By Freddie Heaney –
Road Atlanta, GA: ChumpCar staged its first nationwide event of the 2015 race season with a well-supported 14-hour endurance race. “Life has an expiry date,” as they say, “let’s do something!”
Of the ninety-two entrants, some originating from as far away as Canada, the ChumpCar opener was won by a 1999 Saab driven by an upstate New York-based team called Tired Iron from Sauquoit. In fact, this same car triumphed at the 2014 ChumpCar Daytona event and yet another of their Saabs finished fourth at Road Atlanta. What’s their special quality you might ask? A reputation for building fast reliable Saabs and selecting fast evenly matched drivers—usually four.
The trouble with flags
Saturday, February 7, turned out to be a warm mid-winter day with blue skies, grateful enthusiasts escaping their snowy thermal prisons in the north and the promise of close, enjoyable racing. In fact, sometimes too close which precipitated a couple red-flag periods. The red flag carries a symbol of urgency, signifying all racers must come to an easy stop, pulling over to track edge and out of the way.
But endurance racing, where hundreds of drivers participate, has by nature a potential for error: some proceed to stop as fast as possible with dramatic clouds of tire smoke, while others fail to pull over, blocking the track for those cars racing up behind.
Even more sinister, perhaps, was the sight of the black flag, brandished around 5:45 just before nightfall. This compelled all racers to return to the paddock for a “Call-to-Jesus meeting.” With racecars parked in two neat, long lines along the Road Atlanta pit lane, the drivers climbed out to learn of their transgressions from the Regional Director.
The risks of dissimilar speeds
Speed disparity appeared to be the main concern; the organizers worried that the inequality of lap times between the fastest and the slowest might bring risks that could be avoided. As darkness fell they reasoned it would be harder to see and to judge distances and the possibility of one daring act too many was probably uppermost in their minds.
Still, for spectators the exercise was puzzling for the accident count was low and one wondered if excited corner workers had reported more that was actually unfolding. Nonetheless, ChumpCar events are organized with admirable professionalism, offering wide-spread endurance racing that most can afford, hours of valuable seat-time to hone their road-racing skills, and memorable experiences that inspire others to join in the fun.