2018 Lifeline 24 Hour Classic at VIRginia International Raceway
August 11-12, 2018
Story by Doc Waldrop, Photos by Bill Strong, Tiffany Alexander, Doc Waldrop
The third and final round of the “Summer of 24’s” was held at VIRginia International Raceway (VIR) on the weekend of August 11-12th, 2018 on the full 3.27-mile 17 turn configuration course. Ninety-six teams out of the 98 teams registered started the race on Saturday after some Friday night socializing sponsored by Lifeline and the race teams of Hugh Jass and Racebar. The food and beverages provided all went down very well with some early good-natured trash talking and bench racing. Everyone knew it would be a grueling test of man and machine come Saturday.
The first Triple Piston Crown trophy, awarded to the team that entered all three 24-hour races at Nelson Ledges, Utah Motorsports Campus, and VIR and completed the most distance covered in the three contests was down to two teams, RBankRacing.com. and Visceral Racing Group. Everyone was competing for the coveted ChampCar trophies and 4 engraved watches that would be awarded to the overall winner.
After a brief practice session in the morning hosted by VIR, easily over 400 drivers attended the mandatory driver’s meeting and then dispersed to attend to their hopefully sturdy steeds for the Noon start and the twice around the clock endeavor. As the starting grid is a completely random draw based on pit stall number the start is frenetic as the faster cars move up rapidly through the field.
With such a large field it would take some of the favorites quite a while to make their way up front, but by the first hour, some of them had done so. Team Junction/Neo Motorsport’s #81 Honda Civic had first place and was in a brutal battle with the Not Banned Yet #307 240SX to keep it while Crash Management’s #18 Dodge Stratus, RVA Graphics & Wraps #111 BMW (now graced with the #1 plate having won the Championship at National Corvette Museum back in mid-June), and the JSK Racing #76 Nissan Maxima all jockeyed to stay in the top 5.
Beast Mode Racing’s #116 Acura Legend ran in 6th place followed by Bimmerline’s #336 E36, one of the 4 entries from SRI Racing stable of BMWs (#67, a ’87 E30), the RENNtech Motorsports #150 Mercedes-Benz 190E, and the Lang and Grosse #694 BMW E30 rounding out the top 10. Notable entries to have problems early were the NLS #977 240SX which was in the garage with fuel pump issues and the #336 Bimmerline E36 on pit row overheating with a busted radiator expansion tank after contact with another car’s rear bumper after they slowed dramatically to avoid yet another car. It was pretty busy out there, both on and off track as the #18 Crash Management Stratus had gone behind the wall as well with a head gasket problem.
The #522 TWOth Autosport’s (supported by Lowtide Motorsports) Honda Civic which had brought out a very brief red flag period with an engine fire on course that was quickly extinguished by the veteran VIR Safety Crew. This would be the only stoppage of the race and while there we numerous cautions during the race, VIR uses a “Purple 35 Flag” that simply slows the whole field down rather than employ a pace car to maintain safety for the workers when they were in-course dealing with disabled race cars. This flag use is very similar to the Formula 1 practice of displaying a virtual pace car and requires the competitors to slow to 35 miles per hour as they circulate the track, maintaining their distance to their fellow competitors. This system works very well, and these periods were usually kept to mere minutes except at night when they lasted a bit longer due to visibility.
All through the afternoon cars moved up and down the standings depending on the overall strategy, some diving into the pits for driver changes and fuel when a caution flew and other sticking to maximum 2-hour driver stints to keep their pit stops to the minimum 11 needed to finish the race. Mechanical problems also played hell with the field in the afternoon: Visceral Racing’s Porsche 944 with a shift linkage issue while in 7th place and Beast Mode’s potent #116 Acura Legend with a fuel issue.
As the sun slowly set and the afternoon’s shadows lengthened, the #76 Maxima had also led briefly, but it was the #26 Mission Motorsports EC class 2016 Miata MX5 that eventually moved up to take command of the race as it passed the ¼ distance mark. Prepared and raced by McCumbee-McAleer Racing, the entry marked the return of Liam Dwyer to racing. A multiple winner in IMSA’s Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, this would be the first time back in a race car after surgery to insert a rod into his left femur. Dwyer, a Marine, had lost most his left leg during a military tour in Afghanistan in 2011.
At this point, the MX5 led the #307 240SX, Pinkies Out’s #246 (a new ’88 E30 build by the formidable Huggins Racing’s shop), the #81 Honda Civic, and the all too familiar RVA Graphics’ #111 BMW. Another very notable competitor, the Rbankracing.com #90 Saab 9-3 held down 6th, followed by the #76 Maxima, Lang and Grosse’s #694 ’88 BMW E30, SRI’s #67 E30, and the Visceral Racing Group’s Porsche 944 in 10th having moved up through the field from their 57th starting position.
Bimmerline’s #336 had recovered from their incident to run in 11th and SRI Racing had placed another one of their E30s, the #69, in eleventh. An early favorite, Bad Brains Racing’s #210 BMW E36, had risen to 13th followed by the McKibbins Biohazard #382 Toyota MR2 and the 901 Motorsport’s #901 (how predictable a car number is that?) BMW E30. About this time, a large bird found out how potentially dangerous auto racing is when it flew into the side of the #148 Chattanooga Tourenwagen Meisterschaft 325is near the end of the main straight. If the BMW hadn’t dispatched the bird to its maker, the Cool Runninz #900 Porsche certainly did, coming into the pits shortly thereafter with heavy damage (and more than a few feathers) to their front splitter. The potential danger turned into a deadly reality for the bird, unfortunately. Godspeed our feathered friend and Requiescat in Pace.
The #148 soon went behind the wall to replace the BMW’s head (smoke was seen emitting from the oil dipstick tube) and as dusk started to turn to dark the E30 of RVA Graphics also went behind the wall from 2nd place with an apparent driveline problem. Their EC class M3 entry #511 had been retired earlier around lap 100 with a spun rod bearing. They were not the only teams suffering mechanical problems as teams set in for the long run to dawn: Visceral Racing Group had retired with a blown engine, Biohazard had a problem with a stuck caliper, and Turbo TATR Racing VW GTI had blown both the turbo gaskets. Several other cars were nursing problems including the #246 Pinkies Out team with a slipping clutch.
Halfway through the race, the order was the #26 Mission Motorsports MX5, Bimmerline’s E36, RBankracing.com’s tried and trusty Saab, the Pinkies Out BMW, and SRI Racing’s #67 BMW in the top 5. Fifth through 10th place saw the Lang and Grosse BMW leading the BMW E36s of Team Troxell Racing (#325) and Bad Brains Racing (#210), the 901 Motorsports BMW, and the BMW #919 of Elite Motors Racing. It was starting to look like a BMW only club, the exceptions in the top 15 cars being the Crash Management Dodge in 12th, the Miatas of Glazed and Confused #2 (THANKS for the Krispy Kreme donuts provided for all on Saturday morning!!!)) and RRT Racing (#518) sandwiched between the SRI Racing #68 E36 BMW in 11th place and the Loose Canon Racing #85 Porsche 944 in P15.
Most everyone had one eye on the racing and the other eye on the weather map as the Lifeline Classic ALWAYS has rain, but as the evening progressed virtually none had appeared. The race had dodged the proverbial bullet as some heavy storms passed above and below the track, but for a spattering of drops on the front straight and the back part of the layout near Oak Tree, it had remained dry. Mother Nature had another trick up her sleeve though as heavy fog soon blanketed the track in several places as the Dan River almost completely encircles the track from the T1 area up to the Oak Tree turn, North to West.
The low visibility from the fog that seemingly shifted from one set of corners to the next during the night most likely accounted for several passing under yellow (PUY) penalties and lengthier Purple 35s as stranded cars and parts were located on track. Still, the teams soldiered on, bearing down on the task at hand. The top teams swapped the lead several times overnight with positions changing hands largely due to pit stops as the #26 Miata, the rbankracing.com Saab, and the #336 Bimmerline E36 all found themselves in the lead at various points. Further down in the top 15, the InActiv #626 Mazda (what else, a 626-model sporting livery honoring Mazda’s LeMans winning 787B rotary engine entry in 1991) traded places with the Leviathan Motorsport’s #255 MR2, the Hugh Jass #337 Miata, the DamnSon #346 BMW E46, and SRI’s #68 BMW.
Back in the paddock several teams were doing some serious wrenching on their rides: Wine ‘Um and Dine ‘Um (WUDU) #691 was swapping engines (having to go to Charlotte to retrieve a teammate’s spare), the #622 Chandler School Miata was dealing with a rear axle repair, and the Not Banned Yet 240SX was contemplating retirement with a cracked fuel rail (and the spares back in Richmond). In addition to these teams the #363 Rolling Roadblock Racing team was making repairs to a broken header, the #507 Daikoku Futo Rejects was banging on a bent strut due to contact out on the course, and the #503 THR Civic was repairing a broken radiator bracket.
The #18 Crash Management Stratus had dropped out of the top 15, first with a left wheel bearing failure and then an accident on course that resulted in a lengthy tow back to the paddock. The Leviathan Racing MR2 was also retired with reoccurring overheating problems. As dawn broke the Beast Mode #116 Acura Integra joined in the battle, fighting with the SRI BMW #68 to stay in the top 15. InActiv Motorsports’ Mazda had suffered a broken wheel but was affecting repairs, vowing to rejoin the fray. The EC class Mission Motorsports #26 had retired with undisclosed problems.
With 3 hours to go, SRI’s #67 dropped 4 more positions after heavy contact with a wall totaled the BMW as they ran in 3rd place with the entire rear of the car pushed some 1’ to the passenger side from the left side tires. The car would be retired. This incident elevated the Glazed and Confused 2 #256, the #219 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (WTF…get the team name now?) Miata, the DamnSon #346 E46, and the 901 Motorsports BMW all up one spot. The SRI #67 continued to drop through the standings during the next 30 minutes and the ripple effect moved the Hugh Jass #337 Miata (which had survived no less than 3 on-track incidents, each resulting in an off-track excursion) to 12th followed by the E36 model BMWs of Poor Boys Racing North #611 and their sister entry, and the SRI #68. The InActiv Mazda again joined the top 15 as a result as well, making good on their vow to return to do further battle with the field.
With the final pit stops approaching the Bimmerline BMW, having kept the lead despite a black flag stop and go penalty and a warning for passing a car in the bridge area and putting 2 off, had the lead over the Rbankracing.com Saab, but it was far from a comfortable one. Any mistake would cost them the lead and the Saab was pressuring them hard again as they had all night. The third through seventh positions had solidified their positions with several laps over their respective competitors and would hold them to the finish. Notably, they were ALL BMW E30 or E36 models. Pinkies Out had survived their clutch problems (but lost 4th gear) and nursed their E30 for 3rd, Team Troxell had 4th after falling to as low as 45th early in the race, and Lang & Grosse had secured 5th having really never dropped out of the top 10 since very early in the race.
Bad Brains Racing could also say they owed their 6th place finish to steady racing as opposed to the Elite Motors Racing #919 entry that started 60th and hovered in the high to mid-teens until cracking into the top 10 near the halfway mark at Midnight. The #919 Elite Motors Racing BMW, while not particularly fast, had maintained a steady run from their 60th place start and had run in the top 15 since 7PM. They just soldiered on with what they had, and the effort paid off.
As opposed to the top 7 positions, P8 through P12 was heavily contested during the last hour between BMWs and Miatas of the Glazed and Confused 2 team (#256 Miata), DamnSon Racing (#346 BMW), WTF’s (#21 Miata), Hugh Jass (#337 Miata), and 901 Motorsport (#901 BMW). In the end, it was settled with the #256 in 8th, and the DamnSon BMW overtaking the WTF Miata for 9th with 45 minutes to go. The Hugh Jass Miata was overtaken by the 901 Motorsports BMW with little precious time left on the clock for 11th while Poor Boys Racing North finished 13th, the #68 salvaging at least a 14th for the four-car SRI Racing team entry. InActiv’s Mazda 626 came home in P15 So it wasn’t an entirely all BMW and Miata show.
And what about our top 2, the Bimmerline #336 BMW and Rbankracing.com Saab? Could the #90 overtake the BMW and claim their second overall win in the Lifeline 24 Hour Classic at VIRginia International Raceway? Would Bimmerline yet again be relegated to bridesmaid status and watch (WATCH…get it) Robin Bank collect the coveted, engraved timepieces?
We must go back in time a bit over 3 hours to set the stage: At 8:32 the #336 was black flagged for the pass in the grass (that line sounds familiar) and about 20 minutes later SRI’s #67 hit the tire barriers hard enough to dislodge several of them. Initially, the Purple 35 was displayed to the field, but it was soon determined that a pace car was needed to move heavier equipment to the tire wall. Race control had no choice but to bring out the pace car while workers cleared up the mess and the pace car dutifully picked up the leader. During this time both RBank and Bimmerline dove into the pits. By a shorter stop, RBank joined the field at the tail end of the longest lap.
At this point, they both had to make another pit stop and the #90 stepped up the pace, recording their personal fastest time of the race (2:15.438) on lap 459 after the field went back to green. On lap 475 with almost exactly 2 hours to go the Saab pitted for the last time. Perhaps sensing the threat, Bimmerline responded with their own personal fastest time of the race with a 2:14.304 on lap 490 and pitted 3 laps later. The Rbankracing.com Saab was only 1:47 in arrears on lap 495 when the nail in their coffin was hammered in by Race Control and the potential win vanished.
As Timing & Scoring always do, they review the leader’s pit stops and it was determined that the Saab had gone over the driver stint limit earlier in the morning. Subsequentially the #90 was black flagged for the violation with a stop and go penalty. The overall win went to Bimmerline along with the engraved watches. Robin Bank was very generous in defeat stating his team had done everything they could to pressure the BMW into a mistake, but they never faltered. Perhaps even more disappointing, they had failed to secure the Triple Piston Cup even with Visceral Racing Group’s early retirement, falling just 293.86 miles short. The early retirement at Nelson Ledges with a blown head gasket had come back to haunt them.
The “Summer of 24s” was over, but with consecutive 2nd place finishes at Utah Motorsports Complex and Virginia International Raceway (separated in time by just 2 weeks) the Rbankracing.com team had nothing to hang their head about. Neither did ANY other team that competed in any one of the three 24-hour races, regardless of finishing position. It’s simply THE hardest test of man and machine.
JDS Photos -- https://www.facebook.com/pg/JDS-Photos-397150546963344/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2159605597384488
What a great time this event was! I have some 900 photos that I took, so if there are any requests or questions please reach out: DM or Email works best: John@JDS-Photos.com