got a program in the works.’ My team back home, we threw the Kia I won in ’14 together in a couple of hours, took it to the track, and actually ended up winning that weekend. Had a few good races out there, then flew out and was racing with David at Grattan and Roebling Road to get qualified. So I’ve actually driven four different cars, three of which David owns, and it’s been good.”
Daughtery was building a Mazda2 into a B-Spec car that he was going to let Keenan drive. Keenan had one stipulation: that he run the number of his mentor, Gary Bockman, who raced a GT-3 Mazda RX-3 and passed away from cancer last year. But it actually got better than just the number; the car was the right color to go further.
“My coach was Gary Bockman; he coached me my entire life and was kind of like a father figure, and really helped me though a lot,” Keenan says.
“He was there for me when I won the Runoffs. About three years ago he and I won a race together, an endurance race, and after there race we were sitting on the tailgate, and we always talked about if one of us was to pass, the other one would pick up their number and run with the car number for a couple of races. When David hit me up offering a white Mazda, it all fell together. White Mazda, run Gary’s livery, run his number … and I kept it a secret from everybody. I waited until a couple days ago to send pictures to his family and to our close friends and our crew members, and the reception of it has just been absolutely amazing. There are a lot of drivers who have come out of the woodwork at the event so far just to tell me stories, and it’s been so heartwarming and really cool to see how everybody else reacts to it.”
B-Spec, a class made up of sub-compact cars such as the Mini Cooper, Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta, has a record 61 entries, so winning a championship will be tough for Keenan. However, he has been in the top 10 in both qualifying sessions so far, so he should be able to attack the race from a good starting position. B-Spec will race Friday afternoon at 4:15 EDT.
14-year-old racer seeks titles in first Runoffs
Austin Hill’s motorsports journey has included quarter midgets, dirt karts, pavement karts and now a pair of formula cars in SCCA Road Racing. In his first year of racing cars, he has pretty good shot at two different titles. And one of them was almost an accident.
Hill started out 2021 competing in Formula X, a catch-all class made up primarily of Formula Mazdas, Formula Continental chassis fitted with stock Mazda MZR engines, and Formula 1000s. Hill’s car is an Elan DP-08 with the Mazda MZR engine. But then this Pro Formula Mazda in the Formula Atlantic class also happened….
“I always excelled at go-karts with driving a faster kart and going back down to a slower kart,” the teenager from Frankfort, Ohio, says. “So we decided to buy an Atlantic to help us in the FX, and it helped a lot. But it was just supposed to be a practice car, now we race it because we’re competitive in it.”
Hill will have a tougher battle with the Pro Mazda against true Formula Atlantic cars than he will in FX, where he posted the top qualifying time on Wednesday. Whatever happens, he hopes to make it to IndyCar someday with what he’s learned in his first year of racing providing a springboard.
“I’m having fun with it, learning new stuff,” he says “Learning how to race with different people, race with different classes and still be clean about it and really try not to make any enemies, but make a lot of friends,.”
Mazda helps its racers with pro coaching
Since 2014, Mazda Motorsports has helped Runoffs racers competing in Mazdas – even those in all-Mazda classes such as Spec Miata – by providing pro drivers from its fold to review video or data and offer some coaching.
“Many of our Mazda racers have competed with us for years,” says David Cook, manager of Mazda Motorsports Business Development. “The loyalty and dedication to the sport and to Mazda is something we greatly appreciate. Coaching is just one area that we invest in to try to give back and show our appreciation to the drivers.”
Coaches on hand this year are Tom Long, who raced in Mazda’s DPi program, and Aaron Jeansonne, a former Team USA Scholarship winner who is racing this season in Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup on a Mazda scholarship.
“It’s good to get to talk to different people in different classes with different cars, and you’d be surprised some of the similarities you see between the different classes of cars that people are running,” Jeansonne says. “For the most part, a lot of guys that are new to the track need a lot of line adjustments. There are a lot of corners, a lot of twisty parts, so I guess it’s pretty difficult to get up to speed on car placement here.”
Mazda is the largest single marque represented at the Runoffs, thanks to Spec Miata; Mazda power in a mix of formula and prototype cars; and a wide variety of Mazda models running in Touring, Super Touring, GT and Production classes.