HILLIARD, Ohio – Cliff White, 26, of Huntsville, Ala., was selected as the 42nd annual recipient of the prestigious Road Racing Drivers Club Mark Donohue Award for his outstanding Spec Racer Ford class victory at the 2012 SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., in September.
White will be officially presented the award on March 2, 2013, at the SCCA National Convention at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa in Las Vegas. He will also be honored by the RRDC at its annual dinner at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in Florida on Jan. 23, 2013.
White is a CPA and MBA who runs the family business operating assisted-living communities. He is a veteran of the Spec Racer Ford (SRF) class with 11 years in the seat – he started at age 16. This is his first SCCA National Championship.
His drive to victory was anything but leisurely. According to Don Knowles, who chaired this year’s Donohue Award selection committee, “I watched the SRF race from turn 13 and then on the live computer broadcast. Cliff and the other three SRF frontrunners ran what is almost unheard of – a clean Runoffs race! Three leaders on the last lap with Cliff coming from fourth to first – a real tough tactical battle. Winning the arm-wrestling contest with that field is a great driving accomplishment.”
White credited his car’s performance to the communication he has with his mentor and mechanic, Mark Eaton, who works for the southeast division’s SRF customer service representative (CSR), Robinson Motorsports. “We just put our heads down all week and kept working on the car,” said White. “The fact we’ve done this together on and off for 10 years, we speak the same language. He knows the car inside and out and he knows my driving. So we said to ourselves, ‘We’re going to win this thing.’”
For the entire 13 laps around the 4-mile circuit, four drivers – Scott Rettich, Brian Schofield, Todd Harris and White – plotted, probed and parried for the lead. They were still at it on the last lap. Here’s how White saw it.
“I got the warning that we had two laps to go, and I took assessment of where we were and who was fast and not and where. So I relaxed the tires for a little bit until about halfway through the last lap, and I guess started making my move going into 5 (the hard left at the end of the Andretti Straight).”
Driving now to maximize corner exit speed, White had moved to third as the train swooped down on Canada Corner, a hard right that is the third from the last major turn at Road America. With Schofield and Harris battling for the lead, “I knew Brian and Todd would defend the inside and go as deep as possible for the win,” said White. “Instead, I braked early and stayed on the normal racing line to be able to get underneath Harris on the exit of Canada.”
White pulled abreast Harris and managed to hold the outside line through the left-hand Bridge Turn. This put White on the inside line for the final corner where he passed Harris for second. When leader Schofield twitched a bit on exit, White said, “I knew I had him.”
There was a bit of weaving about on the uphill home stretch, but White nosed ahead to take the checkered flag in perhaps the best race of the 2012 Runoffs.
“I couldn’t have done this without my parents,” White said. “That’s a kind of a cliché no-brainer; but really, Dad and I are some of the last privateers left in our class. He finished 29th. Of the top six finishers, five are running out of a prep shop or are a CSR or SRF driving school instructor. So really we are a family race team and maybe that delayed me winning one of these things; but that makes it all the sweeter.”
White was thrilled to be named the RRDC Mark Donohue Award winner by some of his peers. “Honestly, I’m still on Cloud 9 from winning the Runoffs and receiving this award,” he said. “I was aware of the award but until Don Knowles called me I didn’t realize who my peers now were, in terms of the previous recipients. With the number of drivers who compete at the Runoffs, to know that I stood out that much is an incredible feeling. I am aware of what Mark Donohue and the other drivers who have received this award had accomplished, and it’s an incredible honor.”
Every year, the RRDC Mark Donohue Award trophy is an engraved glass top mounted on a special, racing-experienced wheel, provided through the efforts of an RRDC member. This year’s wheel was donated by RRDC President Bobby Rahal on behalf of Rahal, Letterman, Lanigan Racing. It was mounted on the BMW Team RLL M3 GT during the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park, Conn., this past July.
Rahal, a Runoffs champion long before he won the Indianapolis 500, emphasized the Mark Donohue Award is “about personal spirit and performance behind the wheel. Those qualities are more important for this award than winning the race. This year, Cliff White did both.
“Mark Donohue would have been proud to see Cliff win this award,” said Rahal. “The communication between Cliff and his engineer proved key to his dramatic victory. Mark was both driver and engineer and knew better than most the importance of that linkage.”