As the field of Spec Miatas headed out for their warm-up lap, everyone who wasn’t wrenching on a car or racing one was pinned to the railing of the tower’s upper deck, holding their collective breath in anticipation.
The California Crown pitted drivers from the northern part of the state against those from Southern California in the inaugural contest, which was covered for NASA by GoRacingTV.com.
Starting from pole, Arizona’s Mazda Teen Challenge whiz kid Scott Phillips topped Rob Burgoon in qualifying. Northern California driver Kyle Loustanau started third, followed by Oregon’s David Dodge in fourth.
As the field rounded the turn onto the front straight, the flagger threw an early green, catching a few drivers off guard. Burgoon took off into the lead as Phillips chased him, with Dodge and Loustanau nipping at their heels. Three laps in, Burgoon took a bit too much curbing, bouncing his car off track briefly, sending up a cloud of “Buttonwillow dust” and allowing Phillips to scoot past. Spectators let out a collective gasp.
One lap later, Burgoon had reeled in Phillips and got a good run into the always-tricky Buttonhook turn, out-braked Phillips on the inside and retook the lead.
“When Rob went off, I was pretty excited, but I just couldn’t hold him off,” Phillips said. “My tire pressures got a little too high. He did a really good job. I just couldn’t out-gun him.”
Burgoon widened the gap till a full-course caution brought out the pace car when Teen Challenge driver Nova Brown broke two wheels in the Club Corner turn, sending him off track and into an impact zone.
At the restart, the pack flew gangbusters into Turn 1. There was contact, which left Tyler Vance’s car stranded and Loustanau’s with rear suspension damage.
Burgoon, Phillips and Dodge escaped unscathed and scampered on. With Vance’s car disabled in yet another dangerous spot, NASA officials waved the checkered flag next time past start/finish. At the line, it was Dodge in third, Phillips in second and Burgoon in first, giving him the win and the first California Crown.
“The full-course caution came out and from there I got a good restart, and was leading,” Burgoon said. “The big scare I got was coming out of Cotton Corners. There was a fire truck protecting a stalled vehicle which was a bit of a surprise, so I gave it a little lift, but fortunately that wasn’t enough to let him get past me. Then it was just a matter of not choking in the last few corners and that was the race.”
By race time Sunday, some NorCal racers had left for the long drive home, but most of Saturday’s front runners were on hand, and at the start, Burgoon again led Phillips, who locked up the right front wheel going into Turn 1. Burgoon led the charge out of Turn 1, followed by Phillips in second, Teen Challenge driver Alex Brauer in third and Dodge in fourth.
Phillips chased Burgoon as Alex Brauer methodically crept up on Phillips’ bumper. As Burgoon pulled away, Brauer reeled Phillips in on the eastern half of the track, then lost ground on the faster western half of the track.
On the last lap, Brauer drafted Phillips down the front straight till the next braking zone, pulled wide right, tucked under him and took off. At the line, it was Burgoon in first, followed by Brauer and Phillips.
“I just waited for an opportunity to get by, and I waited till the last lap,” Brauer said. “With each lap I would see where his weaknesses were, and I’d slowly creep up on him in those places, and when I had the chance I just took it.”