ChumpCar’s Frantic Desert Dual at Buttonwillow

Photo credit: ChumpCar World Series

In the sweltering heat of Central California, competition heated up this past weekend for the ChumpCar Desert Dual. With twenty six entrants, the two days of competition were fraught with mechanical gremlins, door-to-door racing, cracked windshields, and the lesser demands of battling in the searing temperatures.

It was a weekend of heavy attrition; with dominant cars exiting the race prematurely and mid-fielders wishing they inspected their machines more carefully before setting tire onto a racetrack. On Saturday, 22 entrants left at the drop of the flag, and all but one returned some 7 hours later; Bucket List Brigade destroyed their E30’s windshield with a loose hood. They had some trouble securing one on Saturday, but finally found one rejoined the fracas with only a hint of embarrassment.

Miata P.I. was the standout team throughout the entire weekend; courting disaster on Saturday but dominating Sunday. The team remedied of the oversteer issues they suffered at Laguna Seca two months prior with a few suspension tweaks as well as a couple new aerodynamic pieces, and eventually found the pace they were after—but not until Sunday.

Miata P.I.’s handling ills were fixed with a few new aero pieces and suspension adjustments. Photo credit: ChumpCar World Series

The team endured a dismal Saturday when, four hours in, they spun and hit the flagger station at Phil’s Hill. With help from a few teams, they were able to replace the control arms and steering pieces and get back on the track Sunday. The Flying Hawaiians and 2 White Guys and their 260Z snagged the fastest lap of the day with a sizzling 2:07.738! It seems the Datsun Z might be a serious contender for fast tracks like Buttonwillow, as these cars set the fastest times on both Saturday and Sunday.

However, it was the Arsenic Racing Miata who finished first on Saturday evening. They were quick but not dominantly so, but consistency and some mechanical attrition allowed them to win 5 laps ahead of Pomona Speed Shop’s 325is, which started slowly but worked up to a competitive pace. Trailing confidently in 3rd, 2 laps down, was the Zoom-Zoom…BOOM Miata. While the Datsuns had the raw pace, the Miatas still seem to have the best overall package.

(Left to right) Christian Franck, Jeff Bader, and John Siglar of Arsenic Racing pose with their new hardware. Photo credit: Arsenic Racing

Fortunately, the teams could share in a little diversion amidst all the door banging. Brought together with the aid of beer, barbeque, and adrenaline, the drivers from Miata P.I., Roto-Plooker, Arsenic Racing, Das Idiots, and Wilwood Racing all shared in laughter and war stories. This is the sort of camaraderie that people expect when joining, and are often disappointed to find there’s less of it these days.

Competitors shared food, drink, and revelry. Photo credit: ChumpCar Forums

When the sun rose over Buttonwillow the next morning, the competitors sucked down several cups of coffee to subdue their mild hangovers. With the smells and sounds of motorsport in the air and the adrenaline flowing, the 26 entrants lined up to battle on a track made stickier by all the rubber laid down Saturday.

Lap times dropped roughly 2 seconds on average, with most of the fastest laps set during the last laps of Sunday’s 7-hour race, even with a bit of dirt and dust dotting the track. Pomona Speed Shop continued their impressive performance with quite a pushy start; ramming Uncommon Friends’ Datsun 240Z to show they meant business and muscling past some of their other rivals. With the aid of their E36’s torque, they led the train for a few glorious laps.

Pomona Speed Shop looking satisfied. Photo credit: ChumpCar World Series

However, it wasn’t to last. Miata P.I. and Pomona Speed Shop diced throughout the day; keeping in touch by roughly 30 seconds until the end of the day when Miata P.I. found some extra speed and capitalized on a great stop, and eventually finished 42 seconds ahead. The battle wasn’t certain, though: up until the final 45 minutes the Uncommon Friends’ Datsun 240Z had been leading confidently.

Miata P.I. had the strongest race pace on Sunday. Photo credit: Miata P.I.

With a list of reputable names driving the black and silver Datsun, getting the fastest lap of the race—a 2:02.936 and some 5 seconds faster than anyone else— wasn’t too surprising. The impressive driver lineup included SCCA racer Troy Ermish, former F1 designer Steve Nichols, Steve Ohara—a former Formula Atlantic and Formula Mazda champion, and the great John Morton, who won two SCCA runoffs in a 240Z. Unfortunately, Uncommon Friends’ race ended when a head gasket blew.

Uncommon Friends’ Datsun had the specs and the all-star lineup to set the fastest times that weekend. Photo credit: ChumpCar World Series

In a series dominated by Miatas and BMWs, the less conventional drivers might want to take a gander at the Datsun’s stats: 2,301 lbs curb weight, 150 horsepower, a 15.9-gallon tank and 150 VPi. Those figures, as well as the shapely body and the torque offered by the L24 motor, make for an appealing machine both in terms of looks and performance.

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Arsenic Racing and Marvin the Martian Racing dice for a few heated laps.

The tense battle for third involved the Arsenic Racing’s Miata and the surprisingly capable Volkswagen Jetta from Das Idiots. With the track getting dustier as the day progressed, the front wheel-drive Jetta was struggling on worn rubber. Nevertheless, their most capable driver was able to wring the floundering Volkswagen’s neck and get it up to a competitive pace; running comfortably in 6th at 3:09 PM. It would mark the beginning of a frantic hour.

Aided by getting their final stop done ahead of the rest, Das Idiots jumped from 6th to 3rd in the span of 3 minutes; getting a 2-lap cushion as the other teams pitted. Just a couple minutes later, they served a penalty for passing under yellows, and yet, they rejoined the track in 3rd and 25 seconds ahead of Arsenic Racing. It seems Lady Luck was smiling on them that day.

Arsenic Racing’s gleaming Miata was a dominant force that weekend. Photo credit: ChumpCar World Series

However, luck couldn’t totally compensate for a lack of pace. Arsenic Racing and their well-driven Miata clearly had the edge in speed; lapping 2-3 seconds faster than the compromised Jetta. The Jetta’s driver made his car as wide as possible and held off the hounding Miata for twenty sweaty laps, but keeping a quicker car behind, on worn tires, in the blistering heat, is no mean feat. It was only going to end one way—Arsenic’s Miata passed on the last lap to take a hard-earned 3rd place.

Arsenic’s Miata battles with the 318 of Marvin the Martian Racing; banging doors and dropping wheels for several laps. Photo credit: ChumpCar Forums

The winners weren’t certain throughout this hard-fought weekend, and plenty of mechanical attrition kept the results surprising. The BMWs and Miatas seemed to possess the best overall package, and when coupled with strong driving and a little luck, a few teams managed to remain at the sharp end of the pack. The Datsuns seem to have some serious speed and stamina, but suffer from reliability issues. When luck smiles on them, they’ll have their moment in the sun—but this past weekend, the tried-and-true Mazda Miata reigned supreme as the best bargain endurance racer.

Saturday’s results can be found here, and Sunday’s can be found here.

About the author

Tommy Parry

Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, he worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school, and tried his hand on the race track on his 20th birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, Tommy began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a track day instructor and automotive writer since 2012, and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans, and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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