Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson

Everything you need to know for Saturday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington

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One of NASCAR’s toughest tests comes this Saturday night, as the venerable Darlington Raceway hosts the Sprint Cup Series for the first time on its new April date.

The 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval is one of the series’ most historic tracks and one of its most difficult as well. Not many cars emerge from a Darlington race without having met up with the wall at some point, giving it a “Darlington stripe.”

And after being repaved in 2008, time has weathered the ‘new’ track to the point where some of its old, abrasive characteristics have returned – adding another obstacle for drivers.

Courtesy of NASCAR’s public relations and statistics teams, here’s all the important numbers and notes you need to know going into Saturday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 – Round 8 of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

DARLINGTON-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M/ Red Cross Ford)
· Two wins, two top fives, five top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 13.9
· Average Running Position of 10.3, fifth-best
· Driver Rating of 107.5, third-best
· Series-high 286 Fastest Laps Run
· 452 Green Flag Passes, 10th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.878 mph, fifth-fastest
· 2,441 Laps in the Top 15 (73.7%), fifth-most
· 291 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), third-most

Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota)
· One win, two top fives, five top 10s
· Average finish of 14.4
· Average Running Position of 9.0, third-best
· Driver Rating of 106.2, fifth-best
· 230 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
· 492 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.996 mph, third-fastest
· 2,790 Laps in the Top 15 (84.3%), second-most
· Series-high 337 Quality Passes

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet)
· Three top fives, eight top 10s
· Average finish of 14.9
· Average Running Position of 12.2, eighth-best
· Driver Rating of 91.4, 10th-best
· 547 Green Flag Passes, second-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.451 mph, 11th-fastest
· 2,277 Laps in the Top 15 (68.8%), eighth-most
· 273 Quality Passes, fifth-most

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Ford EcoBoost Ford)
· Three top fives, seven top 10s
· Average finish of 12.5
· Average Running Position of 12.8, 10th-best
· Driver Rating of 93.4, ninth-best
· 151 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most
· 480 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.593 mph, ninth-fastest
· 2,248 Laps in the Top 15 (67.9%), ninth-most
· 279 Quality Passes, fourth-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet)
· Seven wins, 19 top fives, 22 top 10s; three poles
· Average finish of 11.5
· Series-best Average Running Position of 8.1
· Series-best Driver Rating of 111.8
· 194 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 160.130 mph
· Series-high 2,982 Laps in the Top 15 (90.1%)
· 272 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota)
· One win, four top fives, seven top 10s
· Average finish of 5.4
· Average Running Position of 8.6, second-best
· Driver Rating of 108.9, second-best
· 182 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.977 mph, fourth-fastest
· 2,488 Laps in the Top 15 (84.6%), fourth-most
· 266 Quality Passes, seventh-most

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 KOBALT Tools Chevrolet)
· Three wins, eight top fives, 11 top 10s
· Average finish of 8.8
· Average Running Position of 9.9, fourth-best
· Driver Rating of 107.5, fourth-best
· 233 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· 485 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 160.069 mph, second-fastest
· 2,504 Laps in the Top 15 (75.6%), third-most
· 252 Quality Passes, eighth-most

Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet)
· Three top fives, four top 10s; four poles
· Average finish of 14.2
· Average Running Position of 10.4, sixth-best
· Driver Rating of 99.1, sixth-best
· 217 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.655 mph, eighth-fastest
· 2,318 Laps in the Top 15 (70.0%), seventh-most

Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota)
· One win, two top fives, nine top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 16.7
· Average Running Position of 14.3, 12th-best
· Driver Rating of 90.9, 11th-best
· 113 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most
· 469 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.346 mph, 12th-fastest
· 223 Quality Passes, 12th-most

Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet)
· Seven top fives, 10 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 12.3
· Average Running Position of 11.6, seventh-best
· Driver Rating of 95.8, seventh-best
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.708 mph, seventh-fastest
· 2,425 Laps in the Top 15 (73.3%), sixth-most

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet)
· Four top fives, 11 top 10s
· Average finish of 12.0
· Average Running Position of 13.9, 11th-best
· Driver Rating of 89.6, 12th-best
· 105 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most
· Series-high 563 Green Flag Passes
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.535 mph, 10th-fastest
· 2,144 Laps in the Top 15 (64.8%), 11th-most
· 300 Quality Passes, second-most

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet)
· One top five, three top 10s
· Average finish of 11.4
· Average Running Position of 12.4, ninth-best
· Driver Rating of 94.8, eighth-best
· 125 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most
· 510 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 159.745 mph, sixth-fastest
· 250 Quality Passes, ninth-most

source:

Darlington Raceway Track Data
Season Race #: 8 of 36 (04-12-14)
Track Size: 1.366-miles
Banking/Turns 1 & 2: 25 degrees
Banking/Turns 3 & 4: 23 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 6 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 6 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 1,229 feet
Backstretch Length: 1,229 feet
Race Length: 367 laps / 501.3 miles

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Darlington
Jeff Gordon………………………… 111.8
Denny Hamlin………………………. 108.9
Greg Biffle………………………….. 107.5
Jimmie Johnson…………………… 107.5
Kyle Busch…………………………. 106.2
Kasey Kahne………………………… 99.1
Ryan Newman……………………….. 95.8
Martin Truex Jr………………………. 94.8
Carl Edwards………………………… 93.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr…………………… 91.4
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (nine total) among active drivers at Darlington Raceway.

Qualifying/Race Data
2013 Coors Light pole winner: Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 181.918 mph, 27.032 secs., May 10, 2013
2013 race winner: Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 141.383 mph, (03:32:45), May 11, 2013
Track qualifying record: Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 181.918 mph, 27.032 secs., May 10, 2013
Track race record: Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 141.383 mph, (03:32:45), May 11, 2013

Darlington Raceway History
· Darlington Raceway was built as a 1.25-mile paved superspeedway in 1949-1950.
· Darlington Raceway hosted the first 500-mile race in NASCAR history and the first on asphalt on Sept. 4, 1950. – won by Johnny Mantz.
· The track was re-measured to 1.375 miles in 1953.
· The track was re-configured to 1.366 miles following the spring race in 1970.
· The track was repaved in 1995.
· The 2005 race was the first Saturday night race at Darlington.
· The track was repaved again prior to the 2008 season.

Darlington Raceway Notebook
· There have been 110 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Darlington Raceway. The 1.366-mile track has hosted the fourth most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points paying races.
· 702 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway; 426 in more than one.
· NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the series in starts at Darlington with 65. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 33 starts; followed by Joe Nemechek with 27.
· Curtis Turner won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Darlington in 1950 with a speed of 82.034 mph.
· 47 drivers have Coors Light poles at Darlington, led by David Pearson with 12. Kasey Kahne leads all active drivers with four.
· Nine drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at Darlington. David Pearson holds the record for most consecutive poles at Darlington with five (1975 – 1977).
· Youngest Darlington pole winner: Kurt Busch (09/02/2001 – 23 years, 0 months, 29 days).
· Oldest Darlington pole winner: David Pearson (09/06/1982 – 47 years, 8 months, 15 days).
· 46 different drivers have won at Darlington Raceway, led by David Pearson with 10. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven.
· Youngest Darlington winner: Kyle Busch (05/10/2008 – 23 years, 0 months, 8 days).
· Oldest Darlington winner: Harry Gant (09/01/1991 – 51 years, 7 months, 22 days).
· Hendrick Motorsports has the most wins at Darlington in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 14.
· 11 different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Darlington; led by Chevrolet with 40 victories; followed by Ford with 28.
· 19 of the 110 (17.2%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Darlington have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Dale Jarrett in 1997. NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson has won from the pole four times at Darlington – the series’ most.
· The Coors Light pole starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (19) than any other starting position at Darlington. The outside front row (second-place) has produced the second most wins (17).
· 36 of the 110 (32.7%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Darlington have been won from the front row: 19 from the pole and 17 from second-place.
· 95 of the 110 (86.3%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Darlington have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· Six of the 110 (5.4%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Darlington have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Darlington was 43rd by Johnny Mantz in 1950 – the inaugural NSCS event.
· Buddy Baker and Richard Petty are tied for theseries most runner-up finishes at Darlington with eight each. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in second-place finishes at Darlington with four.
· Richard Petty leads the series in top-five finishes at Darlington with 25. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 19.
· Bill Elliott leads the series in top-10 finishes at Darlington with 35. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 22.
· Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Darlington with a 6.758.
· Denny Hamlin leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Darlington with a 5.375.
· Two active NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers have an average finish in the top 10 at Darlington: Denny Hamlin (5.3) and Jimmie Johnson (8.8).
· 13 drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have posted consecutive wins at Darlington; Dale Earnhardt (1989-1990)and Jeff Gordon (1995-1996)are tied for theseries lead in consecutive wins at Darlington with three each.
· All six active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners at Darlington Raceway participated in at least two or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Among active drivers, Kyle Busch won at Darlington in the fewest previous appearances (three).
· Matt Kenseth competed at Darlington Raceway 19 times before winning last season; the longest span of any the six active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners.
· Joe Nemechek leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Darlington without visiting Victory Lane at 27.
· Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Darlington Raceway was the (03/16/2003) race won by Ricky Craven with a MOV of 0.002 second – the MOV is tied with the 2011 Talladega race as the closest finishes in the NSCS using electronic scoring.
· There have been three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Darlington Raceway: 2005 (367/370), 2011 (367/370) and 2012 (367/368).
· Eight of the 110 races at Darlington Raceway have been shortened due to weather conditions; the most recent was the fall race of 2000.
· Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Darlington Raceway five times; most recently was the fall race of 2004.
· Terry Labonte (09/04/1978) made his series debut at Darlington Raceway.
· Ken Schrader (03/29/1987), Kurt Busch (09/02/2001) and Clint Bowyer (05/13/2007) posted their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light poles at Darlington.
· Regan Smith (05/07/2011) and Terry Labonte (09/01/1980) posted their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Darlington.
· Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Darlington with 1,736 laps led in 33 starts.
· Three female drivers have competed at Darlington Raceway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series:

  • Janet Guthrie, Southern 500, Sept. 5, 1977 – Started 26th, Finished 16th
  • Shawna Robinson, Carolina Dodge Dealers 400, March 17, 2002 – Started 42nd, Finished 42nd
  • Danica Patrick, Bojangles’ Southern 500 – Finished 31st  in 2012, Finished 28th in 2013

NASCAR in South Carolina
· There have been 220 NASCAR Sprint Cup races among 10 tracks in South Carolina. Darlington has hosted 110 of them. The other tracks are: Columbia Speedway (43), Greenville-Pickens Speedway (29), Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds (Spartanburg, 22), Rambi Race Track (Myrtle Beach, 9), Coastal Speedway (Myrtle Beach, 2), Lancaster Speedway (2), Gamecock Speedway (Sumter, 1), Hartsville Speedway (1), and Newberry Speedway (1)
· 133 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as South Carolina.
· 11 drivers from South Carolina have won at least one race in NASCAR’s three national series; eight have won in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

  • David Pearson – 105 Cup wins, 1 NNS win
  • Cale Yarborough – 83 Cup
  • Rex White – 28 Cup
  • Cotton Owens – 9 Cup
  • Tiny Lund – 5 Cup
  • James Hylton – 2 Cup
  • Johnny Allen – 1 Cup
  • Joe Eubanks – 1 Cup
  • Larry Pearson – 15 NNS
  • Jason Keller – 10 NNS
  • Butch Lindley – 6 NNS

Chime confirms Zak Brown to step down as CEO at year’s end

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Brown (right) with United Autosports team. Photo: United Autosports
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This is big in the business of racing department, with news Zak Brown will step down as Group CEO of CSM Sport & Entertainment at year’s end.

CSM acquired Brown’s Just Marketing International, or JMI, in 2013 as part of its expanding portfolio. Brown’s JMI company has long been a company that’s brought a number of high-profile companies into motorsports as sponsors, often in F1 and/or NASCAR.

Brown’s United Autosports team has also had success on the track, and just yesterday won the LMP3 title in the European Le Mans Series with a Ligier JS P3 Nissan. Team co-owner and managing director Richard Dean is also exploring a potential American expansion for the team in 2017 as LMP3 comes Stateside in IMSA’s renamed Prototype Challenge series, the former Mazda Prototype Lites.

Given the fluid development in terms of F1’s ownership structure with Liberty Media set to buy into the sport, Brown’s personal future is always a talking point because he’s been mentioned in the past as a potential successor to F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

Anyway, watch this space following this news.

Here’s the formal release from Chime:

It has been announced today that Zak Brown intends to step down as Group CEO, CSM Sport & Entertainment, at the end of the year. Chris Satterthwaite, CEO of Chime Communications, will join the CSM leadership team through to the end of the year.

During his term as CEO, Zak oversaw greater integration of the CSM group of agencies, positioning the business to take advantage of its international footprint and market-leading expertise.

Zak founded JMI, the world’s largest motorsport marketing agency, in 1995, which was acquired by CSM, the sport and entertainment division of Chime Communications, in 2013.

Zak commented: “I feel privileged to have been part of an extraordinary team during my tenure. I’m satisfied that we have achieved what I set out to do, from the successful integration of JMI into CSM through to preparing a strong business for a successful future.” He continued: “I would like to thank both Chris Satterthwaite and CSM Chairman Lord Coe for their invaluable support and commitment, without which these accomplishments and many more would not have been possible. I will take this experience forward to my next chapter in the arena I know best, motorsport.”

Chris Satterthwaite, CEO, Chime Communications commented: “I would like to thank Zak for his formidable focus, inspired and passionate leadership of CSM which has been instrumental in galvanising and preparing the business for the future. We wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Zak has agreed to continue his involvement with CSM as Chairman of the Global Advisory Board and Non-Executive Chairman of its motorsport arm, JMI.

Typically busy year for Mazda racing rolls into final stretch of 2016

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Doonan and Jonathan Bomarito. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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There’s been a lot of good points of pride for Mazda in its 2016 season across its usual wide range and spectrum of motorsports.

The last month or so has featured that spectrum in motion, whether in open-wheel, in sports cars, with the new Global Mazda MX-5 Cup Invitational at its “spiritual home” of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, or in club racing as was witnessed this weekend at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs.

It’s probably easiest to break it down with John Doonan, director of motorsports, Mazda North American Operations, as the month of September draws to a close and October beckons.

Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires done for 2016

Fuller breakouts on each of the three Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires series – Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 – will follow in the coming days on MotorSportsTalk.

Jones (11) and Stoneman (27) are two of the six Indy Lights title contenders. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Jones (11) and Stoneman (27) fought for Indy Lights title. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Admittedly there were some challenges peppered throughout the campaign. A number of niggling mechanical woes popped up to various competitors at various times in Indy Lights; the Pro Mazda car count was low as that series prepares for its car transition while USF2000 staged a typically hard fought battle at the front of the field in the final year of running for the venerable Van Diemen chassis with the tried-and-true Elite-built Mazda engine in the back, before the new Tatuus USF-17 chassis comes online in 2017.

Three solid champions were crowned in the form of Ed Jones (Indy Lights), Aaron Telitz (Pro Mazda) and Anthony Martin  (USF2000) and the three take home a combined more than $2 million in the form Mazda Advancement scholarship support.

“Each one takes on its own personality,” Doonan told NBC Sports. “Clearly, we saw some challenges in Pro Mazda just based on field size. The competition was outstanding, certainly in the top seven, eight cars. We tried to address those things. With the announcement in July of added incentives for the 2017 prize package, we’re hoping to see an increased car count throughout the season.

“For me, that all the championships came down to literally the last race – not the last race weekend, but the last race – what more could you ask for to give all these drivers the opportunities to test their skills and compete, but be under pressure.

“This particular program gives drivers the chance to work and hone their public relations skills, their fitness, their engineering relationship with their team and engineers, and obviously some big events with big crowds. The added pressure is what this is all about, for these races to come down literally to the last race itself and in some cases, the last lap, is pretty incredible. We’re thrilled to be part of this. We can’t wait for the new USF-17. We can’t wait to see what the competition is like in Pro Mazda and see what Pro Mazda drivers from this year jump up to Indy Lights.”

The Mazda Road to Indy will also stage the annual Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course from Oct. 7-9, which provides a first glimpse at who could be driving where in 2017.

Sports cars – Going for one IMSA title and in search of elusive first win

Dwyer is one of Mazda's key drivers in CTSC. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Dwyer is one of Mazda’s key drivers, and Freedom Autosport one of its key teams, in CTSC. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The tried-and-true Mazda MX-5 looks poised to capture its second straight Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge championship if Stevan McAleer and Chad McCumbee can bring home the bacon for a second different team in ST. They won last year for CJ Wilson Racing and now look to deliver for Freedom Autosport; they’re up by eight points on second place and 10 on third going into the Road Atlanta this week.

How they’re even in this position is remarkable itself given at Circuit of The Americas a couple weeks ago, fourth gear and ABS failed on the team’s No. 25 car, before teamwork came in the form of support from the team’s sister car driven by U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer (pictured right) and Andrew Carbonell.

“I was trying to roll as much entry speed as I could, more than anyone would normally use,” said McAleer. “I knew I had Andrew to push me out of the corners.”

“I was there to push him to get him up to speed,” said Carbonell. But it wasn’t easy. “It was a fine, fine balance. I also had to keep my car cool. As hot as it was at COTA, we were seeing some extreme temperatures. I was doing everything I could to manage his time loss, our engine heating and the championship points. It would have been bad to have his car lose a gearbox and my car blows a motor!”

You can read the full story here.

MazdaPrototype70On the team’s Prototype side of the program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the most promise shown in three years has failed to produce that elusive first win, with particularly strong chances lost at Mazda Raceway, Watkins Glen, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Road America. The No. 55 car of Jonathan Bomarito and Tristan Nunez has three poles and one podium; the No. 70 car of Joel Miller and Tom Long has a best finish of fourth on three occasions. A win would be a nice way to finish off the potential the car, and team, have shown all year.

MazdaPrototype55The team celebrated its 25th anniversary of its 1991 overall win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, the first and thus far only Japanese manufacturer to do so (Toyota came tantalizingly close this year to matching that, but Mazda offered nothing but support for them and commiserations thereafter).

The Mazda Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires will crown its champion at Road Atlanta next week in the form of one of two JDC Motorsports drivers, Austin Versteeg or Clark Toppe.

There’s also titles to be won in the Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car classes; those titles will be decided at, you guessed it, Mazda Raceway the weekend of Oct. 7-9.

Photo: Mazda
The first race for new Global Mazda MX-5 Cup car back in May, prior to global invitational. Photo: Mazda

Global Mazda MX-5 Cup Invitational debuts to great acclaim

Part of the “Soul Red Finale” weekend at Mazda Raceway two weeks ago was the debut of the inaugural Global Mazda MX-5 Cup Invitational, which brought a mix of U.S. drivers from the Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires and international aces from around the world in the new Global MX-5 Cup car, which debuted this year.

Three U.S. drivers ended 1-2-3 with Sick Sideways Racing and MX-5 Cup points leader Nathanial Sparks taking the global championship over teammate John Dean II with Robby Foley in third. Moritz Kranz and Yuui Tsutsumi were the two highest finishing international drivers in fourth and fifth. Foley won the first race under yellow while Sparks took the second.

This was the pinnacle in a huge debut year for the new Global MX-5 Cup car, with over 100 of the new car ordered in the U.S., announced back in June.

Doonan said of the new car’s success and the inaugural MX-5 weekend, “Yeah, it’s amazing. Fifty cars was what we thought was legitimate, with a $53,000 cost and 50 cars was kind of the target we thought we’d sell. But as of (Monday, Sept. 12), it’s been 116 cars in less than 12 months.

“So, we’re really excited about that and based upon the Global Invitational, a lot of regions around the world are starting to take notice of that and we’re hoping they can establish a series like we’ve had here in the States for the last 10-15 years, and eventually get to a place where there’s a Mazda MX-5 Cup running globally in all these different countries and we do come together for a true global finale. This weekend was an exercise to show all our colleagues around the world that this is what it’d be like when we get a real finale together.”

Club racing success in SCCA and NASA

There were five Mazda-powered SCCA National Runoffs Champions this year:

  • Matt Reynolds, Boerne, Texas – E Production Mazda MX-5 Miata
  • Justin Hille, Ypsilanti, Michigan – Spec Miata
  • Matthew Machiko, Wexford, Pennsylvania – Formula Mazda
  • Ryan Norman, Aurora, Ohio, Formula Atlantic Swift 016a Mazda
  • Stacy Wilson, Englewood, Tennessee – GT3 Mazda RX-7

And also five Mazda-powered NASA Eastern States Champions:

  • Tyler Kicera, Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania – Spec Miata
  • Matt Rivard, Kansas City, Missouri – NP01 Mazda MZR
  • Dillon Dexter, Central City, Nebraska – PTD Mazda MX-5 Miata
  • Warren Dexter, Central City, Nebraska – PTE Mazda MX-5 Miata
  • Mark Burt, Deland, Florida – ST3 Mazda RX-7

One of Mazda’s major lines of note is that more Mazdas are road raced anywhere on a given weekend than any other brand and the success for those drivers, among others, is proof of that.

Doonan said, “Thanks to all of our Mazda Motorsports family members who competed at Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen and congratulations to our latest class of Mazda-powered club racing champions. I can’t wait to see if one of these champions moves on in winning the Mazda Road to 24 or Mazda Road to Indy Shootout.”

On the whole: Doing a lot with a small family

I’m not entirely sure there’s only one John Doonan given the breadth and reach of involvement Mazda Motorsports has throughout the country. But pinning what I think is the lone Doonan down makes it apparent that it is about the team he has in play, to be able to pull all of this off.

“It’s not easy. We do have a very small staff,” Doonan admitted. “I think the critical element in all this is to stay the course of the strategy, but also to continuously improve. We’re constantly meeting and talking about what we can do better and what the industry is doing and what we need to be doing.

“But I think it’s staying laser-focused on what our goals are, and that is a solid foundation of grassroots racing, a driver development program both on the open-wheel side both with the Mazda Road To Indy and the closed-wheel side with Mazda Road to 24, with the pinnacle peak of the pyramid being our top global sports car program.

“And as a sports car program, that’s where the heart of our entire brand is. And to have drivers who have come through the Mazda Road to Indy or the Mazda Road to 24 are the foundational drivers of that program, or bringing Spencer (Pigot) in for endurance races. I’m pretty certain in that room tonight here at the banquet that there’s another endurance driver, as well.

“I’m really proud of where we are – and looking for a nap in the off-season for both myself and my staff.”

2016 SCCA Runoffs National Champions crowned at Mid-Ohio

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Shadowen won GTL. Photo: SCCA
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This weekend marked one of the highlights – if not the outright highlight – of the club racing season as the SCCA National Championship Runoffs took place at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The Runoffs were held at Mid-Ohio for quite a while before moving to Road America and then in the last two years, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Daytona International Speedway. Next year, they go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Here are this year’s National Champions:

FRIDAY

  • Formula Enterprises: Scott Rettich
  • American Sedan: Andy McDermid
  • Prototype 1: Jim Devenport
  • Touring 2: Kurt Rezzetano
  • Formula Vee: Michael Varacins
  • E Production: Matt Reynolds
  • Formula 500: Steven Thompson
  • STU: Joe Moser
  • GT-2: Trent Hindman
  • Touring 4: Oscar Jackson

SATURDAY

  • Touring 3: Derek Kulach
  • SRF: Todd Harris
  • Formula Mazda: Matthew Machiko
  • Spec Miata: Justin Hille
  • STL: Kevin Boehm
  • GT-Lite: Peter Shadowen
  • Formula 1000: Kevin Roggenbuck
  • H Production: Brian Linn
  • B-Spec: David Daughtery

SUNDAY

  • Formula Atlantic: Ryan Norman
  • GT-3: Stacy Wilson
  • Formula Continental: John LaRue
  • F Production: John Walker
  • Formula F: Neil Verhagen (15 years, 242 days old – youngest National Champ in history)
  • SRF Gen3: Cliff White
  • Touring 1: Ross Murray
  • Prototype 2: Jeff Shafer
  • GT-1: Cliff Ebben

NHRA Countdown battle tightens: Langdon, Beckman, Laughlin, Savoie win at St. Louis

Sunday's NHRA winners near St. Louis (from left): Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
(Photo and videos courtesy of NHRA)
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With two races down and now just four remaining, the 2016 NHRA Countdown to the Championship is shaping up to be one of the closest battles in the playoffs’ 10-year history.

Not only did teams tighten the bolts on their respective rides this weekend, the points standings tightened up considerably with the results of Sunday’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

Sunday’s winners were: Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), “Fast Jack” Beckman (Funny Car), Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Here’s recaps of how each pro category played out:

In Top Fuel, Langdon earned his third victory of the season and jumped to fourth in the standings, less than 80 points behind series leader and defending series champion Antron Brown.

Langdon (3.798 seconds at 323.66 mph) defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate and eight-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher (3.783 seconds at 317.49 mph) in the final round to take the event victory.

It was Langdon’s 14th career win in Top Fuel and his first at Gateway. The biggest key for the 2013 Top Fuel world champion was beating Brown in the first round Sunday, followed up by wins over Doug Kalitta and No. 1 qualifier Richie Crampton before facing Schumacher.

“We didn’t really have a dominant car in qualifying, but we just kept picking away at it,” said Langdon, whose other wins thus far this season came at Bristol, Tenn., and Norwalk, Ohio. “That’s what we’ve been doing since we got those two victories (earlier this year). The car has just responded well.

“All in all, this was a great team effort. The whole team did a great job and gave me a great racecar today.”

Despite his early exit, Brown remains the points leader in Top Fuel, but saw his lead shrink over second-ranked Kalitta to just 13 points.

In Funny Car, Beckman avenged early first-round exits in the previous two races – Indianapolis and Charlotte – and lived up to his nickname indeed.

Having qualified No. 2, Beckman (3.928 seconds at 324.51 mph) defeated fellow Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Joe Johnson (4.185 seconds at 231.40 mph) to capture the Funny Car class win.

It was Beckman’s 24th career win, his second win of 2016 (also won at Chicago) and his second career win at Gateway. He is seeking his second Funny Car world championship in the last five seasons, having done so in 2012.

Beckman made a huge jump up in the standings after the win, going from eighth coming into this weekend’s race to third place, now just 70 points behind series leader Ron Capps.

Aiding in that big points jump for Beckman were quarterfinal and semifinal wins over Charlotte winner and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force and Capps, respectively.

“Our team was in a slump and we did what was incredibly difficult with the way our car was acting unpredictably,” Beckman said. “I’m not quite sure what changed, but I think I had a good outing as a driver today, the guys tuned smart and we turned on the win-light every time.”

Johnson, who has one win thus far in 2016 (Bristol, Tennessee), made his fourth final round of the season. In doing so, he jumped to No. 2 in the points, now just 48 points behind Capps.

In Pro Stock, Laughlin – who did not qualify for the Countdown – earned his first career victory in the class.

Laughlin (6.611 seconds at 208.68 mph) defeated Bo Butner (6.637 seconds at 209.26 mph) in the final round. The way it turned out, no matter who won would have been a first-time winner, as Butner has reached the final round five times this season and six overall in his career, but has yet to reach victory lane.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Laughlin said. “It’s not even real at this point. This has got to be a dream. The whole day has been a blur.

“Took it one round at a time and ended up coming up to the final. I was a little nervous but took a couple deep breaths and told myself, ‘It’s just like any other round, just go up there and do your deal.’ As soon as I let the clutch out, I knew my crew chief gave me a good car.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Savoie (6.933 seconds at 189.36 mph) defeated Angelle Sampey, who fouled at the starting line when she red-lighted.

Savoie, a Louisiana alligator farmer, earned his first win of the season (in four final round appearances), the fifth of his career and his second at St. Louis. He also jumped up to fourth in the PSM point standings.

“You go to the finals four times and win one, but out here the competition is so strong and it takes a little bit of luck,” Savoie said. “We got some luck in the finals. Losing hurts so bad, but winning feels so good. My team is a great team. Our bike is really consistent and we’ve had some issues, but today was our day.”

Even though she lost in the final round, Sampey still received a consolation prize of sorts, moving up to second in the PSM point standings.

The next race, which will take the Countdown to its midpoint, will be this coming weekend’s (Sept. 29-Oct. 2) Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Shawn Langdon; 2.  Tony Schumacher; 3.  J.R. Todd; 4.  Richie Crampton; 5.  Pat Dakin; 6.  Doug Kalitta; 7.  Leah Pritchett; 8.  Brittany Force; 9.  Clay Millican; 10.  Antron Brown; 11.  Kebin Kinsley; 12.  Steve Torrence; 13.  Wayne Newby; 14.  Kyle Wurtzel; 15.  Terry McMillen; 16.  Chris Karamesines.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Jack Beckman; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 3.  Tim Wilkerson; 4.  Ron Capps; 5.  Robert Hight; 6. Matt Hagan; 7.  John Force; 8.  Courtney Force; 9.  Alexis DeJoria; 10.  Del Worsham; 11.  Brian Stewart; 12.  Dale Creasy Jr.; 13.  Chad Head; 14.  Cruz Pedregon; 15.  John Hale; 16.  John Bojec.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Alex Laughlin; 2.  Bo Butner; 3.  Shane Gray; 4.  Jason Line; 5.  Greg Anderson; 6.  Vincent Nobile; 7.  Chris McGaha; 8.  Drew Skillman; 9.  Allen Johnson; 10.  Jeg Coughlin; 11.  Aaron Strong; 12.  Deric Kramer; 13.  Erica Enders; 14.  Alan Prusiensky; 15.  Mark Hogan; 16.  Dave River.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Jerry Savoie; 2.  Angelle Sampey; 3.  Chip Ellis; 4.  Cory Reed; 5.  Matt Smith; 6.  Hector Arana; 7.  Eddie Krawiec; 8.  Andrew Hines; 9.  Hector Arana Jr; 10.  LE Tonglet; 11.  Steve Johnson; 12.  Jim Underdahl; 13.  Angie Smith; 14.  Karen Stoffer; 15.  Melissa Surber; 16.  Joe DeSantis.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Shawn Langdon, 3.798 seconds, 323.66 mph  def. Tony Schumacher, 3.783 seconds, 317.49 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.928, 324.51  def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.185, 231.40.

PRO STOCK: Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.611, 208.68  def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.637, 209.26.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.933, 189.36  def. Angelle Sampey, Buell, Foul – Red Light.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Brittany Force, 3.756, 324.44 def. Clay Millican, 3.760, 327.82; Leah Pritchett, 4.009, 282.95 def. Wayne Newby, 4.977, 159.40; Tony Schumacher, 3.785, 322.96 def. Chris Karamesines, Foul – Red Light; Richie Crampton, 3.810, 322.81 def. Kebin Kinsley, 3.909, 302.96; Doug Kalitta, 3.751, 328.22 def. Terry McMillen, 6.426, 105.64; J.R. Todd, 3.818, 320.28 def. Kyle Wurtzel, 5.595, 119.26; Shawn Langdon, 3.771, 325.53 def. Antron Brown, 3.774, 320.20; Pat Dakin, 3.779, 324.98 def. Steve Torrence, 4.405, 186.28; QUARTERFINALS — Schumacher, 3.767, 321.42 def. Pritchett, 4.183, 215.55; Todd, 3.798, 319.22 def. Dakin, 3.827, 316.90; Crampton, 3.783, 322.42 def. Force, 4.515, 200.11; Langdon, 3.782, 322.27 def. Kalitta, 3.861, 310.91; SEMIFINALS — Langdon, 3.784, 322.27 def. Crampton, 3.844, 317.79; Schumacher, 3.757, 326.71 def. Todd, 3.802, 322.04; FINAL — Langdon, 3.798, 323.66 def. Schumacher, 3.783, 317.49.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.909, 327.66 def. John Hale, Dodge Charger, 11.042, 70.12; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.042, 309.27 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Chevy Impala, 4.076, 298.93; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.944, 320.74 def. John Bojec, Toyota Solara, Broke; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.984, 318.32 def. Brian Stewart, Mustang, 4.024, 316.45; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.934, 327.43 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 8.729, 86.18; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.953, 323.27 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.575, 183.72; John Force, Camaro, 3.958, 327.43 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.989, 320.28; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.940, 321.65 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.985, 323.35; QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 3.930, 322.42 def. Hight, 3.938, 325.37; Wilkerson, 3.928, 316.52 def. Hagan, 3.948, 326.40; Capps, 3.976, 320.05 def. C. Force, 4.100, 257.73; Beckman, 3.978, 318.17 def. J. Force, 3.961, 324.83; SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 3.954, 319.60 def. Capps, 4.112, 285.71; Johnson Jr., 3.937, 323.04 def. Wilkerson, 3.993, 283.97; FINAL — Beckman, 3.928, 324.51 def. Johnson Jr., 4.185, 231.40.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.646, 208.49 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.663, 207.82; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.632, 208.46 def. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.667, 206.70; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.609, 209.43 def. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.699, 206.35; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.641, 208.75 def. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.684, 206.57; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.627, 209.49 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.769, 203.98; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.619, 208.91 def. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 6.966, 198.06; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.625, 209.01 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.806, 202.06; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.635, 209.23 def. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.696, 205.98; QUARTERFINALS — Laughlin, 6.643, 208.59 def. Nobile, 6.655, 208.33; Butner, 6.656, 208.52 def. McGaha, 6.664, 207.56; Gray, 6.629, 209.01 def. Skillman, 6.676, 208.07; Line, 6.637, 208.49 def. Anderson, 6.645, 208.39; SEMIFINALS — Butner, 6.678, 207.75 def. Line, 6.627, 208.78; Laughlin, 6.634, 208.75 def. Gray, 6.623, 209.10; FINAL — Laughlin, 6.611, 208.68 def. Butner, 6.637, 209.26.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.887, 194.77 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.926, 191.16; Hector Arana, Buell, 6.948, 194.35 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.977, 192.19; Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.890, 194.66 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.933, 194.07; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.873, 194.52 def. Angie Smith, 6.971, 189.98; Cory Reed, Buell, 6.873, 194.24 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.911, 193.79; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.911, 193.49 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.908, 194.52; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.890, 192.19 def. Joe DeSantis, Suzuki, 7.236, 179.92; Matt Smith, 6.940, 192.22 def. Melissa Surber, Buell, Foul – Red Light; QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.889, 194.60 def. M. Smith, 6.897, 191.81; Ellis, 6.895, 194.30 def. Hines, 6.941, 191.73; Reed, 6.921, 192.47 def. Krawiec, 6.925, 191.65; Sampey, 6.882, 195.08 def. Arana, 6.916, 193.96; SEMIFINALS — Savoie, 6.922, 193.68 def. Reed, 7.022, 189.26; Sampey, 6.873, 194.94 def. Ellis, 6.884, 193.93; FINAL — Savoie, 6.933, 189.36 def. Sampey, Foul – Red Light.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown, 2,258; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 2,245; 3.  Tony Schumacher, 2,204; 4.  Shawn Langdon, 2,181; 5.  Brittany Force, 2,167; 6.  Steve Torrence, 2,161; 7.  J.R. Todd, 2,152; 8.  Richie Crampton, 2,127; 9.  Leah Pritchett, 2,107; 10.  Clay Millican, 2,084.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Ron Capps, 2,273; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,225; 3.  Jack Beckman, 2,203; 4.  John Force, 2,199; 5.  Del Worsham, 2,189; 6.  Matt Hagan, 2,177; 7.  Robert Hight, 2,159; 8.  Courtney Force, 2,149; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,144; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,068.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jason Line, 2,310; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,247; 3.  Bo Butner, 2,223; 4.  Vincent Nobile, 2,185; 5.  Shane Gray, 2,167; 6.  Chris McGaha, 2,135; 7.  Allen Johnson, 2,127; 8.  Drew Skillman, 2,126; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 2,084; 10.  Erica Enders, 2,052.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,260; 2.  Angelle Sampey, 2,258; 3.  Chip Ellis, 2,243; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 2,218; 5.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,184; 6.  LE Tonglet, 2,138; 7.  Hector Arana Jr, 2,115; 8.  Hector Arana, 2,107; 9.  Cory Reed, 2,105; 10.  Matt Smith, 2,096.

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