If driving like a psycho on an airport runway is on your bucket list then Danville Airport autocrosses are for you!
The title sounds a bit Olympian doesn’t it? The Virginia Commonwealth Games is an annual event put on by the Blue Ridge Region SCCA that incorporates and invites other SCCA and non-SCCA regions nearby to compete in a big two day event. For Blue Ridge Championship Season Points purposes each day is scored individually but for the microcosm of the two-day event one’s best time from each day is added together and at the end of the weekend the person with the lowest combined time in their class would win a gold medal or silver and bronze for respective 2nd and 3rd place finishes. As an even bigger bonus this event also doubled as the Virginia Autocross Championship meaning the winner in each class would be State Champion!
Needless to say it was a big deal.
Due to the event’s two-day format and the three-hour drive from Verona to Danville I decided to stay at a hotel Friday and Saturday night so I could actually get some sleep for the racing on Saturday and Sunday. Luckily or awesomely, depending on how you look at it, my brother Justin was also going so we split a room and made the weekend our bros, beer and racing vacation. Our friend and fellow STS competitor Scott Krzastek led the way down in his with his Ridgeline towing his Miata. This also worked out great but for not so nice reasons in that the Ridgeline saved our following Miata’s from unavoidable road kill doom when a medium sized undisclosed animal stepped in our path. To a Ridgeline it was a sad bump in the road…in a Miata it would probably have been a crappy trip to the hospital. At the event hotel, the Sleep Inn in Danville, nearly the entire guest list was either autocrossers at our event or another event at nearby VIR.
Saturday morning we made our way to the event which is held on a closed airport runway and the course had already been set up sometime Friday afternoon. It was a fast course with some spots that necessitated 3rd gear from most 5 speed transmissions which is a rarity in autocross. A long sweeper and a sort of high speed slalom made of cone walls served as the course’s make it or break it zones. In the middle of one of the high speed slalom sections there was one cone that created a sort of kink in an otherwise flat out section that absolutely got creamed by almost everyone. How do I know this? That was my worker station and all those mile runs in the morning this summer paid off.
With season points, medals and a State Championship on the line the competition level increased exponentially. There were nationally ranked competitors like Mike “Junior” Johnson who a few years ago was a front runner on the SPEED show Setup in his yellow and black ASP Corvette, Chris Cline was there in his STX BMW 325i and multi-time national champion Jinx Jordan appeared on Saturday only in his 93 FSP Civic.
In my class, aka: Spec Street Tire Miata the competition was tough as usual. Brock Clayton came armed with new wheels, tires, and a tire warming co-driver in Andrew Jones. Scott was…well Scott was Scott and drove like a precision madman if there is such a thing. Russ Pharnham from the Tidewater Sports Car Club brought a well built 94 Miata with two tire choices for the event (R1R’s and RS3’s) but used the same R1R’s successfully both days. My brother Justin, having missed the two events at Virginia Tech feared rust buildup since his last autocross but drove the snot out of his 240k mile Miata. For my first two runs on Saturday I was in 1st place…I should have left right about then! I was hitting cones and just couldn’t wrap my head around how to take the big sweeper which led to my eventual demise back into 5th place by the day’s end over a tenth behind Russ who was 4th. Andrew was still learning in 6th place a few seconds behind making the battle for the lead a Mexican standoff between Justin, Brock and Scott. Scott laid down a blazing 49.2 second run that put him in 1st place but found it marred by a mysterious cone call which destroyed the run by adding two seconds. While Scott and others got to the bottom of the mystery cone Justin and Brock dueled on their last runs. For a second Justin had the STS win with a clean 49.7 second run but Brock, behind him in grid, finished next with a 49.6. Meanwhile at the timing and scoring trailer other course workers came in and clarified that the person who called the cone had called in a cone that had been bobbled and not moved out of the box. This removed the two second penalty from Scott’s run and gave him back his win putting Brock and Justin in 2nd and 3rd respectively. Sunday’s course was essentially a reversal of Saturday’s with a pivot cone thrown in at the end and the results of STS changed somewhat but the medal order was still the same. Again Scott dominated in 1st place but Russ managed a great 50.21 squeezing ahead of Brock Clayton’s 50.28. Justin was almost 3 tenths behind Brock in 4th place and …yep me again in 5th place 6 tenths behind Justin. Andrew showed solid improvement from Saturday by being only 4 seconds away from the winner Scott down from the 5 second distance of Saturday. With both days’ times combined Scott won gold, Brock silver and Justin bronze.
I know it sounds cliché at this point to talk about CSP being a gunfight, dogfight or –insert word here- fight but it was a pretty popular class for this event. With 12 entries on Saturday and 9 on Sunday CSP was the biggest class of the weekend (although the Ladies class did have 10 on Sunday). Much like Scott Krzastek’s STS performance, Jeff Schmidt stayed at the top of CSP on both days. Pete Johnson and Will King finished 2nd and 3rd to Jeff on Saturday and on Sunday Tim Windle finished 2nd with Will in 3rd. This class was amazing to spectate for but looked frustrating to race in with some competitors laying down blazing fast lap times only to find themselves in the back of the CSP pack. With the results combined Schmidt took gold, King silver, and Windle bronze. Tim Windle served double duty during the event as not only a medal winning racer but also as the caterer selling hamburgers and hotdogs from his ez-up beside his Dodge Ram.
FSP in our region is a relatively quiet class…well if you call one screaming Plymouth Neon driven by Anthony Hodges quiet. With the larger profile of the event Anthony had some serious competition in the already mentioned Jinx Jordan’s 93 Civic, Keith Maple’s 79 Civic (that’s not a typo it has antique plates!), Todd Cohen’s 84 Nissan 200sx road race car as well as Justin Barbry and Justin Mitchell in their 94 Mazda Protégé. Jinx only stayed for Saturday but made his presence known by his 1.3 second margin of victory over 2nd place Justin Barbry while Justin Mitchell came in at a close 3rd 3 tenths behind Barbry with Anthony stuck in 4th place. Never count the Neon out though…Anthony drove the heck out of the blue and white Neon even drifting it, that’s right drifting, the little front-wheel-drive car around the big sweeper turn at 65mph. On his fastest run a coolant hose popped right before the finish sending steam over his windshield and causing him to coast across the finish line. Even with the face full of steam, Anthony was fast enough to propel himself past Justin Mitchell for a 2nd place for the day and a silver medal overall for the weekend. Barbry stayed blazing fast on Sunday finishing the weekend with an almost 3 second lead and earned a gold medal for the weekend with Mitchell getting a bronze 7 tenths behind Anthony.
Although ESP was only a class of two cars it served as a great class of contrasts. Technically there weren’t even two cars in the class but rather a car and a truck. Mark Burns 96 Camaro Z28 would usually be a no brainer against a 92 Chevy S10 but Ryan Hansbarger has been putting a lot of seat time and quite a few modifications into the little red truck over the past two years. For a short time Ryan was leading but the extra horsepower, better weight balance and driving overcame the S10 beating Ryan by 8 tenths of a second…which really isn’t all that bad when you think about it for the S10. Even more amazingly Ryan was driving most of the course with one hand on the wheel and the other bracing him in the seat! In between runs Steffen Clark, my brother Justin and I continually gave Ryan advice (how much was bad advice who knows?) and sprayed down his overheating front tires with my tire sprayer. As a reward Ryan drove us back to our pit stall helping us avoid the million mile walk. Sundays course and it’s pivot cone proved to be a little too much for the S10 but on each run Ryan gave it everything and burned the rear tires from the pivot cone through the finish line. Burns’ Camaro extended his lead Sunday and finished with a gold medal while Ryan bagged silver.
DSP Competitor Ford Northen not only deserves his silver medal for his driving on the weekend but the title of best sportsman of the event. Leading up to the event DSP frontrunner Steffen Clark found out that the Clark family racecar, the 84 Plymouth Colt, had suffered a broken subframe. Steffen’s points lead and hopes of having an awesome fun weekend were in jeopardy. That’s when Ford Northen, who’s been racing Steffen all year stepped up and shared his VW GTI with Steffen. They both drove well and swapped places on Saturday and Sunday with Steffen leading Ford on Saturday and Ford beating Steffen on Sunday. However both Steffen and Ford were outgunned in the GTI for the overall win and gold medal by the DSP built 1987 BMW 325i with its ultra wide slicks and extremely fast driver in Thomas Bleh who took home gold with Northen wearing silver and Clark with bronze.
STX found Chris Cline dominating, which I’m told is normal, in his 95 BMW 325is. Chike Delimore, who only attended Saturday’s event came closest to Cline by finishing 3 tenths behind. Dave Ogburn’s Mini was no slouch though posting fast times while Dave did double duty as an event photographer. Cline took the gold with Ogburn taking silver and John Kuykendall took bronze in his nearly stock and clean Saab 9-3.
STR pitted the ultimate non-Miata fun car of the early 90’s in Tim Russel’s MR2 against Rob Bauer’s Miata-alternative of the ‘00’s ’07 Solstice and Rob Leslie’s S2000. Bauer beat Russel on Saturday but Russel beat Bauer on Sunday. Bauer’s lead from Saturday was big enough that despite Sundays loss he still had an overall margin of just half a second over Russel to take the gold medal for the class. Rob Leslie also played in STR on Saturday with his Honda S2000 but then tried BSP with some R-compound tires for Sunday.
The Ladies class saw 8 entries Saturday and 10 entries Sunday and had some tough competition. Gwen Baake held 1st place all weekend in her Mini thus taking the gold but the battle for the two remaining spots was intense. On Saturday Melissa Fehr (‘04 Boxter S) was 2nd with Suzanne Hodges (95 Plymouth Neon) close behind but on Sunday the results were completely different with Donna Marx (’02 Corvette Z06) in 2nd and Chris Peterson (’02 Corvette) in 3rd. With both days’ times combined Melissa Fehr earned a silver medal and Donna Marx took home the bronze.
The frontrunners of ST saw a familiar battle of 89-91 Civic Si’s. The top 3 stayed in the same finishing order all weekend with Dave O’Malley taking gold in his 89 Civic, Alan Chenery taking silver in his 90 Civic and Chris Perera taking bronze in his 91 Civic.
In TIRE Mike Feeney took home the gold in his Mini Cooper with Glen Thompson taking silver in his 91 Miata and Kevin Chapin’s 350Z taking bronze. Cars in the tire class represent a diverse swath of treadwear 140+ tired cars that are judged by pax times rather than their actual raw times. The Ladies class operates the same way.
There were a lot more go karts at this event with adults and kids alike. In the adult class F125 Keith Vail, James Newman and Juan Jaramillo flung the karts around the big open track so fast that it didn’t even look like the karts had traction but were instead sliding around the airport runway. On Saturday Vail not only set Fastest Time of the Day at 39.3 seconds (for point of reference I had a 51.3) but also got Fastest Time Pax which is nearly impossible in a kart…nearly. Vail did not attend Sunday’s event though and Sundays FTD winner James Newman took the gold for the event with Jaramillo taking home silver.
In Formula Junior B, the kids kart class, Trey T-bone White took the gold while Zachary Clemens took Silver for the weekend. It’s important to note that Clements actually beat Trey on Sunday. If that level of “Awwww isn’t that cute?” wasn’t enough then there was the tiny Formula Junior C class for 5-8 year olds. Tyler Cormier took the win in that class as well as the most adorably small autocross vehicle award.
The event went off without major drama or incident and the participants had a fun time. I’ll admit that I stayed grumpy during most of the event dissatisfied with my driving but looking back it was great to catch up with friends and see my brother do so well. Friday evening while driving back from Danville’s Buffalo Wild Wings we were cracking up at how loud the 240k mile transmission sounded like it was making crushed ice and the next morning it was almost the fastest car in STS.
To be sure there were many more class battles and stories. There is one way to know them all though and that is to attend or better yet, enter an autocross. To find an event to attend or pour over the event stats like the numbers geek that all us car guys are visit www.brr-scca.org.