Glen Grand Am GT Win Goes To The NASCAR Guy

17 August 2001

© Andrew S. Hartwell

The action in GT can't get much hotter than the John Andretti / Spencer Pumpelly race-within-a-race that took place at Watkins Glen recently. It was on a Friday night, before a huge NASCAR crowd that the old rule of "anything can happen in racing" was invoked. This was a crowd that Pumpelly fervently wanted to show what he could do in a racecar. A crowd that included veteran drivers and team owners and managers from the well-established NASCAR Winston Cup ranks. He wanted them to see him giving it his best to find his way to the front. What better time to show someone what you can do with a racecar than when there are so many important someones to watch you do it?



But all those interested eyes got to see something Pumpelly wasn't planning to show them.

With just a few laps to go Pumpelly and Andretti made contact, spinning Andretti off and allowing Pumpelly to get around him in the dirt and go on to take the win by about 5 seconds. But he had to give it back. And in front of all those NASCAR eyes.

Pumpelly tells the story from his view:

"Around the 36th lap, I saw the Andretti car coming out of his pit as I was going toward pit out still tightening my belts. I think I beat him out by a nose. It was a classic race to the line. Then in traffic he passed me and then I got by him again and then he passed me again. Finally I made a pass to get around him and focused my attention on lapped traffic.

"I got by the G&W car, which was several laps down at the time, and John didn't so I was able to pull ahead by about three seconds. We did not make contact at any point early on. We raced close and clean."

"About ten laps after the pit stop, (Randy) Pobst went out and that put me in the front spot. John was still hanging on with me but he couldn't cut into the three-second lead and we stayed that way for some 40 laps.

”With about 10 laps to go I saw an AGT car in the distance. Half a lap later, I was right behind it, and three laps later I still hadn't gotten by the car, which was not racing me for position. I finally made a risky outside pass on the Corvette, only to be re-passed at the end of the next straight. When my crew finally arranged to get the other guys team to tell him to let me by, John Andretti had narrowed the gap and was in striking distance with four laps to go.

”On the back straight into the inner loop one of the Dyson cars caught up to us, the driver went inside on me and I had to stay wide to let him through. John tucked in behind him, as any good driver would do, and made the clean pass for the lead in the brake zone for the inner loop."

”I had to over slow for the turn, as I was forced wide of the first apex by both cars, so I was hard on the power trying to get back up to speed. I think John may have been in a bit hot and had to slow a bit more than normal to get the car to the third apex in the inner loop. At that point I misjudged the closing rate. I tried to tighten up my line, and I came off the throttle, but it was too late, my right front hit his left rear causing him to spin Dale Earnhardt style.

”I hit John pretty hard in a spot on the track where we both should have been hard on the gas, tough to do in equal cars unless the guy in front has to check up, but it is still no excuse for tagging someone. I should have given him more room. ”Keep in mind the radiators and where they are located. That is the last place you would intentionally have contact in the GT3-R, as there is no protection. I was lucky I was able to continue.

"I took to the dirt to avoid his 360 spin and I was able to keep going. John came out of the spin, straightened out and came back after me. By this time I had managed to pull away again and I wound up finishing about five or six seconds ahead of John.

"When I hit him I knew immediately that it was my fault. I radioed in to my crew that I had made a mistake. I felt terrible but I expected people would see it as a racing accident brought on by two drivers wanting to take the top spot.

"I saw this race as a good opportunity for me to run in front of so many NASCAR people. I mean, what race driver wouldn't want to make a good impression in front of so many potential employers?

“I am sure I could have passed him before the finish if the accident had not happened - I feel I did have the faster car - but I feel I really blew that opportunity.

"I was taken off the track twice at Lime Rock, once while leading, due to the actions of others. One of the hits did enough damage to prevent me from challenging for the lead again, and that car went on to win the race. I actually feel that hit was intentional, but there was no penalty or mention of the incident in turn two.

"Anyway, after the Glen race I was called into the tower and Mark Raffauf and I talked about the incident. Then Mark talked to John and afterwards came out and told me they were going to penalize me 10 seconds for the hit. John and I talked right afterward but he wasn't really interested in hearing my side of the story. We did talk later and he was cool about the whole thing but he and Kyle Petty were pretty mad immediately after the race. I guess I can understand that, but again, it wasn't intentional.

"I wouldn't mind a shot at driving a Winston Cup car at one of the road races like the Glen or Sears Point. I really wanted to make a favorable impression that weekend and, except for the hit I think I did. I hope this doesn't shut any doors.

"I was upset for the team, because they worked hard and deserved the win. But that really wasn't the biggest issue of the race for me. I wanted to follow up on our solid win at Trois-Rivieres but my mistake did not allow that to happen.

"I think GARRA had a tough decision to make. I think I would have felt better about it had they seen the incident on tape. I feel that it is a dangerous precedent to set that GARRA is going to right all wrongs that occur out on the racetrack. It certainly is not consistent with my experience at Lime Rock. But again, each situation is something Mark Rauffauf (Grand Am Race Director) has to look at individually. He had a tough call to make and I salute him for making a bold move."

And so the season continues, at least for one more race. If the match up between Andretti and Pumpelly is repeated, Pumpelly is determined to make sure that any bumping that occurs isn't from him.

At least, not the first strike.

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