Masters National Championship: Willcox Wins One, and So Does Mayes
Wednesday, February 23, 2005 Sebring International Raceway was the setting for the 2005 opener of the Skip Barber Master’s National Championship. The over-40-but-fast crowd got down and dirty and then some under clear blue skies and the perfect temperatures of wintertime Florida.
Special note: The crew and mechanics did an especially tremendous job this weekend, getting race cars back onto the grid after you folks banged a few. If you are a driver in the Skip Barber Race Series, be sure to do the right thing and thank those guys for a job well done.
Now, back to the story…
For the Fast 40 drivers, “spring training” was Thursday lapping! Most everyone showed up for that, then right into final practice Friday morning they went. Regrettably, a few guys who were scheduled weren’t able to make it: Jeremy Preddy, who had some good showings last season, was MIA, and John Greist, the Midwest Masters standout who had the whole beer-and-brats crowd pulling for him, had to cancel because of flight delays and travel problems.
New for the Master’s National this year is the ability to adjust the sway bars during the weekend. In Friday morning practice, defending champion,Chris Willcox used this to his advantage to “bring” the car to him and improve his lap times by almost two seconds, which put him on top of the time chart. Practice was excitingly tight as less than three-tenths covered the top four, and a pinch more than one second blanketed the top seven.
Qualifying 1: Local boy makes good…
Qualifying for Race One showed what happens when a “local boy” enters the show. David Libby, a Southern Series regular, put it on the pole in his first ever Master National event! Big Dick Lippert put a teeny-tiny gap on Willcox, taking the P2 grid by 4/100s of a second. With Willcox third, John Peterson (second quick in practice) lined up fourth, John Mayes fifth. Mike “PoppaDoc” Edwards, sire of a possible future American F1 star, was back in the stirrups after a long time-out. The Masters National also had a goodly share of newbies: Jimmy Locke, who got his feet wet in the Masters last year, qualified seventh; Dom Bastien, who we think entered every Skip Barber Regional Series race in 2004 — and always has a smile on his face — qualified 10th, just in front of David Casey, an Eastern Series regular and a great golfing buddy.
Qualifying 2: Local boy makes even gooder…
Like we even needed proof Q1 was no fluke, “Lo-Cal” Libby stuck it on pole again for Sunday’s race (and thus had two extra points in his pocket). Kirk Kindsfater had new-found speed (and car) on Saturday to take the second-place spot. Peterson was able to improve his lap time by a 10th of a second, and that improved his starting position for R2 to P3. Mayes got the P4 slot while “newbie” Locke improved almost a full second (in the same car) to round out the top five. Big Dick Lippert inched out Little Peter Tucker for sixth, while defending champion Willcox went to the T-car and got eighth. Edwards, Bastien, Casey and Bob Hagerty rounded out the field for Sunday’s race.
Green flag and Libby Pied Pipered the field across the line. But that was the only time Libby tasted the sweet nectar of a Masters National lead: Wily Willcox got a great start from P3 and never looked back, leading every lap, setting fastest time, taking the victory. Libby drove strong to get the bridesmaid position, Lippert taking third. Locke stepped his way up three spots for fourth, Peterson slid down one for fifth. Kindsfater and Casey each improved three positions from their grid start, finishing sixth and eighth, respectively. In between them was Maisy. He had a good run going, early on anyway. Mayes slotted his way into P3 (from fifth on the grid) on the opening lap. But four laps later he went agricultural, rejoining, and finishing, seventh. Casey, Tucker, Edwards, Hagerty and Bastien rounded out the 12-man field.
The field size swelled from 12 to 14, as Dario Cioti and Larry Revier were able to wiggle out of their testing duties for Ron Dennis and showed up on Sunday during the pace lap…
This was one of those races where if you stayed out of trouble, dag-nabbit, and kept the gosh-darn car on the gosh-darn race track, you had as good a shot as anyone to win the gosh-darn thing.
Kindsfater was the man on the move as he “officially” led across the line on the start, sneaking past Libby on pole. Locke, king of starts, got to the front on lap one, but spun! As the field headed to the Hairpin for the first time, Peterson ran into the back of Willcox. That put Peterson out and Willcox fell to 12th, out of touch with the pack. Kindsfater led the second time across the stripe, but then he made a mistake and dropped back to third. Also on lap two Casey, who had the greatest start ever in the history of motor racing (fromP10 to P2) spun in the Water Tower turn (and eventually had a meeting with the tire wall in turn 17). This brought out the full course yellow and Libby had the lead.
On the re-start Libby got the jump, but rocketing down to the Hairpin, Mayes had the run. It became a braking contest and Libby got into the corner too hot and spun. Right behind these guys were Kindsfater and Peter Tucker. Kindsfater had to check up to avoid Libby and Mayes, and Tucker ran in to the back of him. Ouch! Kindsfater had to pit and eventually lost a lap, finishing 11th. Tucker continued and was able to cop a sixth. Mayes took off from there and never looked back. He went on to lead the rest of the laps and scored his first ever win. Way to go John!
Jimmy Locke (l.) did really well, taking two fourth-places; Willcox (c.) was his usual super-quick, as a win and a second will attest; and David Libby (r.) struck pole gold at Sebring and was rewarded with a second and a seventh and sits third in points.
Meanwhile Willcox made full use of the yellow and picked his way past everybody to take second. Lippert and Revier had a great battle after the yellow and eventually Revier got the final podium spot. Not bad for a guy who hadn’t driven a Skippy car for almost a year… Revier also got the Hard Charger Award, coming from 12th on the grid to P3 and setting fastest race-lap. (Revier has been doing some karting to keep in shape and it obviously paid off.) Libby was able to climb back up to finish seventh after battling past Cioti.
With rounds one and two under the belt, defending champion Willcox is up seven points on Mayes, who’s just two ahead of Libby, who’s just two ahead of Lippert, who’s just one ahead of Locke. Good stuff!
The Skip Barber Masters National Championship continues with rounds three and four next month — March 11-13 — at another great racing circuit, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Remember, the older you get, the faster you were!