U.S. Regional Run-off

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Race Series vet Craig Duerson has a reason to smile, considering the check in his hands!

The Skip Barber U.S. Regional Run-off was part of the Southern Series event at Homestead Miami Speedway. With a lot of seat-time money up for grabs – $15,000 to the winner – it made for some very competitive racing. Especially since we used the Grand-Am road course configuration that utilizes all of NASCAR turns 3 and 4. That meant drafting and “popping” like you read about – an aspect that would play a key role in the “A Main” event…

The format is unlike anything else we do in the Race Series. To reduce the intricacies of “that’s racing” luck, three races ultimately determine the champion. A qualifying session sets the grid for Heat 1. You earn points for where you finish in that race, and it also determines your starting position for Heat 2. Then, after adding the points together for each driver’s Heat 1/Heat 2 results, the final run-off grid is set. And then the final green flag drops for the A Main.

In qualifying for Heat 1, a pair of teenage Alexanders – Rossi and Doman – were book-ended by a pair of slightly older racers, Craig Duerson and Brent Milner. Duerson was on pole with a 1:32.030, with Rossi (:32.265), Doman (.446) and Milner (.633) just a few 10ths back.

Heat 1 was a barn-burner, as predicted, with Duerson and Rossi swapping the lead back and forth thanks to the power of the draft, Doman right there in the mix, too. As the three shot off the NASCAR 4 banking to end lap 15 and begin the last lap, Duerson got hung out to dry and Rossi shot into the lead. When the last lap shook out, Doman was second, Duerson third. Drive of the race? Had to be by Jonathan Frost, who went from dead last on the grid to a closing fourth. Milner survived to a fifth.

On the next to last lap of Heat 1, Rossi (#29) ducks under Duerson (#70) going into Turn One, a skittery dive into the infield section.

Heat 1 proved that Duerson, Rossi and Doman were the class of the field. Doman put up the fastest race-lap, and Duerson’s and Rossi’s fastest were within a 10th of each other. Heat 2 was as back-and-forth as the first; Rossi, Duerson and Doman all led at some point. You should have seen them skittering down into One – turning-in flat at about 125 mph, more than once three-wide. Woof! Coming around the banking to take the checker, you didn’t need a blanket to cover all three. A Kleenex® brand tissue would have done the trick. Flying across the line… it… was… Duerson by a hair, .025 over Rossi, .054 over Doman. Roger Cote would have been in this mix given a couple more laps. As it was he got a fine fourth, with Frost fifth.

So this was the grid for the winner-takes-all A Main: Rossi on pole, Doman alongside, Duerson P3, Frost fourth, with row three comprised of Milner and Cote.

Turn One, still flat, Doman (#43), Rossi (#29) and Duerson (#70) get really close at 120+ mph.

Let me preface the report of the finale with this: Pick almost any Skip Barber Regional race and you’ll see more passing, more saves, more on-track racecraft and a boatload more exciting moves than you’ll witness in any F1, Champ Car or IRL race. And if the Skip Barber Regional Run-off finale had been in one of those pro series, the winner would have been Alex Doman. But the Skip Barber Regional Race Series succeeds in large part to its unique rules, and one of those rules is that any contact between cars requires a pit-stop safety check. If it occurs on the last lap, you’re going to get a time penalty. So after yet another 15.9 wickedly exciting laps, with Rossi, Duerson and Doman all having their requisite turns at the front, those three came shooting off the NASCAR 4 banking. It was anybody’s race. And with $15,000 up for grabs, there was no question some hardball would come into play. Coming down to the line, Doman was inches in front of Rossi. Rossi went to pop and Doman swept back across his nose. And there was contact. Very slight, neither driver probably even felt it, but contact nonetheless. After it was confirmed post-race in pitlane, 20 seconds had to be added to each of their total race times. Obviously, Doman and Rossi were deeply disappointed, but they both understand the Regional rules. If this were the National (which they’re both headed for), it would’ve been a different story.

Last lap, rushing down to the finish line: A tick of the watch earlier, 43 and 29 brushed. Rossi’s nose nipple was swept off across Doman’s crash box.

So with the time penalties, Duerson was the $15,000 winner, Jeff Relic second ($7,500) after a great drive from eighth, and Cote a solid third ($5,000). Matthew Jordan came home a good fifth, which earned him the $5,000 for being first in the “teen” age group.

Jeff Relic is presented his second-place $7,500 check by Skip Barber’s Ashlei Newkirk.

Roger Cote celebrates his P3, raising his $5K skyward.

Matthew Jordan, 19, won the “12-to-20” title.

Rick Roso

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