There is no winter off-season in the Southeast. Down here we race all year! The 2021 season kicked off in Savannah, Ga., on Friday at Roebling Road Raceway with a rain soaked competition school where Jason Scarbrough joined NASA Southeast Honda Challenge. It’s always great to see the high energy and enthusiasm of a new racer fresh out of comp school. Thank you NASA for putting together the ladder system in HPDE to assist drivers in developing their skills and progressing into the many options available. We’re glad to have Jason racing with us!
Saturday morning was cold, with racers scraping frost off windshields and allowing extra time for engines to warm up before heading to grid for the “all racers warm up” session. Even though we were the third group out, the track surface was still damp from rain the day before, especially in the shaded sections that don’t see the sun until midmorning. The track finally warmed up for a busy qualifying session right before lunch, which set the grid. Looking at qualifying times we knew there was going to be good, close competition for the race this afternoon.
Rob Oxford set the pole for H1 with Andrew Hicks in P2. H2 pole was snatched by Michael Kramer, followed by Team Moar Door and Jason Scarbrough in P-Rookie! Ha! We started behind SU-ST5 at the tail end of wave one, but there were five SU cars that did not record times, so they were forced to line up behind us. The green flag dropped and everyone charged towards Turn 1, with the 600-plus-horsepower ST and SU cars thundering past, wasting no time bobbing and weaving their way toward the front. Those old NASCARs are fast, loud and occupy a lot of space, so when it’s three-wide, it gets real close. As we rounded Turn 3 they were mostly clear, leaving the Hondas space to start the fight.
In H1, Oxford jumped out to a lead and got past a few cars in the first few corners. Within two laps Hicks caught back up, putting pressure on Oxford as they ran nose to tail for the next several laps. As they approached lap traffic Hicks fell back a few lengths, but within the next lap he was right back on Oxford’s bumper. The pace of these two are only .2 seconds apart, so it came down to how quick one gets through traffic and lets faster cars through.
Toward the end of the race, Oxford hit traffic in a better spot and was able to gain a 4-second lead, putting Hicks in a safer place for what’s next. With three laps to go, someone laid down something slick on the apex of Turn 2, causing Oxford and the Spec Iron car 40 feet in front of him to spin in unison and, despite quick reactions of a Thunder Roadster close behind, Oxford was clipped in the rear. The impact broke a control arm and axle on Oxford’s car, rendering it immovable, though the impact helped the stranded car roll farther off track, allowing the race to continue with just a local yellow. Hicks saw the drama unfolding and was able to avoid the incident to take the win.
In H2, Michael Kramer, Team Moar Door and Jason Scarbrough had a battle from the green flag all the way to checkers. The lap time delta between all three was half a second, so positions were constantly challenged and exchanged.
Scarbrough started his rookie race intentionally conservative, but his early pace showed he was in the hunt. All it took was one slip-up by Kramer for Team Moar Door or Scarbrough to make a move. At the halfway mark Kramer had a good gap on the field and was finally able to breathe. Shortly after, Scarbrough put a move on Team Moar Door and moved from P-rookie to P2! Team Moar Door tried a different line through Turn 5, but found the dirt line with less grip to be slower.
For the next five laps, Team Moar Door put pressure on Scarbrough, but in the end it wasn’t enough to stick the nose in as Scarbrough remained steady, not flinching from the pressure. Late in the race, the Spec Iron and Spec E46 leaders caught Kramer and started working their way past. This slowed Kramer down just enough, allowing Scarbrough and Team Moar Door to close the gap and put him in their crosshairs. With two laps to go, Scarbrough bobbled in the same slick spot that just caused Oxford’s demise, and with a better drive out of Turn 2 , Team Moar Door was able to pass Scarbrough on the outside of the fast sweeper of Turn 3.
With Team Moar Door and Scarbrough right on the leader’s tail, Kramer closed out the race in flawless form, keeping the competition behind him. Kramer passed the checkered flag first for the win followed closely by Team Moar Door in second and Jason Scarbrough in third.
Sunday qualifying and grid positions were the same as Saturday and with Oxford out due to damage sustained on Saturday, Hicks was the solo car in H1, though this time there were no ST and SU cars behind the Honda Challenge grid. The start and first lap was totally different, though, and much more exciting.
The green flag dropped, engines screamed and the cars scampered toward Turn 1. As they entered the first corner two-wide, door-to-door and nose-to-tail, they exited in similar fashion. With Turn 2 back to the usual grip levels, it set the field up for the fast left hand sweeper of Turn 3 where Kramer went the long way around outside of Hicks, setting himself up for the inside advantage at the entry to Turn 4. Hicks tried to hang on, but was unable to hold the outside line around Turn 4 at the same pace allowing Kramer to take the lead and put a slower class car between them at the same time. Great move by Kramer!
This allowed Team Moar Door to pull up tight on Hicks’ rear bumper through turns 4 and 5, trying the outside pass at Turn 5, but unable to make it stick. He fell in behind to get a single-file run through Turn 9 and on to the front straight, or so he thought. Meanwhile, the rookie Scarbrough was biding his time waiting for his opportunity to strike. Scarbrough set up Team Moar Door with a better drive through Turn 9 and put a pass on him at track-out, making it stick to assume P2.
Team Moar Door moved in behind Scarbrough quickly, catching the draft and staying close as they entered the brake zone for turn one, but a waving yellow closed any opportunity to make a pass. At apex there was an old NASCAR parked sideways in the middle of the track making racers take the dirt on either side to get around. I told you those things are wide. They are long, too! Once they passed the incident and resumed racing, Team Moar Door and Scarbrough resumed rubbing bumpers. The racing was that close.
After a few laps Hicks had passed Kramer they both set out to put some space between themselves and the duo of Scarbrough and Team Moar Door. At the apex of Turn 1, two Spec E46s fly past Jason, perfect timing for Team Moar Door to take advantage and establish position beside Scarbrough through Turn 3 and snatch second entering Turn 4. As the rest of the Spec E46 field worked their way through it created a small gap between Scarbrough and Team Moar Door, with Scarbrough slowly closing down the gap. At the halfway point Scarbrough’s hard work put him right back on the bumper of Team Moar Door. Approaching Turn 9 and following two out-of-class cars, Scarbrough was able to stay on the gas and motored past Team Moar Door for position, almost an instant replay of a few laps earlier.
At this point Kramer was still in the lead, checking out as he tried to keep pace with Hicks in the faster of the two Honda Challenge classes. Team Moar Door applied pressure on Scarbrough consistently, finally getting a wheel on him in Turn 9 but was unable to complete the pass as his ponies ran out of breath. As the two approached slower traffic ahead, fate would have it that Kramer’s developing mechanical issue was impacting his pace.
Sensing opportunity, Scarbrough attempted a pass on the inside of Turn 3, but ended up blowing the brake zone in Turn 4 and missing his turn-in point, dropping two wheels off and spinning. Once he was able to restart the car and safely rejoin the race, he ended up down nearly 25 seconds. With Kramer’s mechanical issue worsening by the minute and not wanting to be “that guy” ruining the race for others, he called it a day and took to pit lane, retiring the car for the weekend. Team Moar Door took the win, followed by Scarbrough in P2 and Kramer in P3. Hicks swept H1 with the win both days.