Don Kearney, a club driver from Tuxedo, Md., whose family is his crew, sped to his first victory today over Paul Newman to highlight the 23-lap, 46-mile Trak Auto Summer Nationals event at Summit Point raceway.
Kearney, 51, drove his Mazda to victory in the C Production field, his fourth triumph in eight national races this summer.
"This makes me a .500 driver," said Kearney, a garage operator when he isn't racing. "There ain't a ball club in the world that wouldn't love to be me."
Kearney ran second to Ken Slagle through 21 laps, before Slagle, the fastest qualifier, left the track. The nine points Kearney earned gave him the Northeast Division lead (64 points) in the C Production class, three points ahead of Slagle of Philadelphia.
"Hey, pop, we can float home!" yelled Mitzi Kearney when her husband stepped from his car after taking the checkered flag for a victory lap.
The races, which attracted an estimated 6,000 spectators, ended another weekend on the summer circuit that leads to the Sports Car Club of America championship, the end-all of amateur road racing, at Road Atlanta in October.
Newman, a two-time national champion and the most glamorous entrant in the 221-driver field, needed a victory to boost his point standing in the chase for qualifying for the top four slots.
Unlike the Summer Nationals here two years ago, when Newman's driving suit was stolen after a race, this weekend went relatively smoothly. He has driven at this track more than a dozen times but he remained a constant subject for spectators' cameras.
"Sometimes he has to spend half the weekend in the motor home," said a crewman, Scott McLearen. "He likes to mingle with drivers but spectators are sometimes a problem."
Newman, 56, spent much of the day in cutoffs and sandals. He waved off requests for autographs and kept close to his seven-man crew, the Bob Sharp Racing Team of Connecticut.
The glamor event, the Formula Ford race with low-bodied cars whose seats are no higher than four inches from the track, was won by Mark Roe of Ireland, trying to make a racing comeback.
Roe, twice a European champion on the professional circuit, has resumed amateur racing in the United States after a two-year layoff due to injury. Formerly a Formula 2 and Formula 3 driver, Roe was trying to make the Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit when he sustained nerve damage in a testing accident.
It was Roe's third victory in five starts since April. Early leader Michael Andretti left the track on the eighth lap because of brake trouble. Andretti, the 19-year-old son of Mario Andretti, and his cousin, John Andretti, were among the day's disappointed drivers.
Shortly after Michael Andretti pulled off the course, John Andretti pulled into the pits after hitting some posts.
"It was the fault of the track, not me," said Andretti, in his first year on the national circuit after five years of racing go-carts. "I really had this car under control."
The 41-car field, the largest and loudest race of the day, comprising mostly young drivers, was warned by the chief steward before the race.
"He didn't want to see any accidents," said Drake Olson, 25, the No. 3 finisher. "Our class has a reputation for being aggressive and overealous. We're a hot-blooded group."
Roe almost didn't get his victory. His total weight fell two pounds short of the required 1,100 pounds after the race, which would have been grounds for disqualification. But a recheck confirmed Roe's proper weight.
A few other Formula Ford drivers didn't finish, including Steve Zapal of Silver Spring.
"I was doing well, too," said Zapal, 27. "I passed 10 cars in the first five laps. Then the car in front of me spun on an oil slick and turned out a cloud of smoke.
"I wiped my visor, looked up and bumped into him. Now my radiator is busted."
Zapal will spend the next two weeks preparing his $15,000 Ford for Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Drivers spend thousands of dollars each year to maintain their cars going from track to track in pursuit of trophies and qualifying points that might never come their way.
Paul Fassler, 38, is a driver from Needham, Mass., who takes off occasional Fridays from work to travel to practice sessions. He finished third in the Ford Atlantic event.
"It's just weekend fun, something I've always wanted to do," said Fassler, who got into racing just four years ago. "It's also a tremendous financial commitment."