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The Factory Five Racing 2004 Nationals made it’s first return to the home of the very first spec cobra race: Virginia International Raceway. The world-famous track brought 26 cars and a new twist: the addition of professional race car drivers competing for Steve Marcus (Richmond, VA) – himself one of the original spec racers who first competed at VIR when the series began.

The regular crowd of spec racers, led by defending Nationals champion Bryan Dobyns (Manassas, VA), showed that they weren’t going to just be passive and let the title go without a fight. The Friday practice featured Grand-Am/World Challenge driver Brian Cunningham (Danville, KY) and Grand-Am driver Spencer Pumpelly (Lime Rock, CT) just ahead of Dobyns, but an incredible 9 cars would all run the weekend faster than the record Dobyns had first set at VIR in May. Saturday morning qualifying brought a quick Robert Mau (Richmond, VA) breaking the top five and joined by the other Marcus Motorsports driver, Hugh Plumb (Chadds Ford, PA) who races Grand Am and ALMS. Track familiarity obviously played a big role as last years 2nd and 3rd place drivers Spencer Sharp (Phoenix, AZ) and Gary Cheney (North Hampton, NH) were stuck further down the pack.

A Saturday exhibition race for the crowd was run with an inverted field. The expected chaos showed Donny Edwards (Napa, CA) taking the early lead before being replaced by Dan Elam (Richmond, VA). When Elam mistakenly put the car into first gear it resulted in contact with Edwards which let Brian Cates (Manassas, VA) take the lead. But Cunningham wasn’t giving up and made a last-lap pass to take the exhibition win.

With the fun and games out of the way, the attention turned to Sunday. A short practice session left racers with some last minute testing and final tuning. Outside pole-sitter Cunningham jumped the start and the starter waiver off the start. It was a decision that would have later implications. The second time the field came around it wasn’t bunched up properly and the starter again waived off the field. The third time proved the charm (or the starter just gave up) and the field came thundering down to start the race. Pumpelly, Cunningham, Dobyns, Cates, and Mau opened a small gap after three turns while Plumb and Elam fought at the lead of the next group with drivers like John McIver (Detroit, MI), Dave Riha (Wareham, MA), Victor Seaber (Raleigh, NC), David Lang (Napa, CA), Bob Lawson (Santa Cruz, CA), and Sharp.

After the first lap Dobyns had moved into second place and was chasing Pumpelly while Mau was in front of Cunningham and Cates. The next few laps resulted in some passes, a Dobyns spin, and Plumb’s car retired due to overheating. Mau made a spectacular, gasp-inspiring save from 140MPH when he and Cunningham had contact that spun Mau sideways before he collected it and kept charging down the track. At the halfway point of the race it was Pumpelly, Cunningham, Cates, Mau, and Elam.

As the pack came down VIR’s “rollercoaster” and into “hogpen” the race changed. Elam and Riha ended up in contact with Elam spinning in front of a hard charging Dobyns and then into a nose-to-nose collision with Sharp who had driven the Levy Racing car extremely well and into contention for a Top 5 finish. Seaber, who had his car damaged at Sears Point two years earlier en route to setting the track record, managed to get through unscathed and continue racing.

When the checkered flag fell it was Pumpelly, Cunningham, Cates, Mau, and Seaber crossing the line first. Amazingly, the slowest cars in the field would have challenged for podium finishes from the very first spec race. It was a great indication of how much the series has grown since the early days and just how thorough competitive the field was for the Nationals weekend.

A lot of speculation had been focused on whether competitors were cheating with engine combinations and the post-race inspection was particularly important since it would either confirm the rumors or put them to rest. A very thorough inspection showed that none of the cars had illegal engine configurations, but Cunningham’s car was found to be a mere 3 lbs under the weight limit. The car was disqualified and someone later calculated that each waived-off start resulted in the cars burning about 3.5 lbs of fuel for each lap. The jump start that Cunningham had made ended up costing him a podium finish, but no one could deny that while the professional drivers raised the bar, the series regulars showed that they could compete with anyone in the some of the best racing the series has seen yet.


(Thanks to everyone who came out to watch and especially to help! All of the spec racers loved getting to see everyone!)
 

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Excellent summary for those of us who coundn't make it. Thank You.
 

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Excellent summary even for those who WERE there.

There were a few excellant vantage points for spectators, but at best, only a few turns of the track can bee seen from any one point.

It's great to get the racers perspective. The "parade laps" gave us a taste of the track. That taste made watching the spec cars run, very interesting.
 

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DQ'd for 3 lb under weight?
Wow! Is that with, or without fuel aboard?

Also, how are the engines checked for cheating? Cam Lift check? What about duration? Is the upper intake pulled? What size injectors are allowed?

[ September 09, 2004, 10:01 AM: Message edited by: Larry N. Johnson ]
 
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