ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — The F Production race at the 50th SCCA National Championship Runoffs promised to be a prize fight between the three top qualifying cars.
Mark Carpenter finished out front for his second career national championship, followed by Eric Prill and Kevin Ruck.
Carpenter officially led all 13 laps and 52 miles of Saturday’s race, averaging 93.378 mph and winning by 1.823 seconds. In this case, the box score doesn’t tell the story of the race.
The No. 30 GGS Technical Publications Acura Integra piloted by Carpenter didn’t get the start that he had planned from the SafeRacer pole, but had recovered enough to hold the lead through the first turn. Prill’s No. 7 Jesse Prather Motorsports/Hoosier/Hawk Mazda Miata pulled alongside the leader from the second row up the front straight to the inside, while Charlie Campbell’s Miata moved outside of Ruck from the same row.
Exiting the corner and down the hill to turn five, the running order was Carpenter, Prill, Campbell’s No. 89 Hoosier/Jesse Prather Motorsports Mazda Miata, and Ruck’s No. 73 Hoosier/Honda Performance Development Acura Integra. Ruck drove deep to the inside of Campbell in turn five, slotting in behind Prill, and the three eventual podium finishers moved ahead of the field.
Carpenter led flag to flag for his second career championship, even with his mirrors full of his two closest competitors. Brake smoke from the right rear tire of the championship Acura didn’t slow Carpenter, who was making his first Runoffs appearance since his last title in 2009.
“Our decision to go racing didn’t happen until June of this year,” Carpenter said. “It’s a little different feeling this time around. In such a short period of time, my guys did a great job getting the car together, even on the trailer, to get it out of the garage. I was tripping over it in my garage for two years. It’s definitely a different feeling.
“A lot has happened over the last few years of my life. Things are changing constantly, and even though I’ve been out of the driver’s seat, I’ve still been at the track. People don’t realize it, but I’ve been working in pro racing [as an engineer] for the last couple of years. I’ve learned a lot of things at the track, actually, that have helped my driving. There’s a lot I’ve picked up on. It’s different this time around, but it feels just as sweet as 2009 for sure.”
Ruck’s power up the front straight to begin lap two put the pair of Acuras back up front. Prill’s Miata pulled right to the tail from turn five through turn 14, and the Acuras gained an ever so slight advantage on Road America’s long straights. Even with the differences in the two makes of cars, lap times were nearly identical.
As if to display those differences on lap seven, Prill moved around Ruck for second in Canada Corner, but Ruck powered back past up the front straight.
The scenario replayed itself again on lap 11, beginning with Prill making the GoPro Hero Move of the Race on a pass to the outside around the Carousel.