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IndyCar, IMSA, World Challenge, and NASCAR are all hugely popular, widely-televised, North American, professional motorsport series to tune into on a Saturday or Sunday. As one huge, cohesive industry, the amount of cash backing it could probably fill up, like, two-and-a-half ocean-going freighters. But some amateur and grassroots motorsports are worth your attention, too. Heck — sometimes it can be even more fun to watch.

The Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) Runoffs don’t have multi-million dollar advertising campaigns, but they do have great driving and cool cars. It’s a highlight of the Fall calendar if you’re even a little bit into car racing.

The Runoffs are an end-of-season championship, and also kind of an end-of-year prom, that features some of the most populous car-counts in the country, and possibly even the world. Some even call it the “Olympics of Amateur Road Racing.” Since 2013, they’ve gone down every Fall at a different, popular, and appropriately-sized track somewhere in the United States. It used to alternate between several tracks, then happen exclusively at other tracks for a few years. Personally, I like that it moves around every year.

SCCA

This year it’s at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and you should catch coverage of it on SCCA’s website, and anywhere it’s televised (TBD, as far as I can see). In previous years, it’s been at Road America in Wisconsin, Sonoma Raceway in Northern California, Virginia International Raceway in Virginia, and beyond.

The number-one thing I really dig about grassroots motorsports, is it’s very attainable wheel-to-wheel racing. Well, it’s actually quite expensive to take part in. But it takes far less scratch and painful hard work than, say, climbing up to pro-level stuff. If someone goes to a one-day racing school, has the cash, gets a car together and gets it certified to race (has all the proper safety equipment that jibes with its class’ rules), and gets all the appropriate safety gear, they can engage in some real-life wheel-to-wheel racing action! There are quite a few ways to do this; for example, I’ve often thought of turning my Mazda 2 into a race car, renting a tow dolly, and towing it to the track to race.

The Runoffs are a perfect demonstration of this. It shows that people from all backgrounds, professions, areas of the country, etc., who aren’t high-level professional drivers, can tango on track. They’re enabled to engage in some tough competition, potentially achieve some massive goals, and just have a ton of fun.

Another benefit: the sheer variety of cars that race during Runoffs. There are racing variants of so many different cars, from modest B-Spec-class hatches that resemble my little Mazda, to IndyCar-resembling formula cars. 

At individual SCCA events throughout the rest of the year, you might not be able to see as much variety as Runoffs—in fact, you definitely won’t. And not in such large car counts, either. The more cars the better, as it makes for substantially more entertaining action. There’s a platform for everyone battling it out with many platforms of a similar specification.

Peter Nelson

2021 should be an especially good year to watch the Runoffs. Even as we ever so slowly recover from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (if only it weren’t ongoing, sigh), grassroots racing has experienced some nice growth compared to previous years. Especially 2020, obviously, when many events were understandably cancelled. Some classes have even experienced a massive resurgence, though, especially compared to when Runoffs were at Indy back in 2017.

I recently spoke with my friend Frank Schwartz over Facebook Messenger regarding this year’s installment. He’s been racing in SCCA for a long time, has held various positions within its management, and has been helping boost the B-Spec class over the past several years. B-Spec, by the way, is one of the most affordable and fun classes—it’s a bunch of barely-race-prepped Mazda 2s, Mini Coopers, Honda Fits, Ford Fiestas, and more.

I asked him for the scoop on how this class is looking for 2021. If you want to see very-attainable momentum cars duke it out quite up-close, this class is the best way to do so.

“B-Spec may be the most surprising class at this year’s runoffs.” Frank explained. “It was only 4 short years ago (that) the class was written off for dead, and even considering that the pandemic put a pause on racing for a while, the class has grown by almost 300% during that time.” 

The precursor for a lot SCCA B-Spec cars: Pirelli World Challenge TCB class. Peter Nelson

That’s astronomical growth, and a testament to not only the class, but to the Runoffs themselves. 

“I am not sure what’s more surprising: the fact that it’s the 3rd largest class after only SM and SRF3, the fact that more than half of all B-Spec cars in existence are here for one race, or the community that we have built where pretty much every driver knows every other driver on a  first name basis.”

Going one further: this is a testament to how great grassroots racing is in general. It also legitimizes my point about it kind of being the prom of amateur motorsports—a sort of last hurrah with all your pals before the season ends.

He then went on to explain that growth is up quite a bit elsewhere as well.

“We targeted 35 cars for this year since it is the 35th anniversary of Formula Continental being created, another class written off for dead. Since Indy 2017, B-Spec is up 239% and Formula Continental is up 135%. The 3rd largest growth is 17%, and the average of all other classes is down 10%.”

Formula Continental consists of some of the best-looking open wheel cars this side of IndyCar. They’re quite fast and make all the right formula car noises.

Regarding some classes being down: it’s not an accurate representation of the health of the class in general. There are quite a few different factors that come into play, such as geographic location, how the season is going for some racers, and so on. 

For instance, someone might not want to tow their car all the way from Portland if their competition is only a couple of cars. Or they just might not like the track. Personally, if I were having a successful racing season here in Southern California, I don’t think I’d tow all the way to Indy; the track just doesn’t seem as fun as Sonoma, Laguna Seca, Road America, Road Atlanta, Mid-Ohio, etc.

Also, it should be said that racers must qualify for Runoffs. From SCCA.com:

“In 2021, Runoffs qualification can be achieved through the U.S. Majors Tour or Hoosier Super Tour programs where drivers must participate in a minimum of three separate event weekends and finish a minimum of three individual races in the same class. Participation is defined as turning a wheel on track in an official session (practice, qualifying, warm-up, race) and appearing in an event’s official race results. A finish is defined as completing at least half the laps of the overall race winner. Racers may again substitute one U.S. Majors weekend in 2021 with participation in two SCCA Regional event weekends. However, drivers must still finish a minimum of three individual U.S. Majors races in the same class even with this substitution option.

A Divisional Championship path to the Runoffs remains an option in 2021. Using this path, racers must first participate in the same class for a minimum of four weekends within a single Divisional Championship. Also, Divisional competitors must finish in the top three positions within that class’ divisional point standings, except for Spec Miata and Spec Racer Ford Gen3 where the top five will be invited to the Runoffs. And of course, defending national champions may enter the Runoffs in the class or classes being defended, without meeting any of the previously noted criteria. But this provision may not be invoked two consecutive years in the same class by an individual even if he/she repeats as national champion.”

So tune in when they go down between September 28th and October 3rd! It’ll be a great string of events, and is a must-watch for anyone with an inkling to watch motorsports.

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