The Challenge of Learning a New Track
On track, many of the 2018 SCCA Runoffs drivers are experiencing Sonoma Raceway for the first time and learning with video, data and getting as many laps as they can. Trackside, it is also the first visit for 2018 SCCA Runoffs Chief Flagger Don Drennon, who had not seen the track before last Friday.
Though it may be his first time at this track, it’s not the first time Drennon has taken on a lead role at a new track, having done the same thing at the 2017 SCCA Runoffs at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and just a few weeks ago at the inaugural Tire Rack SCCA Time Trials Nationals at NCM Motorsports Park. Even with decades of Runoffs and trackside flagging and communications experience, Drennon doesn’t expect to just show up and have things fall into place.
“It’s a lot of recon,” Drennon said of his pre-event prep. “Video recon, map recon, lots and lots of it.”
In addition to his vast experience at mega SCCA events and doing his homework, Drennon points out that he couldn’t do it without utilizing the SCCA network.
“It takes a team,” he noted. “I went to Heather Streets, the local SCCA flag chief and asked, ‘Please help.’ I couldn’t have done it without her.”
Right at Home
Competitors travel from all over the United States to take a shot at winning the SCCA® National Championship Runoffs®. Joe Huffaker is no exception, having competed at Road Atlanta, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Daytona International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But this year, Huffaker -- a nine-time National Champion -- isn’t traveling to the Runoffs … because the event is taking place practically in his backyard.
Huffaker, who will be competing this year in both the F Production (FP) and GT-Lite (GTL) classes in his 17th trip to the Runoffs, lives in Petaluma, which is just on the other side of the hill from Sonoma Raceway. He grew up at Sonoma Raceway and has a race shop, Huffaker Engineering, onsite at the track.
“I get to sleep in my own bed this year,” Huffaker joked. “I’ve turned thousands of laps at this track, and that makes a difference. I can see these other guys who are really good, and I’m so happy they came out from back east, but I see them struggling with this track. But I know they’ll have it down when race day comes around.”
It’s been a couple years since Huffaker last walked away with a Runoffs win? Will he be able to get back to the top step of the podium? He’s off to a good start after setting the fastest qualifying time in FP and GTL after the first day of qualifying.
Runoffs qualifying continues Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time from Sonoma Raceway in Northern California. Audio-only coverage of qualifying is available at www.SCCA.com/live. Providing the commentary are longtime Runoffs pit reporter Heyward Wagner, Tom O’Gorman (pro driver), Gregg Ginsberg (Super Tour Radio), Andy Hollis and Larry MacLeod (SCCA Solo Nationals announcers) along with occasional special guests. Live timing and scoring can also be found at www.SCCA.com/live. Coverage can also be accessed through the SCCA Runoffs mobile app.
Photo: Joe Huffaker’s F Production/GT-Lite MG Midget