Full House in Honda Challenge at Carolina Motorsports Park

From left: Rob Oxford, Melinda Ball, Stephen Pearce, John Putnam and Quinn Putnam celebrate on the Honda Challenge 1 podium at Carolina Motorsports Park in February.

It was another great NASA weekend at Carolina Motorsports Park in February, even with on-and-off rain keeping the track damp and the racers guessing which tires to run. The rain was not heavy for warmup and qualifying, so vision was good, but it kept the track wet enough to make finding grip difficult. The good news is we were consuming less brake pad!

The H1 race started off wet, but turned dry quickly and the lap times were dropping. Grip was still questionable, but racers will be racers, knowing that if we lay down enough rubber, the grip will come back, and some of those heavy V8 cars do that quickly. At the green flag, polesitter John Putnam jumped into the lead by Turn 1 and the front-wheel-drive K24 power pulled away from Rob Oxford and Stephen Pearce quickly. Five laps in, Oxford made a pass on Putnam after the Kink but shortly after that, Putnam pulled in the paddock with steering issues.

Three quarters of the way through the race, and out of nowhere, Pearce decided to get engaged and put a pass on Oxford in Turn 1 on the outside. Those two ran nose to tail for the remainder of the race.

From left: Michael Kramer, Melinda Ball, Shane Lovely and Jesse Poage celebrate on the Honda Challenge 2 podium at Carolina Motorsports Park in February.

The H2 polesitter Jesse Poage jumped out into the lead and stayed on the heels of Pearce in the H1 car for a few laps. Midway into the race, Poage went a little wide in turns 12 and 13, and Shane Lovely took advantage and put the pass on the rookie. Close behind was Michael Kramer hoping to catch Poage off guard, too, because they were all three within sight of each other. Shane Lovely started to put a gap on those two but soon they start reeling him in until Poage turned in too late at Turn 3 and put four wheels off and lost his momentum. Watching this unwind, Kramer came up a little short to get around Poage.

The H1 race ended with Pearce in P1, Oxford P2 and John Putnam in P3. In H2 we had Lovely in P1, Poage in P2 and Kramer in P3.

Pearce came close to breaking the H1 track record Saturday, so he was more determined to set the record for H1 for Sunday’s race. The weather could not make up its mind whether to rain, so there was guessing to use rain tires or slicks. Most racers went out on slicks, confident it would dry up. It proved to be a good choice because the rain held off, and Pearce knocked off pro racer Johan Schwartz’s longstanding record, with a 1:45.478, which is over a half second faster. Keep in mind, Pearce’s S2000 is still a few hundred pounds overweight for class, so keep an eye open for more track records to drop in 2019. Putnam got his steering issues worked out, put a gap on Oxford and continued to pull away.

In H2, Poage and Kramer continued their battle from Saturday, with Melissa Lovely taking the wheel of the Team Lovely Civic. Michael and Jesse had a great race, being within a quarter second of each other, but Kramer proved to have the better race craft that day, despite having a slightly higher lap times. Kramer got his first win for Honda Challenge on the same day he shed his provisional competition license. Poage said this was the most fun he’s had driving his car. He made a lot of mistakes, but learned from Saturday’s and Sunday’s races.

Sunday’s H1 race finished with Pearce in P1, Putnam in P2 and Oxford in P3. In H2, we had Kramer in P1, Poage in P2 and Melissa Lovely in P3.


Image courtesy of Jim Pantas

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