June 19, 2011 – Pooler, Georgia: There were surprised looks on many faces as the MINI of Charleston/MINI USA.com trailer arrived at Roebling Road Raceway for the Chump Car Series races June 18 and 19. The Chump Car Series is an endurance race series established for $500 race cars. Chump Car’s rules allow any type of vehicle as long as “if you put it in front of your house with a for sale sign, nobody would offer you more than $500 for it”. Unfortunately because of their excellent resale, nobody can find a $500 MINI. So what was being towed into Roebling? Two 1992 Saturn SC Coupes. The Saturns were previously part of a track day fleet that Hendrick Motorsports used for sponsor events at Charlotte Motor Speedway. When the fleet was being prepared for a trip to the scrap yard, Rick Hendrick Imports saved them from the crusher with the thought of one day making a useable car or two out of the 6 broken Saturns.
Several months ago the decision was made to give 3 cars each to Garrett Academy of Technology, the Charleston County career high school and Stratford High School Auto Tech class in Berkeley County, with the instructions to piece things together to create a $500 race car for a little inter-school competition. The last week of school both schools’ projects were driven onto a trailer and brought to the Rick Hendrick Imports technical staff for final race prep and installation of the racing safety equipment. Car Chiefs and drivers Andrew Giaquinto and Chip Hall spend some long days, late nights and an early morning getting the car race ready.
By random draw the driver teams were divided between the two cars in preparation for 14 hours of racing, 2 seven hour enduros on Saturday and again on Sunday. Driving for the Garrett team; Andrew, Brad Davis, Leon Fox and Ben Karnes. Driving for the Stratford team; Chip, Stuart Kestenbaum, Tom Blocker and Wayne Simpson.
In the team’s first Chump Car event, we found out our cars were way “under prepared” compared to our competitors, but all we were really concerned with was the inter-school challenge, so we accepted the fact that our basically showroom stock cars on all season radial tires would be bring up the rear of the field.
Calvin Mathews and Chris Gathers, recent graduates of Garrett academy were the lead techs in the preparation of the race cars and joined us for the weekend as our race team crew. Auto Body instructor and Garrett JV Football Coach Michael Branch also served as our pit crew.
Saturday, both cars lapped the track at remarkable speeds with surprising reliability. One small clutch linkage problem put the Stratford car a few laps behind the Garrett entry and after 7 hours and 211 laps (422 miles), the Garrett car finished 18th in the 30 car field. Stratford’s entry was 19th, completing 208 laps (416 miles). The winning Garrett car had a fastest lap of 1:34.702, an average speed of 76.028 miles per hour. This feat was very impressive considering 6 of the 8 drivers had never driven at Roebling Road and the race format allows no time for practice.
Sunday with temps again hitting the 100 mark, the High School cars headed out for another 7 hours on the 9-turn, 2.0 mile asphalt track. Garrett Academy again won the grudge match after the Stratford car suffered a blown head gasket after overheating when it lost a drive belt. In the closing laps, the Garrett car was able to get by a couple of cars that broke down late in the race and improved Sunday’s finishing position to 17th. The Garrett car again ran flawlessly all day and completed 215 laps (430 miles) and had a fast lap of 1:34.115 for an average speed of 76.502 mph. In the Stratford car, before dropping out after 104 miles, turned its fastest lap of 1:34.419 (76.256 mph).
The Chump Car Series awarded the Garrett team a trophy for being the best Novice team and the best school spirit. “This is an incredible testimony to the quality of the technical training available in public schools in the Charleston area” said Brad Davis MINI of Charleston racing team manager and Rick Hendrick Imports Executive General Manager. “This was an incredible experience for all of us and the schools. I want to be sure to give a special thanks to Mr. Hendrick for thinking of us and sending the cars and saving them from the junkyard, teachers Mr. Branch and Mr. Smalls at Garrett and Mr. Bolton at Stratford and all the students that assisted in this project. Also a special tip of the helmet to Mrs. Camens at Stratford who sent this great idea to us through her husband our BMW team Leader Uri Camens.”