Tuesday, March 14, 2017

SCCA March Majors - A Classic Honda Hoedown

As I stepped out of my car and onto the gravel parking lot, just above turns 11 and 12, I was hit in the face with a blast of frigid air.  'Wow, it's cold!' I said to myself as I grabbed my camera and headed toward the fence line.  Not 24 hours earlier, north Georgia was hit by an unseasonable cold front that left the mountains covered in snow, and Road Atlanta covered in frozen SCCA members.  It only took about five minutes in the stiff wind for me to become one of those frozen SCCA members.  I had arrived only a minutes before the Group 3 race, which was the race I had come to see.  The Formula open wheel race was just wrapping up so I had a few moments to shoot some test shots.  Aside from it being cold, I was ready to go and excited to see the two 3G Civic Hatches and 1G CRX that were competing in the race.  The SCCA March Majors event had been on my schedule of events to attend since the beginning of the year.  There are two Majors events held during the year at Road Atlanta, and they brings folks from all over the region to compete.  I knew it would my best opportunity to see some of the classic Honda's that compete in SCCA.  Russ, a blog fan who was flagging the event, had tipped me off days before to the presence of the two Civic's and the CRX.  Anticipation had been building all weekend, and in a few moments, they would come over the hill, under the bridge and down the hill, right below me.  I was more than ready.

I have shot several events at Road Atlanta, and I wanted to target turn's 10-12 because they are usually where all the passing happens.  Not only was this section of the track action packed, but there was hardly anyone there, allowing me to finally access all the fence line in all three turns.  The SCCA event's don't draw a lot of spectators like some of the larger events at Road Atlanta, but when you add wind and temperatures in the 30's, you've got an almost empty track.  With camera in hand, and positioned in my first ideal shooting location, I waited as the rumble of engines started to get louder.  The first car to crest the hill was the pace car, followed by a large group of cars that made up the Production and Grand Touring classes.  The first race car to catch my eye was the beautiful, wide-body 1986 Honda Civic Hatch, run by Ken Blackburn of Blackburn Motorsports, that was starting in the second row.  I had heard about the car from Russ, who I mentioned earlier.  He had seen the car at an event at Barber Motorsports Park.  The images he had sent me hadn't done it justice, because the car was awesome in person.  The next car to catch my eye was the red and white 1984 Honda CRX run by Darryl Saylor.  Watching it roll by on classic 13 inch CF-48 wheels made me feel like I was back in the mid 80's when these cars were tearing up Road Atlanta, taking class victories left and right.  Then the last car that I was excited to see was the navy blue 1984 Honda Civic run by John Fine.  It was largely unmodified and looked great on the matching blue mesh rims and fat Hoosier tires.

As the pace car headed down the pit lane entrance, the rest of the field coasted down the hill into turn 12 as they waited for the green flag.  Moments later, a momentous roar came out of the valley as the drivers all mashed their gas pedals in unison.  Sure, most of the engines had only four cylinders, but when you have a large group of them, the majority of them with straight exhaust systems, wailing at the same time, it sounds fantastic.  The race had begun.  I watched them race down the front straight until I lost sight of them heading into turn one.  For roughly a minute, all I could do was wait as I followed the sounds of strung-out engines echoing off the surrounding hills.  Finally, they reappeared coming around the last bend on the back straight and down the into turn 10.  From where I was standing, I briefly lost sight of them again as they went through 10A and 10B.  The minute they went out of sight, I positioned the camera and waited for them to come over the hill.  By the time the group of cars had reach me, they had already begun to separate a little, but the effect of them careening down the hill and onto the front stretch at full speed, was in no way diminished.  I was grinning from ear to ear as I held the camera up to my face, snapping furiously.

When the field came through again at the end of lap two, I happened to catch a familiar name being mentioned over the loud speaker.  It was Ken Blackburn.  He had spun in turn one!  Russ quickly messaged me confirming that he had spun going into turn one, after hitting the rumble strips.  Thankfully he was able to continue, but I was discouraged to hear of the incident.  He had been running first in the GT-Lite class.

As the race continued, I moved around to different areas of turns 10-12.  The ground was soft and muddy from the rain the day before, but I was not to be denied the ideal shooting location.  Mud wasn't my main problem though, it was the cold that was giving me fits.  I didn't have gloves and in order to ensure that I didn't miss a photographic opportunity, I had to keep the camera in both hands the whole time.  By the time the race reached the half-way point, my fingers were numb, and I was having difficulty using the buttons on the camera.  The cold wasn't just effecting me, it was effecting the camera.  The old battery was feeling the effects of the cold, and was losing power quickly.  I kept on shooting and moving around the track.  Having the bridge at my disposal allowed me to switch sides of the track easily.  It turned out to be great place to shoot the race.

With three laps left to go in the race, I made my way back to the top of the hill overlooking 11 and 12 to watch the cars cross the start/finish line.  As the checkered flag waved and the last few cars crossed the finished line, I heard a familiar name on the PA again.  It was Ken Blackburn.  He had come back from his spin in turn one and took the victory in his class!  I was so excited to hear that.  Then it suddenly occurred to me that this was the end of the last race of the weekend, and since Ken's team was from North Carolina, I needed to catch them before they left.  I bolted down the hill and around the outside of turn twelve, passing the Track Grill.  I continued towards the inspection area where I assumed the cars would be this soon after the race.  My assumptions were correct.  The whole field was parked nose to tail in three rows in front of the inspection hut.  It gave me a great opportunity to shoot them in a group.  After the inspection was over, I met up with Ken and his team as they packed up their things and loaded the Civic onto their trailer.  Ken had driven from Winston Salem North Carolina to participate in the event, and lucky for me, it was his last event at Road Atlanta for 2017.  We chatted about his car and it's history, exchanged information, and then went our separate ways.  Don't worry, you will be hearing more about Ken and his car in the future.  It was fun to talk to the winner of the race, especially since he won it in a classic Honda!

It was really special to see three old Honda's rippin' up Road Atlanta.  Compared to most of the events that I attend, of this nature, that typically lack in Honda's altogether, it was a regular classic Honda hoedown!  It's great to know that guys are still running these cars and they are still competitive.  Seeing these cars on the track continues to increase my appreciation for them, and I hope it does the same for those in the classic Honda community.

Photos by Stephen Dettman


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