In academic research, commodity theory holds that the more elusive or scarce something is, the more people will value it. Likewise, the more difficult something is to achieve, the harder we have to work to get it, the more value it has.
Whether he knew it or not, Davidson Racing team manager Ron Carroll knows a thing or two about commodity theory. His team has been chasing the overall victory at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill presented by Hawk Performance for the last three years, fielding a two-car team of very fast ESR-class prototypes in pursuit of the biggest trophy and the top step on the podium.
In years past, Carroll and the Davidson Racing team had the speed and the lap times to win, but as anyone familiar with the 25 Hours of Thunderhill knows, the first word in endurance racing is endurance. You have to be able to go the distance to survive the 25, and Davidson Racing had suffered its share of mechanical misery.
Unlike years past, weather was not a factor in the race. Qualifying was a rainy, soupy mess, and some teams chose to sit out the session in the interest of preserving their cars. But by race time, the track was still a bit damp, but the skies were blue and the sun was shining. Also unlike years past, no one went off in Turn 1 on lap one.
Once the green flag flew, the teams and drivers went to work, laboring toward that elusive goal of a class or overall win, or a podium finish at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. And make no mistake, winning the longest closed-course road racing event in North America requires hard work and preparation from a lot of people. And when the checkered flag flies, commodity theory holds that there is no higher feeling, no greater sense of satisfaction than when you achieve your goal.
“It was such a team effort to bring this car along, such a team effort,” said a hoarse Ron Carroll as he accepted the trophy for the overall win at the podium ceremony. “The Norma ran without a mishap at all. We did every lap we could. It was stressful. That Porsche was right there, and we were worried about it the whole time. Thank you for pushing us.”
By the time Team Ca Sport/Skull Candy/Team Nissan arrived at Thunderhill, most of the teams had their pits set up and were zeroing in on their qualifying setups and focusing on the early processes of the race. Their team, however, was lucky to get there with a finished car.
“The biggest thing we overcame to get here was the initial car build,” said team owner Lara Tallman of the Nissan 370Z construction. “It was never on track before Friday. We actually got here Thursday and ran it for five minutes at the very end of the day. We wanted to get here Wednesday but we weren’t done building the car.”
The team left Salt Lake City Wednesday at midnight and arrived in time to get a few laps in, which was good enough to get them a 50th place starting spot of the 60-car field. By 9 p.m. Saturday night, they had worked their way up into first place, a position they held till 6 a.m. Sunday, which is when they began overheating. The car had to be refilled with water at every pit stop, which slowed them tremendously, relegating them to a third-place finish.
The mechanical trouble allowed Tallman’s sister car to advance to second place. The BMW M3 had been solidly in and out of third place all night despite a couple of offs, which tore off the splitter, and a penalty for spilled fuel.
When the Nissan 370Z began having trouble, Team Hankook El Diablo, which came in third in 2013 and won the E0 class in 2012, was able to claw back from 38th on grid and take the top spot — but not without troubles of their own. Nearly 20 laps down after a welding repair zapped their drive-by-wire system. The team also overcame a vibration in the middle of the night, an oil leak and a malfunctioning electric power steering pump, which they eventually had to disconnect. By the time the checkers flew, the team had amassed a five-lap lead and their second E0 class win. They also ended up in seventh-place overall.
“We qualified poorly,” said driver Lance Boicelli. “The first few hours we were able to make our way up through the pack to lead our class. We had a few laps up on our competitors. It was an up and down adventure.”
When Team Technik/HQ Autosport reported for duty at Thunderhill Raceway, it was a team comprised of drivers with experience at Thunderhill and at the 25, and drivers with none. Same goes for the crew. Some of them had experience at the storied race, others not so much, but their goals were stout and the team had done its homework, racing at WERC events throughout the season to prepare for the 25.
Starting from 33rd on grid, Team Technik/HQ Autosport had overcome bad understeer and iffy tire pressures at the beginning of the race and ground its way into the lead. As the night wore on, the team suffered a fuel penalty, which bumped them back, but they remained in the top three in class for the remainder of the race, finishing third in class and 11th overall, just two minutes shy of their Top 10 goal.
“We kind of took a different approach when we put this together,” said driver Peter Hopelain. “We put our drivers in based on their strong suits and what the field was doing. Taking a podium with a brand-new team and a brand-new car, I’m emotional right now. It’s amazing.”
Finishing in second, Team Grip Racing was swapping positions with Technik/HQ Autosport and Bullet Perforamnce at the front all race long. Their car was solid and their drivers did a great job protecting the car. Early in the morning, however, they went off track and tore off the side skirt.
“We just came in, taped it up and got the car back on track,” said driver Chuck Hurley, adding that their right hand mirror snapped off with just a couple of hours ago. “Other than that, we didn’t have any problems with the car. We just did fuel and tires and pounded out laps.”
That left Team Bullet Performance to go on and take the win. Despite an off or two, the team had zero mechanical issues with the car, which is an E90 Grand Am ST car changed to USTCC E1 specs. All they had to do was add fuel, some oil and swap drivers and tires.
“We got a lot of help from Sparta Evolution Brakes and Maxxis tire,” said driver Brett Strom. “The Bullet crew have been doing this race since before I was here. We’ve done it every year except 2012. We knew that you need to come in, and not break, and we did not put a wrench of this car the whole weekend.
“But Grip Racing, those guys were solid competitors,” he added. “We were either on the same lap or a lap ahead or behind the entire time. They didn’t have any mechanical problems and neither did we. I was stressed out the whole time.”
Your car needs at least two out of three essential elements to make winning possible at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill: speed, trouble-free operation and fuel economy. Jim Holloway and his Team Robert Davis Racing Mazda RX-8 knew they didn’t have fuel economy on their side — fuel stops every hour — but they had the speed, and they got the trouble-free operation that they needed.
After four years of trying, the team’s RX-8, affectionately named “Kermit” for it’s green paint scheme, took first place in convincing fashion, finishing 69 laps ahead of the second-place car.
“Finally got one,” Holloway said. “It took a lot of hard work from all the other drivers and some good drivers. I want to thank Mazda, Robert Davis Racing, Hawk, Hoosier, Mothers Polishes and Waxes. We had Magnaflow to keep it quiet so we could meet the dBA’s here. It was a lot of work by all and finally “Kermit” pulled it off.”
Finishing second was Team Racecraft, which was competing in its first 25 Hours of Thunderhill in it’s E30 BMW. In preparation, they had run four-hour and an eight-hour races in Portland, Ore., and Seattle. Starting from 43rd of 60 cars, Team Racecraft kept up in the top three for most of the race. They ran mostly trouble-free save for a fuel pump that quit and a wheel stud that sheered off.
“Other than that, it was driver changes tires and gas,” said driver Jim Froula. “It was actually really smooth. We didn’t get hit or anything, but we didn’t have the speed to really run with anybody, so we were more watching the people behind us and dealing with that.”
Finishing in third, some 230 laps behind second place, Team Gone Racing had decided to race at Thunderhill just two weeks beforehand. Using a Mazda Miata initially purchased as a parts car, the team cobbled together a squad of drivers and a scant crew. Because they had no auxiliary lights and only two drivers, they were going to run just the daylight hours of the race. Then, as more drivers and crew expressed interest in their effort, the more equipment they amassed.
“As the date got closer and closer, more people who came on to add to it,” said driver Eduardo Li. “Everybody had something to bring to the table. Add the lights. Add tires. Another driver. It turned out to be a good little car. Obviously, it just survived the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.”
E3 is arguably one of, if not the, most competitive classes in NASA’s endurance racing series. Why? Because so many good, inexpensive racecars fall naturally into E3. Spec E30s and Spec Miatas leap to mind. In this year’s 10-car field, it was game-on for RJ Racing, a formidable team who not only has a well developed car, but also is known for not making mistakes.
Starting from 57th of 60 cars and last in class, RJ Racing had worked its way up to fifth by noon, fourth by 3 p.m. and the lead by 6 p.m., a position the team would hold till the end. It was RJ Racing’s third class win in E3.
“It was a strategy thing,” said driver and team owner John Gibson. “We knew what tires we had. We had a great strategy the whole time and the team was giving me great information the whole time to finish the race in one piece. Two in a row is great and three for the team in the past four years is awesome. I think we could wash it and change the oil and put on new tires and go again. The car was great.”
Just behind — and closing — in second was Team New York Rock Exchange in its Acura Integra. After starting from 54th overall, the team clawed its way forward and into second. In the waning hours of the race, the little Acura that could became the little Acura that might not.
“We were gaining on them, but RJ ran a great race. They didn’t make any mistakes and held us off. We fought to the very end,” said driver Tim Auger. “We lost fourth gear about four hours ago and then lost third and pretty much had to limp it in from there. For the last three hours it was third and fifth, so it was a lot of over-revs and a lot of short shifts —and no brakes. The last two laps were in fifth gear.”
Finishing in third, just seven laps behind the leader, was Sector Purple Racing, which won the E2 class last year, also in a Mazda Miata. This year, the team had a much bigger fight on its hands, which, along with a few trips to the back paddock to replace from hubs and repair some brake problems, relegated them to third place.
“We had a couple of small offs in the mud, had very few mechanicals, stayed out of the pits and on the track and brought it home,” said Glen Conser.