Parity Is The Issue

22 April 2001

© Andrew S. Hartwell

“We can’t win unless all the Lola’s break.” – Dennis Spencer

In sporting events of all kinds, the exaltation of achievement is best savored when the results are realized through the merits of the competitor, rather than the misfortune of the competition. No one wants to win because the other guy had a problem. Winners want to beat the other guy under equal conditions. That is the way Dennis Spencer sees it too. And it is the opportunity to be as good as the Lola teams best that he seeks for his Kudzu team – Team Spencer Motorsports

Spencer: “We have been fighting for a change in our restrictor size since Mid-Ohio of last year. It was something we were promised to help achieve parity. When you never finish on the same lap with the competition unless one of them breaks, than the obvious solution is to start by letting the engine breath. A rotary engine is an air pump. It needs to breathe freely. But restrictors are just one of the elements that you need to consider in order to be competitive. Not just racing hard with a competitive spirit, which we do, but to be able to finish on the same lap - and play nip and tuck - especially on the long tracks where the Lola’s just walk off and leave us.”

Some view the Kudzu chassis that Spencer drives – and apparently that group includes the GA brass – to be somewhat ancient equipment. In a sport that has seen excellent growth over the last five years, and has witnessed the introduction of new cars from BMW, Audi, Lola, Crawford, Pilbeam, Saleen, and Riley & Scott, the Kudzu seems out of date. But Spencer sees new opportunity and new potential every time he fires up that hotbox Mazda rotary engine and takes to the track.

“We think the Kudzu is a great chassis. We continue to improve it. We see things on the other cars that are superior in some ways, but then again, there are ways to create parity if the sanctioning body would simply implement them. Tire size is one consideration, as is aerodynamics and set up and so on. All we ask is that they give us back the power to compete and then let us deal with the other issues.”

Spencer has taken his case to the leaders of Grand Am. His day in court, however, seems to have resulted in a mistrial. “We were hopeful, after a lengthy meeting with Grand Am officials, that they would recognize that every podium finish we took last year was based upon attrition. If we continue to race in all the GA events, we need to know we will be given the opportunity to compete with, and potentially win against the newer cars in the field. Everyone wants the opportunity to satisfy their desire to win. Without parity we end up with a parade and, ultimately, a spec class series. But we have been told there will be no changes because, “they aren’t needed”. And the issue probably won’t be reviewed again until Mid-Ohio.”

With an appeal that fell on deaf ears, and a desire to be involved and supportive of the sport of racing, and Grand Am especially, Team Spencer is at a crossroads.
“We haven’t decided how we will proceed over the rest of the season. We are going to take it on a race-to-race basis. It is difficult to justify the expenditure of emotions, of manpower, and of financing – and money is not our issue – going into a race, knowing that you have been told you can not win on merit but only through attrition.

“We love Daytona so we know we will be there. We also have the option of taking Dave Watson up on what he said about SRP, that it is a “run what you brung” class. The option is in there for a turbocharged three rotor. The car fits completely within the specifications for that class.

“We are also looking at the Petit Le Mans. WE missed that race last year. I would rather do two 24-hour races and three ten-hour races and call it a season. We love the endurance aspect. I would like to see a format where there is a true endurance value, where the car has to run and run and run. Barring mistakes, one of the advantages we have with the Kudzu is that our car has had more testing and we have already found most of the wrinkles, giving us a more dependable package.

Spencer has rebuilt and refined his Kudzu time and time again. In preparation for the 2001 season, the car was taken down to the last rivet and bolt and reassembled with all new hardware. For all practical purposes, the old gal underwent “plastic surgery” and now looks like a new kid all over again. But this kid is street smart.

“We are a veteran team with an enormous amount of data collected over years of racing with this chassis. If we had been given the real parity we sought at the start of Grand Am, the Mazda should have won nearly every time – assuming equally talented hands at the wheel - simply because we had the advantage of experience and acquired knowledge over the teams running new cars.

“If you look at the Phoenix race last year, and the times they are running this year, you see they are running several seconds faster now. This shows you they are coming up to speed and are learning to understand their car. While this is happening for them, the Grand Am has left the Kudzu to just wither on the vine.

“I think we have the talent within our team to have an equal opportunity to beat the Lola in SRPII, just as one Lola has against another Lola currently. Again, the issue is parity between two different engines and chassis. I’m grateful to Grand Am for allowing the rotary to compete in the series but they seem to want to see my team campaign a brand new car rather than the ‘old’ Kudzu.

Jim Downing’s American built Kudzu cars have long had a special place in the hearts of sports car racing fans in North America. They are always around at the end of races – demonstrating their stamina and testifying to the intelligence of their design - and they have endured for years. In one respect they represent a kind of Don Quixote approach to breaking the firm grip of the piston engine on this sport. Now, it seems, there are those in the game – men of power and authority - who would look to break the heart and spirit of those who champion the cause.

“It is a heartbreak more than anything else. There are people who simply don’t want that car in the class. There are fans that don’t want it in the class. Every Lola owner wishes it would just go away. But there is a tremendous fan base, and there are a tremendous number of competitors, who wish the car was allowed to fairly compete in the class. We just wish Grand Am felt the same way.”

Wither the Kudzu? To what end?

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