for Southard Motorsports
Lewis OK After Support Series Accident but Refused Medical Clearance, Lester Drives Alone
New Jersey proved to be anything but the "Garden State" for Southard Motorsports. Sunday's Supercar Life 250 - debut event for the just completed New Jersey Motorsports Park - was an exasperating experiment in track development for the team and its drivers Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) and Bill Lester (Atlanta).
The Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) owned operation found itself at the center of two separate but equally destructive scenarios during the penultimate round of the 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype (DP) season. In the first, Lewis was involved in a spectacular accident during the KONI Challenge ST race earlier in the day when his car was struck from behind on a re-start. Lewis suffered no injuries or concussion in the accident but officials erred on the side of caution and refused medical clearance for him to drive in the DP event. The second incident occurred on lap 75 of the Supercar Life 250 when Lester reported to the Powell, Ohio- based team that he was off the track and stuck. When the veteran NASCAR driver returned to pit lane, the car was retired from competition finishing 15th in class. The No. 3 Lexus-Riley had qualified 12th.
Missing his first Daytona Prototype race since 2004 came as a heavy blow to Lewis. In the KONI Challenge ST class event, also held on Sunday, the Honda Civic Si that Lewis was racing was struck from behind on the track's high-speed main straightaway. The hit launched the multi-time Grand-Am event winner into the outside pit lane retaining wall sending him on a violent ride. While Lewis was awake and alert throughout the incident, race officials did not clear him to compete in the feature event. The California-native watched in frustration as the No. 3 raced without him for the first time since joining the Southard operation five seasons ago.
The new 2.25-mile, 14-turn facility in Millville, N.J. proved a challenging venue for the teams not only due to its design but because of the lack of grass lining the circuit. If a car dropped two wheels off the edge of the track it would kick-up a blinding cloud of dust and scatter dirt and rocks across the track surface. Should a driver be so unlucky to put four wheels off the track, the results could be disastrous.
This was the case for Lester during the race. Following Lewis' support series accident, the DP Series rookie, but experienced road racer, was called on to run the bulk of the two hour and 45-minute race on his own. The Southards asked KONI Challenge racer Ken Wilden (Hamilton, Ontario) to drive the required minimum for a co-driver of one lap before handing the red, white and blue prototype over to Lester. Starting from pit lane, Wilden completed the lap and then turned the wheel over to the full-season driver. Again, Southard Motorsports' strategy and pit lane skills brought the car up as high as third during the race. The end of the day would come when the No. 3 ran wide at the turn four and five complex.
The Riley chassis dug deep into the dirt "runoff" area and was immediately coated with nearly two inches of soil across the hood, roof, rear cowling and rear wing. Extrication from the dry quagmire of topsoil took several laps and resulted in additional damage to the car's front 'splitter' - an aerodynamic device designed to create downforce. Once back in pit lane, the Rich Howe-led crew ascertained that the damage to the car was not only cosmetic but functional as well - including the engine air intake being completely clogged with New Jersey earth - and repairs would take longer than what was left in the race. The car was officially retired on lap 76.
QuotesSteve Southard, Owner: "Another tough race for us. The track wasn't ready for this type of an event. We were here too soon and it showed. Scott's incident [point leading driver Scott Pruett had a heavy accident during Friday's session], Shane's incident, the fact that Grand-Am was penalizing cars for going off the pavement. It was not a good situation. We don't know why Bill went off the racing surface but the fact that he then ended up in over 12 inches of loose dirt is inexcusable. Bill drove a great race. Our one-stop strategy was working perfectly and we were heading toward a top-ten finish. Then it all came undone in the dirt. We want to thank Kenny Wilden for subbing for Shane at the absolute last minute."
Shane Lewis, Driver: "I'm sore but I'm OK. I guess it was a pretty crazy ride looking at it from the outside. From inside it was like my high school bull riding days. Everything was bouncing around and there was a lot of dirt and dust. I can't tell you how disappointing it was when I heard the doctors weren't going to let me drive in the Southard car. That hurt more than the accident ever could. It was just a tough weekend; really disappointing for a lot of reasons. The Southard guys worked so hard to get the car back in one piece after Sonoma. We really wanted to give them a good result this weekend. They didn't get the reward they deserve."