2003 SCCA National Champion
Mark it down. September 19, 2003. SCCA crowned a Saturn as a National Champion at the Valvoline Runoffs. Can you believe it? Can Sea Biscuit motor race.
On a rainy Mid-Ohio morning fit more for ducks than fast cars, our No. 16 Panasonic Saturn led from start to finish in what was by far the most emotional victory in the nine years we've been doing this. A National Championship has always been the goal. But taking our Saturn to the top this year against the best in the U.S. from BMW, Toyota, Honda, Mazda and Dodge etal seemed like the longest of long shots.
It turned out a decision to race on slick Kumho tires even though water covered parts of the 2.25 mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course made all the difference. All but a half dozen others in the 40-car field opted for rain tires. On the slick track, I put my head down and ran as hard as I could. The Saturn skated like it was on ice for the first couple of laps. But as the track dried, our times improved while almost everybody else went slower. One full-course caution bunched the field. But in a couple of laps we were back to a five-second lead over the Neon of John Fernandez, Chrysler's racing czar. That's how it ended.
Winning the race was a spine-tingling, thrill. But the biggest thrill came some 10 hours later when the chief technical inspector declared our car in total compliance with SCCA regulations. In the pitch dark of a cool Ohio night, that's when the victory became official. If you know anything about the SCCA impound and inspection process, you know why crew chief Tom Brandlehner and I hugged each other like long lost brothers. Under tight security, springs and struts, catalytic converter, electronics, cam shafts, transmission gears, compression ratio, brakes and a couple of dozen other parts and pieces must be presented to inspectors. Teams do their own teardowns at the direction of SCCA. Believe it or not, Tom says he enjoyed it almost as much as the race.
It's been several years since the car which won the SSC race went on to pass inspection. If anybody was happier than we were to get a clean bill of health, it was the SCCA.
Our effort this year wouldn't have been possible without the support of Panasonic Automotive Systems, Kumho Tires, SPS, Carbotech Engineering and Red Line Oil. This car has been rubbed on and supported by the best, that'd be the Brandelhner Brothers – Tom & John. Thanks to John Turney, Todd Sanders, my friends at the Saturn Media Center, my mom & dad – Ralph and Carol Kramer and my family.