ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Gregory Eaton used a bit of finesse in a true muscle class to grab his second-consecutive American Sedan National Championship on Saturday at Road America during the 57th SCCA National Championship Runoffs.
Philip Smith and and Amy Aquilante survived the 13-lap heavyweight fight to join Eaton on the podium.
Eaton started on the Tire Rack Pole, but lost the lead immediately when both third-starting Andy McDermid and second-starting James Jost jumped to the front in turn one.
“I knew that we had speed in the car, but I don’t have big top end speed,” Eaton said. “When it was a drag race this morning, I had that in my mind. I knew those guys would be up and we just had to make it through that corner somehow. I had good brakes, the car was handling well. We knew reliability was important and we knew tires was important. The length of the race lends you to be calm.”
While the trio of drivers challenged each other on seemingly every corner, American Sedan’s class formula of high horsepower, relatively skinny tires and an almost impossibly small brake package makes late-race drama one of the safest bet of the Runoffs. That began at the start of lap eight, when McDermid spun under braking entering the high-speed turn one and came to rest in the gravel trap. It continued one lap later when new-leader James Jost slowed and came to a stop on the front straight.
While McDermid and Jost were experiencing troubles, Eaton was under attack from a hard-charging Daniel Richardson. Richardson got in front of Eaton temporarily, dropping him to fourth, but Eaton battled back. Richardson fell victim to mechanical gremlins on lap eight, giving the eventual champ some breathing room.
With four laps to go, Eaton was able to maintain the balance in the No. 21 Eaton Racing and Development Ford Mustang and bring the car home for a 1.939-second victory — along with his second gold medal.
“This is better,” Eaton said, comparing his two titles. “Last year, it was like, ‘oh, wow, we did it.’ This year we felt like we weren’t the best here and we were going to have to really race our way into this. We couldn’t just get out like last year. I’ve only been here a few times before this Runoffs and hadn’t really had much success. I spent a lot of time thinking about that and the set-up and I guess it paid off.”
Charging late in the race was the No. 54 PRS Racing/Phil Harper Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro of Smith. Smith’s run fell short of the top spot, but matched a career-best finish after a difficult week that included a number of repairs and a rebuild of the transmission prior to Thursday’s qualifying session.
“I’m getting old, guys,” Smith said of his challenging week. “Getting under that race car and changing transmissions and rear ends is not what it was. Sometimes in that racing stuff, you have tough weeks. Normally that car is really reliable. We killed ourselves. You can’t believe how long things take. But it’s fun, and it’s worth it.”
Aquilante and Thomas West found each other on the track — with three laps to go — for a wheel-to-wheel battle for the final podium position. West held off the No. 51 TAR/dba USA/Hoosier Pontiac Firebird until the final corner, when Aquilante got a run out of Turn 14 and crossed the stripe just .036-second in front of West for the bronze medal and her first time on the Runoffs podium.
“I’ve seen people do it all day, where they back it up and then get a run,” Aquilante said of the final corner. “I backed it up as much as I could, threw it into second, and I was probably on the power at the entry. I just hung on the curbs and shot up the outside of him. It worked out perfect.”
Michael Lavigne came across the finish stripe after West to complete the top five.