Points Event #3 Recap - by Jack Baruth

Solo 06.01.2016
It’s been around for nearly forty-five years, but Springfield’s Upper Valley Mall has new ownership, new ideas, and new momentum. Starting now, they also have a new way to draw some weekend visitors: WOR held its first autocross at the mall this past Sunday, a points event that was also part of the 2016 Great Lakes Solo Series. 

So far, it looks like a match made in heaven. Drivers had universal praise for the new site, which features a large lot for the main course and plenty of parking for both grid and staging. There was even a dedicated spectator area. More importantly for those of us who like to eat lunch at the event, the mall had their restaurants open starting at noon. Your humble author went to the Subway, but next time I’m going to try the Pretzelmaker. Quite a few drivers were also observed running to the CVS for sunscreen. It’s rare for even a National Solo event to have this level of amenities right next to the course, to put it mildly.

Those of us who didn’t buy sunscreen went home burned. Temperatures hovered in the high eighties and low nineties for most of the event. Despite the heat and a few timing issues, there were five runs for each of the three groups.

The course took full advantage of the mall’s wide and deep parking lot, straightening out into a series of slaloms and Chicago boxes shortly after the start. A long carousel sweeper returned drivers back into a hairpin before finishing with a right-hander that had more than a few of the eighty-seven registered competitors going through the timing boxes with a little bit of oversteer. The overall grip level was low; this was well-seasoned asphalt with plenty of repair marks.

It’s a truism in autocross that open-wheelers struggle on low-traction surfaces, but you wouldn’t have known it from watching Ray Thomas take FTD and win Modified by a commanding 1.313-second margin over Keith Owen’s Subaru Legacy. Mike Powers was even more dominating in Street Prepared, pulling almost three seconds over Armando Manzo in his final run.

The Dziengels bought a new 2015 Subaru STI and brought it to the event in place of their normal grey goose. “It’s unprepped”, noted Jo Dziengel, “so we can’t really say how fast it is.” The answer to that question turned out to be “fast enough for second place” behind Glenn Ellerbe’s considerably more experienced ’99 Impreza RS.

In Street, the 21 entrants were treated to an absolute masterclass by Jim Zeisler, who won the class and PAX overall by more than 1.7 seconds. In both cases, the second-place driver was David Rudy in his Mazda 3. There’s nothing quite as frustrating as turning in the second-place PAX overall and still not winning the class! Behind Mr. Rudy, the next ten drivers were covered by under 1.5 seconds.

Prepared featured that traditional motorsports overdog, the AMC Spirit, vanquishing its equally traditional foe, the Lotus Exige. Daniel Grambsch was the man holding the banner high for AMC in what might have been its most impressive race victory since Mark Donohue mothballed his Javelin.

CAM was a tight scrap that saw Mark Parsons triumph over a Boss 302 and a trio of Corvettes from the C3, C4, and C5 generations. In Ladies, Debbie Zeisler managed to win the class with a five-second margin. Any one of her three best runs would have sufficed, in fact.

Once again, WOR fielded a wide and talented group of Novices. Jake Thompson managed to pull a 0.132-second victory over Jared Thrush in his final run, snagging a top-twenty PAX along the way. The top ten drivers in this 18-car class were covered by just under five seconds.

As this was part of the Great Lakes Solo Series, there were four kart competitors. Neva Hoover picked up 2nd-place FTD in her kart. Ben Weaver, Alexa Rahrig, and Christopher Jason made up the FJA and FJB classes. When one of the karts suffered from a failed brake, the remaining drivers agreed to share the unbroken kart. You wouldn’t see anybody doing that in MX-5 Cup, that’s for sure!

All things considered, this was a tremendous success for the region. Great new venue, plenty of entrants, close competition. What more could you ask for, other than slightly less punishing temperatures? With any luck, WOR will be returning to the Upper Valley Mall in the near future.
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