The 2014 Sports Car Club of America National Championship Runoffs has wrapped up at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. With more than 500 entrants, the event exceeded projected turnouts as 24 races crowned champions in 27 different SCCA classes.
For the first time, Mazda Raceway hosted the event, and for the first time in 46 years, the event was held west of the Rockies. From 1970 through 2013, the Runoffs was hosted by only four circuits – Road Atlanta (24 years), Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (12 years), Heartland Park Topeka (three years) and Road America (five years). Beginning with the 2014 edition, the event will rotate to a different track each year for the foreseeable future.
Next year it moves to Daytona International Speedway, which hosted the Runoffs in the ’60s as it alternated with Riverside Raceway in California, then to Mid-Ohio, with 2017 and beyond to be determined.
With the biggest Club Racing event of the year in the books, where National Champions are crowned in winner-take-all races, RACER.com checked in with SCCA President – and Runoffs competitor in Formula Vee – Lisa Noble (pictured, BELOW) to get her take on the success of this year’s event and the future of the Runoffs.
With the 2014 Runoffs on its way to completion, how are you feeling about the choice to move the event around each year, beginning with Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca?
nobleLN: It was a very well-thought-out, planned strategy to accomplish several things: To give our West Coast – it’s the first time in 46 years that the Runoffs has been west of the Rockies, west of Kansas – to give our West Coast cadre of drivers the opportunity to experience the wonderfulness, the great event that the Runoffs is, the passion of the Runoffs, the intense competition, was key.
Similarly to that, activating members that have dropped away from the Club, bringing cars out of garages, enticing new members to come in and run, and starting to build up that great core of West Coast drivers that we had back in those days, and getting them to be a part of the mix of the National Championship and the top tier of racing, the Majors racing, were also elements of the decision.
As an example of that, some 200 Runoffs rookies entered this year and the third-place finisher in GT-3 was racing in his first Runoffs in 19 years….
It’s crazy wonderful. A lot of first-timers. When we made the decision to come out here, we had never been to Mazda Raceway for a National Championship, nor had we been here in any kind of a national office role. So our business model was unknown. We were making the best-informed decisions we could with the information we had in hand. And we missed the mark, because our drivers supported it in numbers that we never thought they would. On the order of 350 test day entries, people entering at a level that was beyond where we budgeted. We were at 535 at one point and ended up maybe eight or nine drivers less, which is pretty impressive; usually we’ll take a significant drop at the end.
Once we knew that, I wanted the chance to let the drivers know, let our competitors know, how much we appreciated their support. I sent a letter out about a week ago telling them that I wanted to stop by every driver that I could, personally thank them and hand them a $50 check in recognition of what they had given us by their participation and their support for the event, Its been pretty wonderful. I have to tell you – these guys, they are thrilled the event is here. They are thrilled to be able to run at this track – if it is something new or different for them – and a lot of those drivers are first-time drivers at the Runoffs.
Are there any lessons that you’ve learned this year that you can carry to Daytona in 2015?
No, every venue is going to be its own challenge, every venue is going to open up its own opportunities. There are things that we can do at Daytona that we obviously couldn’t do here, because of space constraints, because of daylight, because of time of year. We go to Mid-Ohio, we’ll be going back to this iconic track that people know and love – that will look different. What’s next after Mid-Ohio and Daytona? We’re committed to coming back to the West Coast. Maybe not in 2017 but very very shortly after that if it’s not. Even this week we’ve had discussions on where that might be as we look west of the Rocky Mountains.
Do you see a time where the Runoffs is once again in the same location for an extended period?
I think anything is on the table. there are some things about this model that are not perfect. For instance, testing. It’s difficult for a driver to have the breadth and depth of testing that they need to have their top game. It’s going to be difficult. So there are things that do recommend that potentially we might have a two- or three-year model again. Anything’s on the table, But right now we’re really loving the look of this rotation. My prediction, as I look in the crystal ball here, is that it will continue for some years.
Different locations have different strengths and capacities… is there a right number for the Runoffs in terms of entries?
No, there’s not a right number. What I do want to be sure is that it’s a challenge to get to the Runoffs, that there’s a criteria that has to be met, that we at some level find our best drivers, the drivers that are most committed to a competitive program, and those are the ones that we bring.
What other changes can we expect to see to the Runoffs in coming years?
I don’t know that there is anything specific on the horizon, other than the great rotation. But like I said, the world’s our oyster here. There are a lot of things we could look at, things that are really wild ideas today…The Majors was a wild idea. Coming to Mazda Raceway was a wild idea five years ago. But there’s a lot of blue sky thinking going on. Does the Runoffs have to be just this event? Are there other things that we can do to engage the rest of our membership? Is the Runoffs a single-format event? Is it a single-track event? Is it a single-week event? Is it a daytime event, or a nighttime event? There are a lot of options we can look at.
We’ve seen a big step up in the people that aren’t at the Runoffs being able to enjoy it through SCCA Live, with SpeedcastTV video, live timing and notes. How has that been received?
I truly am very proud and I hope that the people that get the chance to look at scca.com/sccalive, our new dynamic-design Web page that will work on any of your devices. There is video – Speedcast live streaming video; there’s chat; notes and, as well, this very cool three-sector timing page that is something that we’ve never had. I think it’s a great tool for our members to be able to use as they follow the Runoffs.
Do you expect the complexion of the event to change significantly at Daytona next year?
Operationally, absolutely. Daytona will have its own challenges. The makeup of our drivers will change. Southeast Division has a huge cadre of regional racers and already we’re seeing those drivers come out in force to prepare and grow and become the drivers they need to be to run the Runoffs. They’ll be vetted through the Majors path as well as their Divisional path. I’m not worried that we won’t have a great quality of driver. Definitely that will be a core group of regional racers that we’ve never had, a core group of divisional drivers.