Joe Varde, who wrecked two Mazda RX-7s warming up for today's $6,300, 100-mile Camel GTU, weathered slick and rocky track conditions here to win the feature event of this weekend's four-race NTW 300 at Summit Point Raceway.
Varde, 31, of Tampa, Fla., had trouble early, going off the track during the third lap. But he righted his car quickly, moved to second on the eighth lap and took the lead for good on the 12th. His 86 mph-average carried him to victory by 17 seconds over Roger Mandeville, of Spartanburg, S.C., who passed Jack Dunham on the last lap when Dunham briefly veered off course.
"If you went too fast or got off the line by only an inch, you went completely off the track, and you didn't stop until you hit the grass," said Varde, whose victory was his third this year. "That was my problem all day."
Earlier today, Varde agreed to try Doug Carmean's Mazda during warmups for another race and ran it against the banking after spinning out in a back turn. Then, driving his own car in the warm-up for the Camel GTU, Varde went off the course about the same place after his left rear wheel broke. But by the time the Camel GTU event got under way, the car had been repaired.
In the three other races sponsored by the International Motor Sports Association, Craig Carter handily won the Kelly American Challenge, Tommy Archer the Champion Spark Plug Challenge, and Steven Pope the Renault Cup. All four races are part of the IMSA circuit.
Carter, 32, driving the only V-6 Camaro in the race, led most of the 75-mile Kelly American Challenge by 45 seconds. His average speed of 85 mph through the snaking two-mile course might have been even faster had he not eased off the last 12 laps.
Carter, like all the winning drivers today, won by minimizing his mistakes and taking advantage of other drivers' misfortunes.
"There was no sense in pushing the car; the turns were slick and all chewed up, and the key was just keeping the car on the track," said Carter, whose victory, his third in four tries this year, was worth $3,500. "I was trying not to make mistakes and my competitors were having a lot of problems."
Patty Moise, whose sixth-place finish was the best by a woman, spun out twice in the race's early laps. "Everywhere you looked, there were cars losing it, getting off the track and spinning in the gravel," she said.
In the 75-mile Champion Spark Plug challenge, Archer's Renault ran ahead of four Mazdas, averaging 77 mph to win its first race of the year.
Archer, who maintained the lead throughout, shifted more weight to the front of his car before the race in hopes of sliding less than he had in two days of practice. He ran off the track three times during the race but still had better luck on the slick surface than the 28 other drivers.
"The track was a good equalizer today," said Archer, 26, of Duluth, Minn., who earned $2,000. "The biggest thing today was just staying on the track. Everybody was bumping and falling off and spinning out."
Archer stretched his lead to five seconds before he got bogged down by Tom Pyne, who trailed by a lap. Chuck Ulinski, who had fallen out of contention after careening all over the track the first few laps, passed fourth-place finisher V.J. Elmore and third-place finisher Dave Lemon in the last 10 laps to close Archer's victory margin to 2.5 seconds.
In the 25-mile Renault Cup race, Pope, 31, an architect from Kingston, N.H., survived an anxious moment on the eighth lap, when his car was bumped by Kurt Roehrig and slid sideways into the turn before he could get control.
Pope, who averaged better than 67 mph, regained the lead from Atlanta's James Reeve, the eventual second-place finisher, on the next lap and held on to take the $1,500 first prize.
The victory, Pope's first this year in the six-race series, lifted him from fourth place to first, one point ahead of Reeve with two races remaining in the series.