Western & Southern Race Weekend at Road AtlantaJan 18, 2005
Tuesday, January 18, 2005 The combined Southern & Western Race Series weekend at Road Atlanta enjoyed Chamber of Commerce weather, a good mix of drivers, a special appearance by a NASCAR driver, a first-time winner, and the debut of the BFGoodrich g-Sport tire. Here’s what happened…
“Matt the Back” Varsha was in a hurry to become “Matt the Front” Varsha: Gridded DFL (Marco Andretti was going to run this race, and so he and Varsha agreed to start at the back, but we couldn’t get the “under-18” waiver from Andretti in time), Varsha, the driver who has now positioned himself as a likely 2005 National Championship title contender, was up to seventh at the end of the first lap, then picked off a spot over each of the next three. Varsha then flew into the lead on lap seven by taking a couple drivers into One and another on the backside — and checked out. Chris Hill started P2 but grabbed the lead from Tim Traver on the third lap but Traver came right back two laps later to retake the point — until Varsha went by on the aforementioned seventh lap. Jeff Relic also was dicing at the sharp end of the field, running second for three laps in the middle of the race. In the entertainingly frantic final stages, there were four-offs and contact that resulted in the final rundown of Varsha winning, Hill second and the consistent David Libby third, with two Johns — Mayes and Greist — rounding out the top five. This was a really good race to kick off the weekend in fine fashion.
Varsha was again NOT starting up front, but this time not by choice, having fallen off the road in qualifying. From 11th on the grid to ninth as they crossed the line at the start to fifth by the end of lap one, Varsha was on fire again. Relic was the early leader from pole position, but Mayes got by to lead lap two. It didn’t last long, as Varsha got to the front during the third lap and just drove away as the field diced and dueled behind him. When Mayes put Relic behind him to take second place on lap five, he was able to fend off any advances from that point on. Libby had another really good race: Though he had fallen back as far as seventh (lap eight), he smartly worked his way to the front and took over P3 with three laps to go. Hill, too, kept it going, as he went from third to fifth to seventh in the early stages, but hauled himself up to fourth by the checker, a gnat’s eyelash behind Libby. Rookie Chris Castagna, a karter, was a solid fifth.
This was good, tight racing, with exciting passes throughout most of the field. And this was a group with five new drivers! After an early black-all for David Windmiller’s unfortunate wallbanger, it turned into The Gomez-Llano Show: Carlos Double-L, the polesitter, led the first seven laps while Michael G. led the final eight. Larry Huang, an SCCA racer but rookie to R/T 2000s, got the final podium spot, while Tommy Nance and Joe Pagano were classified fourth and fifth (following a time penalty to Yani Avrahami for a missed safety check). Brandon Huff was a fine sixth, Yani was classified seventh, then two of our wonderful distaff racers, Rhonda Hill and Michele Marden, were on the lead lap in eighth and ninth, followed by Joe Trevino. Chris Lee had an early MDNF and would get a make-up later in the weekend.
P2-starting Lee had a great start and led polesitter Gomez as they headed down to One — but he four-offed the corner! When they came around to complete the opening lap, it was Gomez, Huang and Huff your top three. The next lap, Huff took P2 while Llano slotted into third, dropping Huang to fourth, into the clutches of Nance. Just a couple laps later, Nance and Huang got together and an FCY was needed to get things clear. For the re-start it was Gomez, Llano, Huff, and that’s how they ran for the next seven laps until, on the next to last lap, Avrahami got underneath Huff to take P3. Huff and Lee rounded out the top five.
G3R1 (Combined Class)
Hey, it was like Le Mans or Daytona — we put a Championship and a Sportsman group together, so this race had two winners! This two-group field worked out pretty well, it was fun to watch, and you may see it again in upcoming Race Weekends. Plus, a full-time NASCAR Busch Series driver was in this field, Ashton Lewis, Jr., driver of the #25 Marines Ford Taurus.
Okay… Compare Charles Anti’s new helmet paint job (worth 2/10s of a second, enough to get him a win on Saturday), above, to Wayne Williams dramatic “dirt-like” scheme, below Trust us, there’s a story behind it — ask Wayne at the next Race Weekend!
Lucas McConnell was the leader-leader for the whole race… well, except for the most important lap. He left the door wide open in T10 on the last lap! Yep, Charles Anti, on fire as he rocketed up from ninth on the grid, was pressuring McConnell from lap six onward and with McConnell’s little mistake, virtually in sight of the checker, Anti got the big win. Tim Traver, who was doing a double, took third.
In the Sportsman category, Wayne “The Weapon” Williams finished fourth on the track (up from 10th on the grid) and first in Sportsman in a fine effort. Lewis, Jr., was slowed by two safety checks (contact, and a four-off), but still managed a fifth overall and fourth in class. Taking P2 in Sportsman was Murray Marden (sixth on the road), and right behind was Sprague Theobald.
G3R2 (Combined Class)
Well, well, talk about making up for it… McConnell, who threw away his chance at his first-time win on Saturday never looked back on Sunday. He started alongside polesitter Traver, but led flag-to-flag, nipping a never say die Traver by a second and a half. Lucas got his very well deserved first win, and to do it by putting Saturday out of his mind must have been especially satisfying. Lewis, clearly inspired by his #29 car-color change from white-over-white to blue-over-white (“Thanks, Roso!”), gobbled up third after some mighty dicing with Anti, Traver, Theobald and Jeff Kaiser, who ended up fourth. Theobald’s solid driving got him fifth overall and first in Sportsman, with Marden second (sixth on track) and Williams third.
Well, it must be said: Thanks, BFG, the g-Sport is a perfect match with the R/T 2000. To a man — and woman — the drivers thought this tire worked great, with great feel and modulation at threshold, and a bit more progression at the bigger slip angles. It definitely feels like a racier tire, and the support BFG is providing is much appreciated.
Next up for the Western and Southern Series is Sebring, on the 12-Hour Full Course, Feb. 18-20. We know there are a few of Western drivers who haven’t been here yet — don’t miss this opportunity to race on one of the world’s great, historic tracks, where there’s plenty of room to dice! See you there…
Southern Race Series
Feb. 18-20, Sebring International 12-Hour Full Course, Sebring, Fla.
Mar. 4-6, Roebling Road, Savannah, Ga.
Apr. 1-3, Daytona International 24-Hour Full Course, Daytona Beach, Fla.
Western Race Series
Feb. 18-20, Sebring International 12-Hour Full Course, Sebring, Fla.
Mar. 11-13, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif.
Apr. 8-10, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif.
Photos by Eleven and Fairy Karr